The legal practice management space is undergoing some big changes at the moment (yep, the ‘C word’….’change’).
So what is happening, how do you choose your ‘tech stack’ (the cool word for the technology products that you use in your firm), and how do you manage the transition for your team?
Why are things changing?
The age of the on premises (or ‘on prem’ if you want to sound trendy) practice management systems is rapidly coming to an end.
This is for a variety of compelling reasons.
Maintaining your own server no longer makes sense.
- It is stupidly expensive.
- Your whole firm is crippled if you lose access to the server (which happens several times a year to some firms)
- Google, Microsoft, and Amazon Web Services (who provide much of the ‘cloud’ on which most modern practice management systems live) employ an army of cyber security experts and engineers and provide redundancy (not the type that has you polishing off your CV and shopping yourself on LinkedIn. Redundancy in the sense that if your AWS server goes down another will fire up and keep your firm running).
New generations of lawyers and support staff expect a system to be easy to use and capable of integrating with other modern systems – as opposed to resembling something from the age of Windows 95 with a laborious maze of menus that leaves you confused and defeated.
Maintaining on premises systems is logistically expensive for the provider. This drains funds that could have been put towards developing or acquiring a modern cloud-based practice management system (‘PMS’) to transition their customers to.
On prem solutions with the backing of larger parent companies with a more diversified portfolio have been able to press on, while the rest seem to be gradually getting acquired by companies like ActionStep or ATI Global.
What practice management system should I choose?
The starting point is to understand that practice management systems are like people. Some are more capable than others, but they all have strengths and weaknesses.
Building a practice management system requires you to have to nail a range of features to a deep level for customers with a wide range of needs and use cases. It ain’t easy.
Just like people, practice management systems work best when they can combine strengths with other solutions and work as a team to serve your needs as the customer.
On that footing, we make the following recommendations.
Go with a practice management system that integrates with a large number and range of other solutions, especially where the company behind the PMS does not have any ownership interest in most of the solutions that it integrates with.
This indicates that the system has a reasonable API (Application Programming Interface – the tech that allows other systems to interact with it) and a competent support team. It also means that it will be easier to plug any gaps in the PMS where certain features are missing or don’t quite meet your needs.
Cloud-based with a browser-based solution
Make sure to go with a cloud-based solution (genuinely cloud-based, not just an on prem system that has been moved to an AWS or Azure server).
Give preference to a PMS that has a browser solution (i.e. you can log in on their website and use the PMS in your Chrome browser). Totally fine by the way if they have a desktop solution as well, this can be nice to have.
When a PMS is browser-based you will always be working with the latest version, and it will work best with other modern systems (e.g. so much easier to be able to open directly to a matter in your PMS from another system via an integration or URL if your PMS is browser based).
Modern user friendly interface
Make sure that your PMS is easy to use.
A PMS that is browser-based, with lots of integrations with other independent partners, and is easy to use is ideal.
This means that staff will require minimal training to learn how to use the new practice management system, you will use a greater percentage of the available features in that system, and you can plug any gaps with other specialist third-party solutions.
This is the modern age. Legal tech providers should follow modern UI (User Interface) and UX (User experience) design principles. The good news is that this is happening now and there are some great options to choose from.
Responsive support team and resources
Law firms should expect responsive customer support and a useful knowledgebase of ‘how to’ articles to support their learning and use of their practice management system.
As other firms, legal tech providers, and implementation consultants (third-party consultancies that will help you implement various legal tech and practice management solutions) about their experiences with any systems that you are considering.
How do I manage the search and transition?
Identifying and selecting a new PMS has traditionally been a long and painful exercise for most firms. So much so, that many firms will stay with a system that they actively dislike because of the time and effort it cost them last time they made a change over 10-20 years ago.
Many firms still take the path of researching and selecting a new system themselves. Long experience has proven this to be profoundly inefficient in most cases.
Just as in other life situations where you need to make important decisions, you can choose between making all the mistakes yourself, or learning from the mistakes of others.
For this reason, it is more efficient to search out a consultant who has experience with a variety of systems. They have been through the process with other firms over and over, so they can help you find the right fit quickly and help you with managing the transition.
It is also a good idea to get along to industry conferences where legal tech providers will be exhibiting. In the space of a couple of hours you can do the rounds and get high level demos of most of the options you have to choose from, and you may even discover some new legal tech solutions earlier than your competition that can give you an edge over them.
It is also a good idea to involve key staff and get them onboard with the decision. This will help to avoid them feeling that it was imposed on them and the risk of them criticising the new system to other staff.
When implementing a new system, make sure to actively support it and lead from the front. As opposed to signing up for it, telling the staff they should use it, but you don’t use it yourself (delegating a problem, and solving a problem are not the same thing). If your actions don’t match your words, your words won’t be credible to your team.
The legal practice management landscape is changing rapidly. On premises (running your practice management system on a box under someone’s desk) solutions are being phased out, and cloud-based solutions are replacing them.
A large number of law firms have been realizing this and are actively reviewing their tech. You can drastically cut down the time identifying your new tech stack by seeking the advice of implementation consultants that cover a number of practice management and other legal tech solutions, and by attending conferences where legal tech providers are exhibiting (simply review the ‘partners’ or ‘sponsors’ page of the conferences you are thinking of attending to see which providers will be there).
Keep in mind that all practice management systems, like people, have strengths and weaknesses. And like people, they are most effective if they work well as a team with other systems to cover what you need.
A good rule of thumb is to go with a solution that has a wide variety of integrations with independent third-party providers, has a browser-based option, has an easy to use interface, and a reputation for after sales support.
Hivelight can help
If you are looking to take your firm to the next level, Hivelight is in a unique position to help. We enable you to have great business systems, workflows, and matter management regardless of which practice management system you go with.
Hivelight is super-fast to implement, works stand alone, and has integrations with most of the leading set of practice management systems.
Hivelight can ensure that at all times during any transition to a new practice management system you never loose visibility of where all your matters and projects are up to. Our productivity feature set also means that you can choose from and scale with a wider variety of practice management systems.