Practice Tip: Calling on your own legal genie…the magic of case management software

by David J. Bilinsky, Practice Management Advisor

I was reviewing last year’s statistics from the Lawyers Insurance Fund and they made for interesting reading. In particular, they indicate that the most significant cause of insurance claims and potential claims is simple oversight on the part of lawyers — a full one-third of all insurance reports result from sloppy practices, poor diary systems or “oops’s.” These claims should be avoidable — given the right tools and systems.

For many years I have been speaking of the power of case management (or practice management) software and what it can do to transform your practice. Amicus Attorney, Time Matters, LawStream, ProLaw and others have reached about a 40% penetration level among US lawyers, according to the latest ABA Legal Technology Survey. For a change, I thought I would let lawyers other than me do the talking; here I have quoted a few of our colleagues south of the border who have implemented practice management software, and reaped the benefits.

Let’s start with these observations from Randy B. Birch, Heber City/Salt Lake City, Utah:

If I could start my practice all over again, I would get the practice management software and take the training before I was even sworn in. How nice would it be to start with a few dates and names and learn to get it right. How many thousands of hours would you have saved by the time you have practised 20 years? How many hours and sleepless nights could have been avoided or even cash paid out for missed hearings, late prep, etc. I think I wish for that more often than I wish I was young again.

Ross L. Kodner, Senior Legal Technologist / CEO at MicroLaw, Inc. and speaker at the 2005 Pacific Legal Technology Conference has this to say:

I don’t believe any case/practice manager is “fancy” software. I view it as being the most core, fundamentally essential system for any practice, from solos to mega big law firms.

The three most expensive practice management mistakes any practice can make are:

  • not getting a practice management system,
  • getting a practice management system but implementing it badly,
  • not getting a practice management system and attempting instead to “devise your own little system and save yourself some bucks, time and headaches.”

I speak from expensive, painful, over and over and over again experience. It’s true, whether you want to hear it or not. Key point: you have a one-time luxury of getting your new practice started the best possible “right way.” Don’t blow it by failing to follow Red Adair’s sage advice: “If you think hiring an expert is expensive, try hiring an amateur.”

Jonathan G. Stein, Elk Grove, California:

I am a Time Matters user, although I used another program at a different firm. Outlook and ACT are more like contact managers with scheduling capability. Time Matters does so much more. Off the top of my head, I do the following with TM:

  • track every case in my office,
  • manage all my contacts,
  • schedule everything,
  • set up new cases and, with about two clicks, schedule … every deadline and every other important date.

And he had more praise for the program:

  • TM lets me write letters by importing data into WP.
  • TM bills my time and generates invoices.
  • TM lets me archive my old cases so I still have them around.
  • When you get substituted out of a case, as I just was, I can quickly generate my lien so that I get paid.
  • TM can relate things to each other.
  • TM keeps track of the adjusters I have cases with.
  • TM will let me check for conflicts quickly.
  • TM lets me keep notes on files.

Gil Shuga of Mesa, Arizona:

This really is one of those penny wise, pound foolish issues. Moreover, that fact is hard to accept if you are already up and running successfully and haven’t made the move to case management software. For a true solo, just the document generation features of case management software (I only have experience with Time Matters) pays for the software and training very quickly.

I have been using Time Matters for about five years. Over that time, I have spent less than $1,800 on software and consultant fees. Some people spend more, some spend less. For me it has been a real bargain. In retrospect, I wish I had started using it the day I went solo. Even though I had more time than money back then, I see now that it would have been a worthwhile expense.

Nerino J. Petro, Jr., recently appointed the Practice Management Advisor for the State Bar of Wisconsin, had this to say:

I see this thought a lot from new as well as practising attorneys. They often don’t see the value in the legal specific packages. Instead they try and use an “off the shelf” product because it’s less expensive. Then they spend a lot of time, energy and money literally “recreating the wheel” rather than focusing on what they do best.

Products like Outlook are not designed to work from a “file” or “matter” focused perspective (i.e., working from a matter rather than a contact). What the legal packages allow you to do is to gather in one place all the information regarding a specific file or matter.

In my own practice, Time Matters is where we keep everything regarding the file, including contacts and related parties, phone records, notes, email, documents, research information, etc. I enter contacts one time and can use them over and over again because Time Matters is a relational database allowing one to many relationship between records (meaning that I can relate different pieces of information together without having to enter new records each time).

One of the benefits of using a legal specific-matter management package such as Time Matters, Practice Master, Amicus or Abacus is the ability to identify matters by a practice area. You can create lists of matters and then identify the associated clients for practice areas in which you want to send targeted information and marketing materials. Rather than just sending out general information newsletters, you can target clients for newsletters and information that is focused on their specific needs. For your corporate clients, you can send information regarding changes to your state’s business corporation act or changes in tax treatment. Your clients that rent property can be targeted for information specific to landlord-tenant matters.

If you are using a legal specific time and billing package, you can also create detailed reports on the practice area or areas where the majority of your income is coming from, which may surprise you. Using this information, you can further tailor your marketing efforts to those areas that are your most profitable.

So there you have it — you can see how these lawyers have rubbed the magic lamp and released their own genie in the form of practice management software. Their common delight in having a case management product that it is built around their files and incorporates all the systems necessary to practise law effectively. Amicus and other practice management software packages deliver calendaring, bring- forward and reminder dates, conflict checking, billable time tracking, contacts and file management directly to the lawyer’s desktop and fingertips. Furthermore they all have document-generation abilities. This hopefully reduces the “oops” factor as you create documents from standard templates, rather than using “search and replace.”

To wrap up these testimonials on a personal note, I can say I have been using Amicus Attorney now for at least 10 years, both in private practice and in my work at the Law Society. I simply could not imagine practising law without it. It is the “central nervous system” in my own office. I currently have 8,199 contacts listed in the contact manager, and I can refer to all phone messages, all phone calls and my notes of these calls with just a few mouse clicks — without leaving my desk and without having to go fetch a paper file. The time saving from this feature alone quickly pays for the software, and I gain the benefit of all the other features as an added bonus. I also use Amicus Attorney with Dragon Naturally Speaking v 8 speech recognition — allowing me to dictate my notes of my conversations directly into Amicus — which represents a further time savings.

If you haven’t tried case management software before, you’ll be amazed. It’s like a genie just waiting to save you from your “oops” and sloppy mistakes. Interested? All that remains is to rub the lamp and release the genie. It’s truly finding a friend like you have never had before!