Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

Category: Technology

May 10, 2017


Law Firm Billing Software – Cloud-Based vs. Desktop

Question: 

I am the managing partner of a twelve attorney firm in Toledo, Ohio. Our firm is evaluating new billing software and we are looking into some of the cloud-based solutions. We are currently using a desktop program that we have been using for fifteen years. The program handles our billing as well as our accounting. We have kept up with the updates to the program and the software has worked well for us. Several of our younger attorneys have used a couple of cloud-based billing programs in other firms and are trying to convince the firm to change over to one of these programs. They believe it is easier to enter their time sheets and they believe the software is easier to work with. What are your thoughts?

Response: 

I agree that the subscription cloud-based billing programs are easier to learn and use. In part this is due to limited function and capabilities. However, user simplicity is only part of the equation. The bigger question is whether the software will meet your needs. Many of the cloud-based programs were designed for solo practitioners or very small firms with limited reporting requirements. While these programs are getting better and inheriting more features they are still not up to par with the older desktop programs. Limitations include:

By the time you add in the cost of additional accounting software that you have to buy and maintain and factor in the number of users – subscription cloud-based solutions can get expensive for a firm such as yours that may have twenty users. The cloud-based billing software alone may cost between fifty to one hundred dollars per user per month – in your case one thousand to two thousand dollars per month. This cost will be offset by savings on hardware, IT support, user training, managing software updates, etc.

Cloud-based subscription billing software is getting better every year, is the wave of the future, and is a good solution for solo attorneys and very small practices. However, it may not have the functions and features that you need in your twelve attorney firm. Analyze the reports you are using now and what you need out of your system and then compare your requirements against the capabilities of each cloud-based system that you are considering.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

 

Feb 14, 2017


Law Firms Moving to the Cloud

Question: 

Our firm is a twelve-attorney business litigation firm in Sacramento, California. I am one of three members on our technology committee. Our IT infrastructure consists of an in-house Microsoft file server, a separate Microsoft Exchange e-mail server, document management as well as time billing and accounting software. Our documents are stored locally and managed by the locally installed document management software. Several of our partners have talked with other firms that are operating totally in the cloud. We would appreciate your thoughts on whether moving to the cloud is something that we should consider?

Response: 

It would be interesting to know the size of firms that your partners have been talking with. I am seeing many solo and very small firms operating completely in the cloud using cloud-based time and billing applications such as Clio, Rocket Matter, and QuickBooks online with their e-mail hosted using Microsoft Office 365. Some are using products such as DropBox and Microsoft One Drive to store their documents in the cloud. These billing applications do not provide the functionality and reporting that larger firms require and as a result larger firms are still using systems that firms have been using for years. Some firms that are using these systems are having them hosted in the cloud. These firms have no premises file servers. All of their data is hosted in the cloud – applications, documents, and e-mail. (Note this is different that cloud-based applications).

Firm’s your size are taking a more cautious approach to moving to the cloud. Many firms have large investments in their existing hardware and software and also have concerns about security and confidentiality issues. While it is tempting to look to the cloud as our savior from constant hardware and software upgrades as well as IT providers, moving to the cloud should not be explored without doing your homework.

Personally, I believe that in many cases the cloud may be more secure than the security that exists in many law firms on premises systems. Law firms and law departments are increasingly adopting the cloud. Fifty-six percent of the Am Law 200 firms polled in the Partnership Perspectives Survey use some form of cloud computing and 47 percent of those polled in the 2016 ITLA/InsideLegal Technology Purchasing Survey predicted that over a quarter of their firm’s software and service offerings could be cloud-based in the next one to three years. Sixty-one percent of small firms polled in the ILTA survey said that over half of their firm’s software could be cloud-based in the next one to three years.

