Law Firm Technology
I participate in a number of linked in groups and subscribe to TechnoLawyer, an online publication for law firms. Recently I have seen a number of people asking a question like “What is the best practice management software?” or “What is the best billing software?”
I cringe when I see this question. The person is likely to get answers from lots of software vendors saying we are the best or responses from other lawyers who are very happy with their software. Most of the time these responses will be informative, but not really helpful.
The problem is there is no one correct answer to this question. If there was, there would be only one software program in any category. There’s a reason there’s more than one solution, that’s because there’s no one best program for everyone. Choosing a program because it is the best for the person next door or because it won an award may work, but more often it is a recipe for problems and dissatisfaction.
Before you can choose a program you need to identify your needs. The needs of each firm are different. The differences depend on size of firm, area of practice, etc., but also on the style of the users. You may even find that you need something different than you thought, for instance maybe what would most benefit your firm now is not practice management software but document management software. If you don’t ask the right questions, you are not likely to get the right answer.
My response when asked “What is the best _______ software?” is to ask questions:
- What are your specific needs or what problem are you trying to solve for?
- What are your pain points?
- How are you doing this now and what do you like and dislike about your current approach?
I often find the dislike is more helpful than the like, and easier to answer.
Sit down with the people that will be doing using the software; identify the needs; and then prioritize. I usually set up a list of features as must have/do; nice to have/do; and absolutely should not have/do. A sense of budget is also helpful as there’s no point in identifying a solution that will cost $20,000 to implement when you are only willing to spend $5,000. But don’t rule out solutions purely based on cost as you may find that the cost of a more expensive solution is justified based on the benefits and savings.
It is important to involve those who will use the software in the process. First, they may have some insights that will be valuable in picking the solution that best meets your needs. Second, and to me more important, is that by involving users in the process, they are more likely to buy in and help with the implementation rather than hinder it. Any solution you choose will only be worthwhile if it is used.
Once you have the list you can ask the question “What is the best software to accomplish _________?” (Fill in the blank with the key items from your list). As you get recommendations, you can evaluate them against your list. As you evaluate you may decide that you have to compromise and that some of your must have/do items really aren’t needed or that something on the nice to have moves up.
Involve the users in the evaluation. You can do this in many ways depending on the people. You might ask each person to test drive a product and then analyze for the group. Or you might have multiple people look at each program. As you evaluate the software don’t forget to find out about implementation and training. If you don’t know how to use the software effectively, you may lose much of the value.
This type of evaluation will make sure you get the software that is right for your organization. Then “all you have to do” is implement and reap the benefits.