How to pick the right legal practice management software

8th May 2019

Lawyers love to hate their practice management software.

Check out any legal forum online and you’ll find conversations about practice management software (PMS for brevity) filled with frustration and a desperate yearning for something better, cheaper and easier on the eye.

If that’s you, or you’re just starting your practice – here are a few tips to help pick a PMS that’s right for you.

 

Usability

Let’s start with this:

“When it comes to tech, what really matters is the user interface. Give me something that’s very easy to use, with 50% of the functionality, any day of the week over something that’s got 100% functionality but is just downright difficult to use.” – General Counsel of ASOS, Andrew Magowan.

Legal software companies have been slow to adopt modern, user-friendly

interfaces that are delightful to use. But some vendors (new entrants in particular) are finally starting to up their game.

Do not be fooled by slick websites and shiny brochures – you need to get your hands dirty and try a few products yourself (getting a demo is not enough). These days, a lot of modern providers will offer free trials for 14 days to one month, and don’t be discouraged if the first one you pick doesn’t fit your needs. If not, just export your data (the ability to do this is a precondition to trialling any service), upload it to another provider, and try again.

 

Mobile friendly

PMS software should either be “full responsive” i.e. the user interface adapts to the size of your screen, or should come with iOS/Android apps for tablets and mobile. This allows you and your team to work from anywhere on any device with an internet connection.

 

Integrations

Your clients generally don’t enter their matters directly into your PMS. That data will come from another source, such as the enquiry form on your website, or via email or telephone. Integrations let that data automatically flow into of your PMS, reducing manual data entry.

Some PMS systems provide their own enquiry forms that you can put on your website and offer email ‘Ad-ins’ for Outlook to quickly ingest that data. But for those that don’t, you’ll want a PMS that integrates with, for example: client intake software/enquiry form builders; popular email/calendar programs like Outlook or Gmail; and CRM software etc.

If you use other software for document management or accounting for example, again your PMS needs to ability to let the data flow between it and those other tools via either direct integrations or a data connector tool like Zapier.

 

Security

Legal software vendors need robust security features that meet the highest standards and privacy controls. Security credentials should be easy to find on vendor websites or readily available upon request.

A few things to look for:

  • Who hosts your data (and what does their security look like)?
  • Where is the data hosted (AKA ‘data sovereignty’)? Can you choose ?
  • Is your data encrypted ‘in-transit’ and ‘at-rest’?
  • What security certifications do they and/or their third party providers have?

 

Cost

Most modern, cloud-based PMS systems are priced on a per user/per month basis, coming in at less than $100 per user/month, all-in including hosting. If you want host your PMS ‘on premises’ (or that’s the only option offered by a vendor) you’ll need to factor in the cost of installing hardware ($’000s) and ongoing monthly IT costs ($’00s).

Also consider implementation costs (if any). As you work through your trial period, you’ll soon be able to answer this question: is this software intuitive enough for me to implement and configure myself? If not, you’ll need a consultant to help, so budget several hundred dollars to a grand or more for that.

 

Trust Compliance / Certification

If you run a trust account, The NSW Law Society have certified 13 PMS systems as being trust account compliant under the uniform rules (as at Feb 2019), which apply to both NSW and Victoria as well.

However if you’re in one of those States looking to use a PMS not on this list (and there are several reputable providers that are not listed), that might not necessarily block you from using it. As long as the software complies with the trust accounting rules in your State, you can use it – ask the software vendor if it’s compliant and to be extra cautious, get a second opinion from your regulator.

 

Final word

Picking the right PMS software is not easy, but it has never been easier to try (for free) different options, and make the right choice without breaking the budget.

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