With 63% of law firms purchasing new legal software within the last year
it’s clear more and more firms are adopting technology solutions to grow their business and better represent clients. At a high level, case management software (CMS) helps you manage all the types of data each case generates—from emails to records to contracts. With the right CMS to store, share, and analyze this data, you are better-equipped to serve clients, manage your staff, and streamline every aspect of your workflow. It’s vital to ask the right questions before buying case management software in order to choose the right software.
There are a lot of legal software products to choose from, and you want the one that will best fit your firm’s needs, business model, and budget. In this post, we will look at six essential questions to ask before buying case management software.
1. What do you need your case management software to do?
Before you start looking at any technology, consider what your firm is trying to achieve with the software. What inspired the decision to look at purchasing or changing software? What specific problems need solving? Based on your needs, your firm might just require a simple contact and calendar application, or you could benefit from adopting an end-to-end case management platform that analyzes every action on a case.
For example, say your firm needed to better manage case information and documents in order to streamline your workflow. Once you established this goal, you’d identify the specific problems you wanted to address such as:
- Case information is used in multiple unrelated locations, requiring duplicate entry to different applications and making it hard to share case details.
- Information is not in electronic format, so it can’t be easily analyzed and gets lost.
- Information is created and saved in multiple formats, making it impossible to aggregate.
- Case documents are inconsistently named and non-standardized, making it hard to find documents quickly.
- Attorneys need to work remotely and want an easy to use system they can access from mobile devices.
Answering these big questions can help define what you need your new software to do (in this example, manage all case documents in a shared, easily-accessible system) in order to narrow the search.
2. Who will use this case management software and how?
Once you know what problems you want the case management software to solve, you can move on to which members of your staff will be using the new software. Remember to consider all staff—receptionists/administrative staff, case managers, paralegals, as well as attorneys. When choosing software, it can be tempting to prioritize attorneys’ needs over support staff. However, you don’t want to force a hard-to-use system on your paralegals and administrative staff if you want them to generate the best work product as efficiently as possible.
If analyzing all these roles seems overwhelming, focus on identifying which tasks your users need to perform. Depending on the size of your firm, the tasks may be more narrowly tailored across your workforce. What do you expect of your staff? What are their day-to-day tasks and how will your case management software make their work easier?
Take client communication, for example. The success of any plaintiffs’ firm depends on communicating with clients in a timely and accurate manner to update them about their case progress, acquire signatures and approval, and gather key documents. This demands high volumes of emails, faxes, phone calls, or postal mailing, and many firms rely on support staff to manually make digital records of these communications. If case management software could streamline or integrate this communication step into its file storage and case notes, you could save your staff a lot of time and prevent clerical errors.
Remember the goals from your first question, and connect those goals with the tasks you need your staff to perform. Ultimately, you want your legal software to enhance the efficiency of your practice—enter data into the system, maximize the use of the data to drive action, and consolidate data into information and processes so everyone is working with the same tools. This makes it important to involve your staff in the process of choosing your new legal software.
3. What do you want implementation of this software to look like?
Implementing new case management software isn’t just flipping a switch. You will need to transition to the new system, which can demand both adapting the new technology to your processes and changing your existing practices and systems to fit your new software. Some case management software will integrate easily with your existing processes, and some will require substantial change.
It’s up to your firm to decide how much effort and change you can handle when you implement your new software. Here are some of the implementation challenges to consider:
- You will need to extract data from your existing system(s) and add it to the new one. Some software can do this easily in a few clicks, but others will require you to export data into spreadsheets and upload each spreadsheet to your new system. It’s also worth researching how easy it will be to export data out of this new software should you decide to change your firm’s platform down the road.
- You will need to adapt your new software to the kinds of cases your firm handles. Each case type generally reflects a different cause of action with different legal standards, statute of limitations, elements of proof, and the like. You want legal software that will accommodate the variables of the kinds of cases your firm focuses on.
- You will need to integrate the new software with your existing technology. The best example of this is email. How does the case management system work with Outlook, Gmail, or whatever other email provider you use? Can it easily download your contact information and past messages to integrate with the new system?
- You need to verify if you will need other systems to support your legal software. For example, while some case management software includes cloud-based document storage, other legal software may require a separate document storage solution like Dropbox or Google drive.
In short, it’s vital to decide how much customization your new software will require for implementation. If you want your new technology to deliver value quickly and not require extensive tuning and setup, prioritize case management software that integrates easily with your existing systems and fits the case workflow of your firm.
4. How does this CMS handle security for case information?
Law firms have always been held to high standards of confidentiality, so it’s no surprise information security is vitally important in case management software. As you look for the right legal software for your firm, pay attention to how that software secures digital case information. Some key features to look for include:
- Encrypting case information to protect it from unauthorized users.
- Storing case data in a secure private cloud rather than onsite hard drives alone.
- Offering human-focused security options like two-factor authentication and custom user privileges.
- Allowing your firm to customize security features to fit your firm’s workflow needs.
This last point is especially important, as you want case management software that will flex to fit your firm’s processes, case load, and clients. Otherwise you could end up with overly rigorous security measures that slow down your operation, or skimpy protection that leaves your clients exposed to hackers.
5. What kind of training and support is available for this software?
Case management software is only valuable if your staff can actually use it effectively. The last thing you want is to pay for expensive technology, then only use a fraction of its features because no one at your firm knows how they work.
As you choose new legal software, pay attention to how user-friendly it is and how the vendor handles onboarding, customer success, and technical support. Here are some training and support factors to consider:
- What types of training and support are offered? In person? Online? Do they have dedicated customer service people available by phone? What hours are they available?
- Are their support people internal? Or will you have to work with a third party?
- A legal software vendor may offer you a dedicated customer success person to help your firm make the most of the product’s features, like its analytics capabilities. If your team is unexperienced in data science and reporting, this concierge service can make the learning curve much less steep.
6. What’s the future of this product and vendor?
Whenever you consider a major business purchase, take a close look at the vendor’s plans to optimize and update your software over the long term. Pay special attention to how the vendor collects and prioritizes customer feedback and addresses information security.
Software updates are a major way that vendors show their commitment to their customers. You want to do business with vendors who prioritize research and development in order to add new features and improving the interface. Ask about the product roadmap to see where the company wants to take this legal software in the future. These forward-looking companies are more likely to offer you the best value for your investment for years to come.
Beside these big changes, you definitely want the vendor to keep up with security updates in order to protect your clients. These encryption and security patches might not seem exciting, but they are essential for reliable legal software. The last thing you want is to rely on case management technology that’s vulnerable to hackers because the software vendor didn’t keep up with the times.
Finding the Case Management Software That Fits Your Firm
Your law firm is not like all the others, so do not settle for legal software that does not fit your needs. By asking the right questions to ask before buying case management software, you’ll be prepared to find the product and vendor that are right for you.
If you’d like more information about legal software, please read this in-depth guide to what case management software is and what it can do. Feel free to reach out to the GrowPath team if you have specific questions about our technology and how it can help your practice.
Tara Williams is an attorney and Vice President of Customer Success for GrowPath. She has more than 20 years of experience in operations management for plaintiffs’ firms.