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

[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.