Getting organized at a new level

By Scott Baird and Dan Berlin of Software Technology Inc.

Reprinted by permission from the Chicago Lawyer magazine

No two law firms are identical, but when it comes to managing their practice, they have four basic needs. All law firms must organize a calendar, maintain a contact list, be able to check for conflicts and keep case information current and organized.

Whether your office is out of your home or in a high-rise, you should be using practice management software. Without it, you may still do a fine job of documenting everything that transpires for your client, but when documents, schedules and notes are crammed into a case file or in a pile on your desk, they can be difficult, if not impossible, to find.

All practice management programs vary on some features, but they all address the four C’s of practice management: calendaring, contacts, conflicts and case information.

Calendaring —You might already use a firm wide calendar so that everyone knows when his or her next meeting is. You may use calendars in Outlook that are connected via Microsoft Exchange so that an office manager can schedule appointments and meetings for multiple individuals. This kind of calendar is based on people; it is person-centric.

Calendars in practice management software are different. You can still see upcoming appointments for colleagues, but a practice management calendar can also display the meetings and deadlines for Mega Construction Corp., your firm’s newest corporate merger client. This is because the calendar allows you to link appointments and deadlines to firm employees and matters; it is matter-centric.

Many practice management calendars also include calendar plans that automatically add standard deadlines to the calendar for you, at the time intervals you have defined for this type of case. For example, when you open a personal-injury case, the calendar plan adds the deadlines for filing the claim, gathering medical records, notifying the client’s employer, contacting claims adjusters and anything else that automatically is added to your to-do list for a personal injury case.

Contacts — You could list 50 names of people who are involved with your work life. When you use practice management software, your contact list is centralized so that everyone at the firm can find any contact right away, instead of digging through multiple lists. After you import your contact lists into practice management software and start referencing them in your work, you will see how they are related to any case.

For example, a practice management contact record for Jon Smith lists all of his numbers and e-mail addresses and also shows you that he was an expert witness in a case and that he is a beneficiary in the will your firm created for his brother.

Conflicts —Conflict of interest searches in practice management software provide you the information you need right away. Firms that store more information in practice management software get the best conflict reports because a conflict search scans all of the firm’s records, including the contents of documents, e-mails and their attachments.

Efficient conflict of interest searches include all of your firm’s case records and eliminate the need to check with every person involved for potential conflicts.

Case Information—Practice management software holds a lot of the fourth C, case information, and it makes it all easy to find.

Not all practice management programs are created equally and the following functions are only found in the very best:

Area of Practice Information. You would not maintain the same type of information for a personal-injury client that you would for a divorce client. Neither should your software. When clients are added to practice management software, custom fields and files for their cases should be in one area so that your critical case information is in one place.

Findability. When a client calls with questions, you need to find the answers fast. Your practice management software should have a place where basic case information is organized in one easy-to-use window.

Outlook Integration.  Click a button in Outlook to turn e-mails into notes, billing entries or tasks for any client or contact.

Documents. Organize documents based on matter, contact, attorney or any other criteria you choose.

By adding documents to practice management software, you are able to find the document you are looking for fast while also adding their content to future conflict of interest searches.

By eliminating the wasted time and frustration of looking through unorganized case files for specific pieces of information, practice management software will help you panic less and enjoy your job even more.

Whether your law firm has two attorneys or 200, using practice management software is a clear advantage over attempting to stay organized with spreadsheets, e-mail programs and paper case files.

Scott Baird and Dan Berlin of Software Technology, Inc.

Scott Baird and Dan Berlin of Software Technology, Inc.

Dan Berlin is president of Software Technology Inc. He has been in the legal market technology industry for about 25 years and sits on advisory boards for LegalTech, ABA Techshow and ALA. He can be reached at dberlin@tabs3.com.

Scott Baird is vice president of Software Technology Inc. He has worked in the software industry for about 12 years. He can be reached at sbaird@tabs3.com.

~ by CDLB on July 7, 2011.

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