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Practice management software is designed to consolidate multiple systems and workplace tools, like email, contacts, cases, documents, notes, phone calls, etc., all into a single place where they can be shared with everyone in your firm. Consolidation and sharing eliminates redundancies and firm bottlenecks that cripple workflow and result in wasted resources, adding valuable money to your bottom line.

That being said, a common mistake I find is firms investing in a Practice Management system, only to end up utilizing 10% of its features. If you just invested $5,000 for a software program and one year later you’re only using the calendar and contact modules, you have wasted a lot of money.

In order to gain the largest return on investment for your law firm, use as many of the features in the program as you can. Here are just a few ways your firm might be able to get more out of your Practice Management software.

1. Relationships

Everything starts with the relationship-based qualities of a Practice Management system. This chain between records creates a single link throughout all information; thus, instead of having to search every inch of the database to find any single instance of whatever data you’re looking for, you can find it in several places, chained throughout the program. This makes it easier to find and allows it to serve more functions in the application.

2. Date Calculators

One of the more challenging aspects of working in the legal profession is the balancing court rules and deadlines. Attorneys are typically practicing in more than one jurisdiction or a support staff member is juggling the calendars for entire teams of lawyers. This is how dates end up miscalculated and appointments get missed. Usually your practice management software offers some date calculator and the ability to categorize events or setup workflows to automate the calendaring process.

3. Reports

Instead of just having a few basic reports, what if you could report on the data you need most? Since the new database standard is SQL, and since SQL allows you to report on any piece of data, you have an almost infinite number of customized reports that you can commission; these provide invaluable insight into business metrics that allow you to make real-time decisions based on real, hard data and facts, not guestimates. Moreover, a lot of homegrown proprietary systems spit out a lot of unnecessary reports all because you can’t find the information during regular use of the system. Why run a report on all of your open cases when you can simply go straight to the list of them in the PMS?

4. Referrals

Referrals are an important element of your practice, so tracking where all your new cases are coming from can help you make better decisions for future initiatives. Amicus, for instance, provides a referral field in your Case record to which you can attach a Contact record; this is important because when you’re viewing the Contact, you can see all the cases they referred, as well as run a simple report on all firm referrals that includes even the actual revenue said referral resulted in. It goes deeper though; you can use this function to see what any particular marketing initiative drove in for new business, and at what cost. This insight into your income sources is invaluable and it allows you to throw away what doesn’t work and do more of what drives new business.

5. Customization

All of your different record types, such as contacts, events, to-do’s, documents, or cases, as a few examples, can all be customized to meet your needs. For contacts, you may be able to customize different types, from witnesses, to Judges, to opposing counsel, and so on. For cases, if you open up a Medical Malpractice Defense, your Practice Management system can be customized to look a certain way or prompt you to enter specific information. Your Nursing Home Mal Defense case can be customized to show different information than your Products Liability Defense case. Whatever your practice-area specific needs are, customization allows the software to meet your needs, not define them.

6. Favorites

A lot of the newer Practice Management systems have a favorites feature that will allow you to rapidly access what matters to you. This is helpful in a large database because, let’s face it, you can have all the information in the world, but if you can’t get to it quickly, all you have is a bunch of yelling. Favorites allow you to replace all the yelling with whatever you need. For example, if you will be working on an Insurance Defense case for the next three months, add it to the Favorites, and now it’s always just a click away.

7. Documents

A good Practice Management system offers you the ability to centrally store all firm documents, from complex legal documents to the mail that comes in each morning. Once your document is digital, simply store it in a folder on the server, open a Document Form, attach the document, name it, give a description, and save. Now, anytime you or other firm members go to the contact or case, simply click the Documents tab and it’ll be there.

Don’t know which client the document is saved to? In select systems, go to the central location for all documents, search by author, file type, document group, or date range. Or perform a full text search and search every word in both the database and all related documents. In other words, if you can’t remember what case you heard the name of some expert witness, but you remember reading that name in a document somewhere, just do a global search for the name and, if it’s in any of your firm’s documents, you’ll find it immediately.

8. Templates

The more robust systems will allow you to create a document template in the system that will, with just a few clicks, automatically pull the client / case information directly into the correct spots in the document. Since you’ve already typed basic information like client name, address, DOB, and so on, into the system upon entry of the case, template merges eliminate the need to retype this information again and again when assembling basic documents. The time savings can be extraordinary and serve as a real contributor to total ROI.

9. Email

With our increasing reliance on email, it’s important not only to capture the billable time for that email but to also store the email with the corresponding contact or case. Go to one place, see all firm emails from a particular contact or case, all in one place. Create rules to automatically attach emails and their attachments to a particular place based on sender address. By saving email correspondence into your Practice Management software, you eliminate the need to relay details you’ve already communicated to the client back to firm members, since firm members can now just read the emails by going directly to the case file.

10. Shortcuts / Quick Entries

Shortcuts, triggers and automation can all save your firm time by reducing the need for manual data entry. For example, if you need a statute of limitations date reminder 1 year in advance setting up a trigger will add that reminder automatically to the docket calendar.

Some Practice Management systems offer excellent Quick Entry widgets that allow a user, who enters a particular type of information or record multiple times per day, to simply enter information rapidly from the part of the screen they’re already in and have it update the appropriate record somewhere in the middle of the database – all without the need to go there and do it manually. This is another huge timesaver.

Remember, the mere act of implementing a Practice Management system will not, in itself, improve your business or increase profitability. The gains happen when your firm actually uses the system to save time and improve collaboration. Practice Management software doesn’t change how you practice law but, rather, it changes how you manage your business operations, with a goal of total highest efficiency.

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