How to Choose the Best Legal Practice Management System for Your Firm
Technology has recently made a significant and swift impact on various industries, and the legal industry is no different. Law firms are adopting more and more technology in an effort to improve their efficiency and keep a competitive edge over their rivals.
One such technology is legal practice management systems. This has been one of the most adopted forms of software by legal practices across the UK, with 62% of large firms and over 30% of small firms utilising legal practice management systems 
What are legal practice management systems?
They are systems created to help law firms streamline their business processes and improve their performance. They provide multiple tools that help run the business side of the law firm dealing with billing, bookkeeping, case records, client records and document retention policies, to name a few. The software essentially assists in managing business operations and administrative functions of a law firm.
Legal practice management systems can be an extremely effective tool for junior lawyers and those entering the field, as law schools do not teach aspiring lawyers about the practical application of technology in the legal sector. These systems can help bridge that gap in their knowledge, assisting managers and partners to run the firm more effectively.
What to expect from a legal practice management system?
When choosing a management system, a firm needs to look at what tasks each software can help with and the firm’s specific requirements. Moreover, the firm must be able to differentiate between the different systems available to see which better meets the needs of their firm. However, the first and most important step is to understand what makes a strong legal practice management system.
Strong legal practice management systems can do various tasks that benefit the firm and optimize its workflow. These benefits range from automating administrative duties, improving billing and accounting processes, improving performance, increasing productivity, increasing collaboration and enabling easier remote working.
1) Automation of Administrative Tasks
Legal practice management systems can automate most of the key administrative tasks carried out in law firms. This includes effective document and case management, calendaring, diary management, task allocation and client appointment booking. These functions, while simple to do, can often be time-consuming and labour intensive. Hence, using practice management systems allows lawyers to better designate their time towards practising the law rather than doing menial administrative tasks.
2) Improvement in Billing and Accounting Processes
Legal practice management systems also assist in the monetary running of law firms. This includes managing accounting processes and ensuring that the firm complies with accounting regulations and financial reporting, billings, handling online payments, invoicing and tracking the firm’s expenses. These tasks can be quite difficult and often require a lot of information processing. Therefore, it is best for practice management systems to electronically carry out these tasks and eliminate any risks of human error .
3) Improvement in Firm Performance
Beyond simple administrative tasks, these systems can provide insights into a firm’s functioning and propose fields that require change or improvement . The management system has a unique and detailed look at the firm’s overall performance, suggesting areas to strengthen the firm’s performance and capability. HSBC UK’s Legal Tech Analysis report states that 81% of law firm respondents consider legal technology the most important area of strategic development activity for their firm to support this claim . Therefore, the evidence depicts that investing in technology such as legal practice management systems is valuable and worthwhile in achieving long-term strategic goals.
4) Increase in Productivity
Legal practice management software typically includes all case material and information in one place. This includes client contact information, documents, client appointments, email correspondence and billing information. As a result, there is no need to contact third parties or other employees for information, especially when needed at the last minute, as all the information is organised and stored in one place . Therefore, lawyers are less reliant on each other to gain information and easily access what they are looking for by simply navigating the system.
5) Increase in Collaboration and Communication
The use of legal practice management enables greater collaboration within teams. This collaboration results from task assignment and easy file sharing features on practice management systems that make allocating tasks more convenient and efficient. Additionally, most practice management systems have chat functions that allow for greater and faster communication between team members without waiting for a long time .
Moreover, owing to the notifications function on practice management systems, both clients and team members are given quick updates regarding case progress or changes to the project, which eliminates the risk of there being any confusion and ensures that everyone is on the same page.
6) Enablement of Remote Working
Legal practice management systems have enabled lawyers to efficiently work remotely from anywhere globally, especially during the pandemic, lockdown, self-isolation and hotel quarantines. The software within legal practice management systems allows employees to access the firm’s database online from any device securely. 
Additionally, such software includes built-in client relationship management tools that streamline processes and communication to ensure that you have the necessary information to meet your clients’ needs regardless of where you are working.  Lastly, such software also includes time-tracking tools, ensuring you work productively despite working out of the office .
Does your firm need to make the jump?
It is quite clear that legal practice management systems are effective tools in helping a firm grow and manage its business. However, it is important to understand the needs of every individual firm and weigh whether investing in such software would be worthwhile and whether the change would align with the firm’s current business model and goals. While it can be a general way to increase a firm’s productivity, the technology often comes at a high monetary cost. Therefore, to get the best result and make the most out of investing in such technology, a degree of investment will be required in training the employees to use the specific software.
