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Complete v. Cobble v. Cutting Edge: Law Practice Management in the 21st Century

by Carolyn Elefant on December 8, 2008 · 5 comments

in Law Practice Management, Tech & Web, Tech Resources

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[Note - post has been updated as of 12/8/08] Via Twitter, I discovered this extensive list of law office practice management and technology tools at Practicing Law in the 21st Century, the joint production of the ubiquitous Niki Black, as well as Greg Bell and Matthew Lerner.  Perusing the list, I wondered: with technology so greatly in flux at this time, does it make sense for a new solo to invest in a complete law practice management solution or to cobble together a bunch of tools and wait a year or two to see which products emerge ahead of the pack.  Alternatively, should solos jump right in and avail themselves of some of the fairly comprehensive software as a service law-specific tools that have already emerged?  Simply put, do we go with a complete, cobbled or cutting edge solution for law practice management technology at a time when new systems are emerging at breakneck speed.

Used to be when lawyers opened a practice, they’d invest in a desktop based tool like Amicus, PC Law, Tabs or Abacus to name a few.  One system could organize files, keep the calendar, check for conflicts, manage contacts and automate most of the administrative tasks necessary to keep the office running smoothly and to avoid malpractice.  Trouble was, these systems though moderately priced for small firm offices weren’t exactly what you’d call user friendly.  Often, lawyers might spend long hours getting the programs installed or would need to retain pricey consultants to get the job done.  At the end of the day, a firm would have a complete solution – and one which it would be inclined to keep permanently simply because of all of the start-up costs involved with the set up.

By contrast, many of today’s web based, Web 2.0 tools are incredibly easy to use.  Some of the tools, while not specifically geared for lawyers are incredibly cheap and can be pieced together for a more comprehensive solution.  Others tailored for lawyers are comprehensive and powerful, but are just emerging and continuing to add new features.  (They’re also usually more expensive than the non-lawyer based tools).  Given the rapid changes, should a new lawyer spend the money and invest in what’s best available now?  Wait a few months or even a year and rely on existing free tools to get a sense of where the practice is headed and then make a decision?

Everyone’s answer will differ but from my perspective, I don’t think it’s worthwhile to purchase any type of desk based tool right at this time – and if you do, you must have an exit strategy, i.e., a way to make the transition to a web-based system, in mind.  As for cobble versus cutting edge, I think price and security are two factors to consider, but beyond that, the right choice depends on your practice. The beauty of all of these online tools is that they’re relatively easy to test drive through online demos.

What’s your law practice management strategy for the next two years?  If you’re just starting out, will you complete or cobble or embrace the cutting edge?  And if you already employ traditional, desk top practice management tools, are you making plans to switch over to web based apps?  Post your comments below.

  • http://www.alabamaproductinjurylawyer.com Craig Niedenthal

    Carolyn: When I started my own practice in February I went with a litigation support software known as Trialworks. My old firm had it and I was one of the attorneys responsible for them getting it i.e. did the evaluation of the existing litigation softwares, and found it to be the best. Yes, it wss expensive to start out. But it is literally having a virtual file at your desk and you can pack and go and take it with you. For any lawyer focusing in on litigation, it is almost invaluable. Great support as well. I understand your thoughts about investing in technology, but honestly, i have found this tool, although expensive , have been well worth it.

  • http://www.alabamaproductinjurylawyer.com Craig Niedenthal

    Carolyn: When I started my own practice in February I went with a litigation support software known as Trialworks. My old firm had it and I was one of the attorneys responsible for them getting it i.e. did the evaluation of the existing litigation softwares, and found it to be the best. Yes, it wss expensive to start out. But it is literally having a virtual file at your desk and you can pack and go and take it with you. For any lawyer focusing in on litigation, it is almost invaluable. Great support as well. I understand your thoughts about investing in technology, but honestly, i have found this tool, although expensive , have been well worth it.

  • AJ

    Wow, what a timely post. I just started my own firm and have spent the last 30+ days evaluating various timekeeping, billings/invoicing, and “practice management” software. I find ALL of it to be outrageously expensive, cluttered, clumsy to use, outdated interfaces, half-solutions, non-integration, etc. I feel like the “fine print” is always that something important is missing.
    If I were independently wealthy, I would spend a year and design a simple, straight, forward, affordable time-keeping and invoicing software or web-based product. I am very underwhelmed and sticker-shocked by everything I am finding out here.

  • AJ

    Wow, what a timely post. I just started my own firm and have spent the last 30+ days evaluating various timekeeping, billings/invoicing, and “practice management” software. I find ALL of it to be outrageously expensive, cluttered, clumsy to use, outdated interfaces, half-solutions, non-integration, etc. I feel like the “fine print” is always that something important is missing.
    If I were independently wealthy, I would spend a year and design a simple, straight, forward, affordable time-keeping and invoicing software or web-based product. I am very underwhelmed and sticker-shocked by everything I am finding out here.

  • http://www.LicenseAdvocates.com Christine McCall

    We spent a year looking at what is available with all of the reservations you’ve itemized in mind. Just recently we finally settled on MyCaseInc.com and we are surprised to find how satisfied we are so far. The key, for us, is that it is not so feature rich that we need to go to school on the system. It’s intuitive, straight-forward and highly visual. I am the lowest-tech attorney in my firm and I learned it in a half day. We haven’t yet found a need that it is not sufficient for. We also think — at $40/month per lawyer — it’s affordable. Let’s see if we feel the same way in 6 months, but we are guardedly optimistic.

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