Wednesday, March 25, 2009

You Need Practice Management Software!

I have used practice management software for years. In my particular case the program is Amicus Attorney. I would not say the relationship I have with the program is perfect (see rants and venting elsewhere in this blog). On the whole though, the pluses for outweigh the minuses, and I consider the software a can't live without.

On his Does It Compute blog John Heckman also gives his thumb-up to practice management software. Here is what John has to say.

Practice Management: A Day in the Life

Think of a Practice Management program as a giant Redweld. For each client or matter, there are folders for documents, contact addresses, emails, memos to file, phone slips, Internet research, etc. But instead of having to hunt for it (hint: It will be at the bottom of the large pile in the corner of the attorney’s office), you just check the computer, and there it is! Practice Management programs store electronically in one place everything that you normally store on paper in the client file. At the core of any practice management system is the matter (or engagement, case, or whatever you call it). Unlike Outlook, which is individual-central (all emails are listed as to or from a specific individual), these systems are matter-centric. By putting all the emails, documents, phone calls, appointments, notes, todos, time records, Internet research, etc. in one electronic place, everyone who works on the case has access to them, instead of having them dispersed who knows where. Clients tell me that their practice management system can reduce the number of times they have to find and consult a physical file by up to 70%. So let’s look at:

A Day In the Life...

You open your practice management software when you get into the office. Up pops a list of your appointments, to dos, phone messages, new emails, and the reminders of court dates, filings, statutes of limitations, etc. (A leading cause of malpractice suits is missing deadlines). Already you feel more in control.
No sooner do you settle in than you get a phone call. The prospect you spoke with yesterday wants to retain you. You (or a paralegal or assistant) do a conflict check which does not turn up any conflicts based on the information in the software (so you don’t have to waste a half a day checking to see if anybody else knows of any conflicts). You open the new matter. You add the contact information for various parties (except that the opposing attorney is somebody you have already dealt with, so he is already in your rolodex – you will never have to retype that information). You associate the contacts with the matter: the client, opposing counsel, various parties, depending on the type of case.
You call the new client back to set up a meeting. The Phone timer starts, accurately recording the amount of time you spend. You check everybody else’s calendar to make sure they are free, then set up a meeting for next Tuesday and enter the time and date in the Calendar module – together with adding your Paralegal to the appointment (which will show up on his calendar too) and reserving the Rear Conference Room (which also is controlled by the calendar – so you can always see the status of the conference room from your computer). While you are on the phone, the program’s internal Instant Messaging application pops up with a note from your secretary saying that another client is in the waiting room. You IM back that you will be right there, then stop the Phone timer and click another button to make a time entry for the phone call.
You need a retainer letter for the client, so from your word processor, you access the practice management program’s templates and create your basic retainer, complete with all the client information you already entered (no need to retype it). You then check over the draft, make changes and save the final letter and associate it with the matter.
You assign a task to your secretary to create the other documents needed when a file is opened. While you were working on this letter, you get a phone call on a different matter. You switch timers to the other matter, record the call and make a quick time entry before getting back to your letter.
You then create a “note” on the engagement – an electronic memo to file, which is also related to the matter.
Later that day, the client emails you that the address information was incomplete. You start a timer for dealing with the email, and complete the address information (which is now available, corrected, for everyone). You save the email to the PM system, associating it with the client. You again stop the timer and make a time entry.
Meanwhile, you need to do some internet research for the case. You find the sources you want on the web and – guess what – save those to the matter as well, so that you can click on the web address and go back to the page without having to hunt for it again.
You need to make a check list of things to do for this new client. You go through the outline for this type of case, and delegate various tasks to your assistant, paralegal, etc. You create chains of linked events so that you can track court deadlines, Statute of Limitations, etc.
At the end of the day, you go into your time entries, edit them and post them to your time and billing software. You notice in passing that whereas you recollect being on the phone for 10 minutes with the client, the timer information shows that you were actually on the phone for a half an hour – that’s an additional 20 minutes you would not have billed otherwise.
While you are working, your contact list and calendar is synchronized with Outlook and your PDA/Blackberry/iPhone, etc. When you leave the office, it is up to date, so you always have a current contact list and calendar with you.
The next morning you come in and what to check the status of the case. You open the file, and note that your assistant and finished 2 of the 3 initial tasks you assigned, and is half done with the last one. You review the appointment, phone call and emails for the engagement. You realize you have saved at least 10 minutes in the process of creating this matter.
Wow! you say to yourself. If I save 12 minutes a day, that’s an hour a week, times 50 weeks a year at my billing rate of $250 an hour, that’s $12,500 a year. And I billed an extra 20 minutes for that phone call that I would not otherwise have remembered. Another hour a week billing additional time for things I would almost certainly otherwise have forgotten, that’s another $12,500 a year in actual additional billings (hard cash)! How come it took me so long to buy this software? Think of all the money I was throwing away when I didn’t have it!!

Please click here for John's original article.

Please be sure to visit, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.

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