Lessons From The Lawyer-Coach
Debra L. Bruce is president of Lawyer-Coach LLC , a law practice management coaching and training firm, and author of the Raising the Bar blog. She practiced law for 18 years before becoming the first Texas lawyer credentialed by the International Coach Federation (ICF). She has served as Vice-Chair of the Law Practice Management Committee of the State Bar of Texas and as leader of the Houston chapter of ICF. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook. You can also e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Should A Solo Buy Law Practice Management Software?
By Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC
When a client calls unexpectedly about his matter, do you fumble to find the information you need, while the client wonders why you can’t answer the question? Do you have trouble sorting through all the appointments and deadlines on your calendar to identify the ones that relate to a particular case? Do you rely on your increasingly overloaded memory bank for conflict checks? Do you waste time locating old emails or pink message slips? Do you lose money because you can’t remember how much time you spent on a dozen different phone calls during the day? Do you ever wish you had access to something on your desk while out of the office? Have you lost hope of ever getting organized?
Benefits of LPM Software
If you struggle with probems like these, law practice management software may rescue you. With a couple of mouse clicks on a client or matter file, you can have:
- A list of all the email and other correspondence
- The dates of all scheduled meetings, depositions, hearings, deadlines, etc.
- A list of all documents relating to the matter and one-click access to them
- Links to cases saved in research on the matter
- Copies of phone messages and your notes from phone calls
- The name and contact information for all parties related to the matter
- A list of all the other matters you have handled for the same client or with the same opposing counsel
- A conflicts report showing all the matters a name is associated with, whether as client or otherwise
Law practice management software can help keep you more organized, efficient and productive. It can produce a billing report for the various and sundry activities you engaged in during the day. It may have invoicing capabilities and coordinate with your accounting software, reducing administrative steps, time and errors.
Challenges of LPM Software
Law practice management software really can make your life as a lawyer easier. Like most technology, however, it will make life worse before it makes it better. In order to enjoy the previously described benefits, you will have to:
- Research the various products available or engage a consultant who will likely recommend a product they sell
- Possibly shell out a significant chunk of change to purchase or subscribe
- Possibly shell out more to install the product and make it play nice with your computer, printer, scanner, smartphone and other software
- Possibly shell out even more for help configuring it to your needs
- Take time out to help the consultant understand your needs and your systems if you need a consultant, and if so
- Abandon your computer while they work on the installation, configuration & migration process
- Possibly shell out more for training on how to use all those bells and whistles and
- Block out otherwise billable time for training for you and your assistant
- Call tech support or a consultant many times until you really learn to use the product and get it configured just right for your particular needs
- Call tech support again when you get a new smartphone or scanner or anything else
Is It Worth It?
Is it really worth all that effort? For most lawyers, even solos, I think it is. Here’s why:
- Increasingly, your competition uses technology to provide faster and more cost-effective service to clients. If you don’t get in the game, eventually you will price yourself out of the market or work harder and harder to earn less.
- Most malpractice results from disorganization, not failing to know the law.
- Inefficiency and disorganization increases stress, and the practice of law is already stressful enough. (Caveat: at first, learning a new system may increase, rather than decrease, your stress.)
- You can improve your bottom line, even with all the increased costs described above.
A Real Life Illustration
One of my coaching clients is a solo with a flat rate billing practice.When he gets more efficient he makes more money. (When hourly lawyers stop leaking time while hunting for things, doing redundant administrative tasks, and forgetting to record smaller increments of time, they make more money.) By integrating document scanning and practice management software into his practice, he accomplished in 96 hours per month what used to take him 117 hours. At the modest rate of $200 per hour, that extra 21 hours per month would yield an extra $50,000 per year and a priceless reduction of stress.
Now that I have your attention, check back for my next post. I’ll tell you what features I think are important to look for in choosing law practice management software, some pros and cons of using a “cloud” solution, the advertised prices of some of the main players in the market, and some of the frustrations you may face along the way.
If you already use law practice management software, feel free to chime in about your experience in the comments below.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.