Here are my thoughts and suggestions:

  1. Don’t rush off without doing due diligence on the application or hosting vendor. Checkout their security both while your data is in transit and at rest on their computers. Read all their whitepapers and contracts. Check references.
  2. Be careful of implmenting existing billing and accounting cloud-based applications. You may be going backwards until these systems mature and incorporate many of the features and reporting needed by larger firms.
  3. Don’t go with the new kid on the block. Insure that you go with a vendor that has staying power in the market.
  4. Take baby-steps – you might want to start with:
    1. Having your e-mail hosted.
    2. Later – implement a cloud-based document managment system.
    3. Later – have your existing billing and accounting applications hosted with a cloud provider.
  5. See where the time-billing and accounting cloud-based applications are in a few years and whether you should consider moving to such a system.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

 

 

 

Feb 25, 2014


Law Firm Partners That Won’t Embrace Technology

Question:

I am the managing partner of an 8 attorney general practice firm located in Charleston, South Carolina. We have done a pretty good job of investing in technology. I am having problems getting our older partners to personally use the technology and this has resulted is our attorney staff ratios and resulting overhead to be higher than it should be. They seem to think that doing their own work is beneath them and want to have their own personal assistants. I would appreciate any thoughts that you have on the matter.


Response:

Few firms can afford the luxury of each attorney having their own secretary/assistant. The economics no longer support such staffing. Many firms today are operating with much leaner attorney/staff ratios – typically two to three attorneys for each secretary/assistant – some firms have four attorneys to each secretary/assistant. I suggest you build the economic case, encourage, train, and motivate these partners to learn how to use and to actually use the technology and if all else fails offset the economic impact as a direct charge against their compensation.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

 

Aug 31, 2003


Law Firm Training and Use of Technology

Question:

We recently implemented a new computer system and spent a lot of money on initial software training. However, our attorneys and staff must have forgotten everything they learned. It seems that they are only using a fraction of the software’s capabilities.

Response:

Training and skill development is not easy. Studies reveal that 90 percent of the people who attend seminars and training sessions see no improvement because they don’t take the time to implement what they learn. Practices create habits and habits determine your future. Up to 90 percent of our normal behavior is based on habits. The key to skill learning is to get the new skill to become a habit. Once the new habit is well developed it becomes your new normal behavior. This requires practice. Unfortunately, law firms do not give employees time to practice and experiment.

Research on memory and retention shows that upon completion of a training session, there is a precipitous drop in retention during the first few hours after exposure to the new information. We forget more than 60 percent of the information in less than nine hours. After seven days only 10 percent of the material is retained. Most memory loss occurs very rapidly after learning new information. Your employees can improve their memories by:

  • Engaging in rehearsal/practice.
  • Scheduling distributed practice.
  • Minimizing interference.
  • Engaging in deep mental processing.
  • Emphasizing transfer.
  • Organizing information.

    Skills become automated through practice. The more we perform a set of actions, the more likely we are to link those actions into a complete, fluid movement that we do not have to think about. With enough practice, employees can become fluent in many different physical and mental skills.

    Provide your attorneys and staff with time to practice and experiment. Schedule lunch and learn programs. Provide ongoing training in small bite size chunks relevant to the needs of the firm in a just-in-time fashion.

    John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

  • May 11, 2003


    Deployment of Technology in Law Firms

    Question:

    How are law firms doing with deployment of technology? What are your thoughts?

    Response:

     Law firms are spending lots of money and making substantial investments in technology. However, many are simply automating old processes and ways of doing things that no longer make sense. Law firms needs to begin using technology to enable the firm to implement new processes and ways of serving clients. Obsolete practices and procedures should be discarded.

    John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

    Nov 13, 2001


    How To Use Current E-Business Websites to Improve Law Firm Profits

    Question:

    How can the new technology help law firms improve profitability?