Here are some key questions to consider when deciding whether your firm requires a legal management system:
- Are the firm’s administrative tasks, such as calendaring and document management, becoming too difficult and time-consuming?
- How much time is being spent on billing clients and managing payments?
- Do you have easy access to your work documents outside the office? Is this something you require?
- How much time is being spent managing, finding and organising information regarding accounting and other administrative tasks? 
The answers to these questions will guide whether it is time for a firm to invest in legal practice management software.
Which system should I choose?
This is the key question when picking among the variety of management systems available in the market. You need to consider a few key aspects of each system: deciding between on-cloud vs on-premise software, payment methods, maintenance costs, the firm’s usage, current system compatibility and the training required to use each available system.
1) On-Cloud vs On-Premise Software
Legal practice management software can be available both on-cloud or on-premise/server-based software. There are advantages and disadvantages to each kind and the utility of each will vary based on the firm’s needs .
From a monetary standpoint, cloud-based platforms are usually paid for annually or monthly, whereas a local or on-premise system will require high upfront costs. While there will be no regular payments for this kind of system, there will be maintenance costs, and the firm will have to make sure it is secure and updated.
On the other hand, with cloud-based software, the responsibility of this falls to the service provider. Cloud-based solutions comparatively have more advantages, such as automatic software upgrades, which save time and money by removing the cost of hardware maintenance and the ability to access the firm’s database from any location . One major issue with local or on-premise software is that it must be installed on multiple computers, leading to troubleshooting issues .
2) Firm Usage
Beyond some of the differences between cloud-based and on-premise management systems, it is important to consider the firm’s usage. For example, a cloud-based system would be more practical if the employees often work from home or need access to important documents in courtrooms. This is because one can log onto these systems easily from any location as long as they have a stable internet connection.
Furthermore, firms should also consider how much training is required to use each available system and what system is most compatible with the existing software. Investigating these areas will allow a firm to decide what legal practice management system is best for them.
4) Data Protection Compliance
Every law firm’s first priority is to keep client information secure and confidential. Therefore, it is extremely important to ensure that you are investing in a practice management system that is secure compared to others. You will need to ensure that the technology used is not outdated, all system data is encrypted and that the system has been audited by a third party to ensure additional security . Lastly, it would be best if you also inquired about the security measures taken by the manufacturers to ensure that any third party cannot hack into the system.
More law firms are moving toward adopting different forms of software to become more efficient and compete in the market. Adopting legal practice management systems is a change that law firms should welcome as it enables lawyers to perform their jobs more efficiently and helps them work more effectively. It is important however to keep in mind that not all software is the same. Each has its advantages, and before deciding to make the jump, one must make an informed decision regarding whether they need a legal practice management system and, if so, which system is best for their firm.
Ritu Kaushal, ‘Importance of Case Management Software’, Cogneesol (2021) at https://www.cogneesol.com/blog/legal-case-management-system-for-law-firms/
- Nerino Petro, ‘7 Reasons Why Small Law Firms Need Law Practice Management Software’ (2018), Thompson Reuters at https://store.legal.thomsonreuters.com/law-products/solutions/firm-central/resources/7-reasons-for-law-practice-management-software
- Insight Legal Software, Legal Practice Management Software’ at https://insightlegal.co.uk/solicitors-software/practice-management-system/?
- HSBC UK, ‘Legal Tech Analysis: Investment and Growth Strategies in Law Firms’ (2019) at https://www.business.hsbc.uk/corporate/-/media/library/business-uk/pdfs/hsbc-2019-legal-tech-report.pdf
- Chelsea Huss, ‘7 Benefits of Legal Practice Management Software in a Law Firm’, Centerbase (2020) at https://centerbase.com/blog/7-benefits-of-legal-practice-management-software-in-a-law-firm/
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- Ritu Kaushal, ‘Importance of Case Management Software’, Cogneesol (2021) at https://www.cogneesol.com/blog/legal-case-management-system-for-law-firms/
- Legal Futures Associate, LEAP Legal Software, ‘Key Considerations for Law Firms When Choosing Legal Software’, Legal Futures, (2021) at https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/associate-news/key-considerations-for-law-firms-when-choosing-legal-software
- Clio, ‘Legal Practice Management Software’ at https://www.clio.com/law-practice-management-software/
- Teresa Maitch, ’10 Things to Consider Before Choosing Case Management Software’, Clio at https://www.clio.com/uk/blog/choosing-case-management-software/