Many attorneys have started using cloud-based applications or Software as a Service (SaaS) to take their practice virtual.  Often, firms come at the process piecemeal.  They will start storing and sharing documents online using a digital repository like Dropbox and use online accounting software to manage their bookkeeping.

The problem with proceeding in this piecemeal fashion is that the attorney ends up utilizing a series of unintegrated applications that are not made for attorneys.  Practice management software is designed to solve this problem.  It integrates a variety of separate functions in the same software in a way that designed to serve the needs of lawyers. But with a host of types of practice management software available, selecting a solution can be bewildering.  To help you, we identify important features of practice management software and discuss how to evaluate whether a SaaS solution is right for you.

Why is Practice Management Software Important for Attorneys?

Practice management software integrates different software functions in a way that is customized for attorneys. Project management software has advantages with regard to keeping the sensitive and often confidential information handled by attorneys secure.  It allows functions that would normally be performed by different pieces of software to share data in one location, which reduces security risks associated with transmitting data between applications.  Further, when you work in many different applications, each application is a potential target for a hacker.  By reducing the number of applications you use, you’re reducing the number of targets.

Cloud-based practice management software allows for simultaneous updates within one system. You don’t need to worry about re-installing one of your applications to keep it updated or worry whether a new version of your software will integrate with an older version of another piece of software. Project management software solves this problem by providing these different functionalities in a single application.

What You Should Look for in Project Management Software

  1. Security: First and foremost, you should investigate the precautions that the PM software provider takes to keep your data secure. Ask questions like:
    • Is data encrypted?
    • Does the PM provider employ firewalls?
    • Is there a backup and recovery plan in place?
    • Is data stored in a way such that it is exportable should you switch to a new PM or should the SaaS provider cease operating?
    • Has the provider experienced incidents of the data breach in the past?
  2. Ability to Control Access: Make sure that your PM software allows you to manage access to information as required by your practice.  You will want to be able to issue credentials that provide access to the appropriate materials, perhaps limited to particular matters or all matters falling within a practice area, and the right level of access, for example, the ability to retrieve documents, but not delete them. This feature allows you to collaborate with remotely working members of your team by providing permissions that allow collaborations and discontinuing those permissions as necessary.  For example, if you have a virtual paralegal who only assists with your family law clients, you can grant them access to the information that is only relevant to that area of your practice. If a legal secretary, paralegal, or attorney leaves your practice, you can deactivate their credentials to prevent further access.
  3. Integrated Timekeeping, Invoicing, and Accounting Features: Selecting PM software that integrates timekeeping, invoicing, and trust account management is a significant advantage of PM software over utilizing separate applications for these functions. When different pieces of software are used for timekeeping, invoicing, and trust accounting, there are risks that there will be errors entering data from the timekeeping system to the invoicing system and incorrect invoice amounts could be withdrawn from client accounts.  By integrating timekeeping, invoicing, and trust account management, practice management software reduces the chance of these errors.  Further, because the system is designed with attorneys in mind, it usually includes helpful features like alerts to prevent overdrafts of client trust accounts.

What We’re Seeing From Our Clients

Our virtual paralegals support lots of law firms who use practice management software as a tool to help run their practice.  We’ve observed that Clio seems to be the most popular software amongst our clients.  It provides an intuitive and easy-to-use interface along with many of the features discussed above, including timekeeping, billing and, account management features.  Attorneys can share data with their virtual paralegal easily by providing credentials.  Finally, pricing is affordable for many solo and small practices.