    Response:

    What Does Your Law Firm Need From the E-Marketplace: More Clients, More Business, More Income?
    Electronic business to business web sites can now offer law firms the opportunity for quicker, cost effective and, more targeted client contacts. They basically do all the marketing and business aspects of client contacts while lawyers are able to do the legal part. They are geared to provide the following:

    Shifting From The Old Legal Business Paradigm to The New Legal E-Market Paradigm
    Everyday we read about or directly experience the rapid changes that occur in law firms, professional careers, and business cycles. Change is occurring more and more quickly! Today you see law firms downsizing, going out of business or merging with other law firms. You also observe professional lawyers experiencing a significant decrease in their income or sometimes leaving the profession and entering other career fields. Therefore, it becomes incumbent upon you to keep abreast of the changes that can critically effect law firm practices.
    Comparing the old legal business paradigm to the new E-Market paradigm brings out the painful and positive realities facing many law firms today. Look at the differences below.

    Factors of Old Legal Business Paradigm Factors of New Legal E-Market Paradigm
    1. Advertise in phone book & other media 1. Web site distributes your services 24/7
    2. Costs of a full time office staff 2. E-Market does much your office work
    3. Have files full of papers 3. Become a more paperless firm
    4. You bill your clients 4. E-Market bills your clients
    5. You collect from your clients 5. E-Market collects from your clients
    6. You deposit money into bank account 6. E-Market electronically transfers funds

    You can quickly see that the old legal business paradigm is more labor intensive and costly to maintain. On the other hand E-Markets are more accountable, productive, reliable, and cost effective. They provide you with more time to practice law and less time managing office problems and costly office staff (not to mention rapid staff turn-over rates and required training). At the very least E-Markets should become a necessary adjunct to your practice because it can require minimal input from you with greater payoff.

    Do You and Your Staff Have The Basic Computer and Internet Skills Necessary to Meet the 21st Century Business Challenge?
    Below is a short assessment of both computer and Internet literacy.

    1. 1. Can you type at least 25 to 35 words a minute?
    2. Do you own or have access to a computer that is at least two years old and has current software for word processing, business charts and graphs, billing software, etc.?
    3. Do you have satisfactory access to the Internet by a phone line, T-1 line or DSL?
    4. Are you satisfied with your current online Internet carrier so you have minimal disruptions when you get online?
    5. Do you have an E-mail address where clients can reach you?
    6. Do you feel comfortable sending E-mails with document attachments to other lawyers and your clients?
    7. Can you open a PDF files using Adobe Acrobat Reader?
    8. Can you zip and unzip files?
    9. Do you have at least several years of experience searching the web for legal information you need?
    10. Are you comfortable asking basic questions about your computer or using the Internet when you are experiencing problems and do not know the solutions?
    11. Can you teach other lawyers or clients how to use a computer?
    12. Can you teach other lawyers or clients how to navigate the web?

    Being computer literate is a necessity today. It is a new skill that must be attained by all professionals in order for them to be fully functional in their jobs and at work. They can be handicapped by not being computer literate and as a result be unable to meet the demands of the E-Markets and business to business relationships.

    New Professional Skills and Competencies Needed By Today's Lawyer
    To maximize and optimize your opportunity as a successful lawyer in a law firm you will need to add these skills to your existing skills.

    What It Takes to Create a Successful Law Firm Practice
    In a few words, it takes…awareness, planning and follow through to begin to expand and improve your law firm. Most human beings talk a good game about being successful, but very few ever succeed. Our society teaches us to talk about ideals, but very few live up to the expectations of our words. Human nature is such that we want and expect the best; we work for mediocrity, and settle for very little. Once we establish old antiquated habits, it becomes extremely difficult to convert to new updated habits; that is because the old habits served us well during a specific time frame, but new habits need to be adopted to serve us during current times.

    Creating and Reinventing a More Successful Law Firm for the 21st Century
    It will take both the understanding of the new business model, and the implementation of current computer technology to be able to use the power of the Internet to your advantage. Below is a list of action plans that you need to address:

    1. Bring in new computers with updated software that can be used by your law firm (some companies are giving their employees, as a benefit, computers for personal use to become familiar and comfortable with them).
    2. Get a provider that you can depend on when you need to get online.
    3. Provide your law firm staff with the training to use the equipment at a maximal level (this usually means 60 to 80 hours of training over a six to twelve month period, and you can also improve employee loyalty and morale).
    4. Check out current web sites for lawyers and law firms that emphasize business to business activities that will suit your law firm's business needs. (A list is provided in the next section of this article).
    5. Most importantly give yourself permission to ask "dumb" questions about computer technology and using the Internet. You will quickly find that many other people are asking the same questions as you.

    A Current List of E-Marketplaces for Your Review Check out the different E-marketplaces listed below. See which ones best fit with your law firm's needs and business plan. These sites are very consumer friendly and willing to answer your questions.

    iBidLaw.com -a web site that plans to go after big-ticket assignments. It is still under construction at the time of this writing.
    eLawForum.com-a global business to business web site where corporations seek outside counsel by posting an RFP. Fee structures, whether fixed, contingency, or hourly, are stipulated by the corporation.
    LegalPath.com-a web site that offers business to business exchange based on corporations seeking outside counsel. It currently focuses on smaller assignments in three areas: work-medical malpractice, insurance defense, and debt collection. Law firms are part of the registry and can gain visibility with prospective clients.
    LegalMatch.com-The web site connects lawyers with people. Lawyers can review cases in their practice area and location and inform desired clients of their professional interest.
    Lawcommerce.com-This web site is an online center for the legal profession to access. You can access forms, checklists, agreements, locate CLE training and research cases.
    Niku.com-This web site helps law firms to become more competitive by exploring the full power of the Internet.
    FirmSeek.com-This web site allows potential clients to submit an RFP and law firms can view these and respond to them. You can do legal research, get legal forms, and look at law firm rankings as well as see professional activities for lawyers.

    Predicting The Future Labor statistics and experience tells us that professionals, including lawyers, will change jobs many times and careers several times in their lifetime. What does this mean for lawyers and law firms? Basically it means that you must constantly reinvent yourself and your law firm to stay abreast of future change.
    Allow us to speculate for a minute about the future. From now till the year 2020 we are able to predict with a certain amount of confidence some of the following changes lawyers may experience in their jobs and careers.

    Possible career changes where you can become a:

    1. teacher, instructor or professor,
    2. businessperson or join a business firm,
    3. legal software developer,
    4. a legal consultant for software,
    5. free lance writer, author, or columnist,
    6. politician.

    Possible job changes:

    1. help others in your law firm to learn financial software,
    2. teach others in the law firm how to effectively use legal software,
    3. develop a web site for your law firm,
    4. compose articles for your web site, or publish them in the law firm newsletter or law firm journals,
    5. train lawyers in your law firm how to improve their use of current technology,
    6. work part time for a business to business web service,
    7. be the main marketing person for your law firm,
    8. develop your law firm's business plan,
    9. become a mentor and coach to others in your law firm,
    10. become an expert in global business to business relationships.

    It becomes quickly evident that E-markets and E-business have a very profound effect on what lawyers will be doing in the future. Practicing law is only one option among many possibilities.

    Dr. Thomas J. Venardos is an adjunct management consultant with Olmstead & Associates, Legal Management Consultants, St. Louis, MO, and President of Venardos Management Group, Organizational Performance Consultants, located in Las Vegas, Nevada. Dr. Venardos may be contacted by e-mail at tvenardos@olmsteadassoc.com.

    Mar 29, 2001


    Case Management Software For Law FIrms

    Question:

    We are looking to implement a case management system? Does anyone have any suggestions?

    Response:

    There are several good systems available. Some such as those from Elite and Prolaw are excellent systems that are fully integrated with accounting and other office systems. These systems are typically found in the larger law firms. For small firms, Amicus Attorney, CaseMaster III, and Time Matters are good systems. We like the CaseMaster III product from Software Technology since it is fully integrated with their time and billing system.

    John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

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