Practice-management software (sometimes known as case-management software) brings together all of the information related to a legal matter, making it searchable and retrievable, so that everyone in the firm is literally on the same page. But, increasingly, that page is in the cloud.
Following the leads of both Clio
and Rocket Matter
, which have been providing cloud-based legal practice-management tools for several years, other software vendors are now starting to offer a cloud option. One of them is Toronto-based Gavel & Gown Software, makers of Amicus, a long - established name in practice - management software. In October the company launched Amicus Cloud, a Web-based alternative to its software offering. Like all cloud-based services, Amicus Cloud frees the user from the desktop, allowing the practice-management tools to be accessed from anywhere you have an Internet connection, and with any device - smartphone, laptop, or tablet.
Some of the features of Amicus Cloud include tight integration with Microsoft Exchange, so that all the email delivered through the practice-management system looks exactly the same as the email that's already on your PC in Outlook, or your Mac in Apple Mail. Also, any email message you send or receive appears on all of your devices the same way. Getting email right has emerged as a critical feature for practice-management systems, as so many lawyers rely on email for all of their case matters.
Amicus Cloud also includes something it calls the Time Entry Assistant, a billing tool that Gavel & Gown has included in recent versions of its Amicus software. Among other features, the tool helps lawyers avoid lost billable time by listing all the emails, events, tasks, and phone calls that don't yet have associated time entries. And the Collection Assistant gives the user a clear view of what's been billed and what hasn't, which for some lawyers will pay for itself.
The design of Amicus Cloud has been optimized for PCs, Macs, and iPads. Gavel & Gown also offers a free trial and some free online training to get it up and running. Pricing starts at $34.95 per user per month.
One advantage of using a cloud service is that you're charged on a monthly basis rather than having to absorb a large upfront cost. Clio and Rocket Matter charge about $50 to $60 per month per attorney. This can be an especially good way for small and solo firms to test the case-management waters without making a costly commitment. With a cloud service, you're also outsourcing the IT overhead to the vendor, which handles issues such as backup and network security.
Of course, the cloud isn't going to replace physical software, at least not yet. Some law firms have previously invested in software packages and are reluctant to switch; others like the seeming reliability of software you can touch and control yourself rather than relying on another company to serve it to you. There's certainly no shortage of choices when it comes to a case/practice-management software package. Among them is AbacusLaw
, Time Matters
, and Needles
. Most of these software packages cost around $1,000 for the first license and $500 to $600 for each additional license.
There are still some small and solo practices around that manage everything on paper rather than using a computer, and if you're still able to put your hands on a client's file seconds after he or she calls without the aid of a computer, then more power to you. But the stupendous crush of data that today's attorneys have to manage is usually too much for a paper-and-filing-cabinet system. More common among firms that have gone digital is dividing tasks among several different software programs. For instance, a firm might use Outlook for calendaring, Excel for tracking deadlines and organizing documents, QuickBooks for accounting, and Word and Adobe Acrobat for managing documents and PDFs.
That's where practice-management software comes in. The software eliminates duplication by pulling together all of the legal files and business functions of a case into a single program, where it can then be organized and managed. Depending on the system you choose, you may be able to pull up case files on a smartphone, as well as save multiple versions of a single document edited by several attorneys.
Some vendors combine client - and document - management functions into a single piece of software, such as LexisNexis Time Matters. This package, and others like it, contains a contact- and client-management tool that centrally manages and controls access to all of the information about an attorney's clients and other parties involved in cases and matters. Then there's the management of the matters and projects themselves: The software organizes and tracks all contacts, documents, events, and phone calls associated with a case or matter and makes it all accessible from one application. The software also usually contains tools for docketing, calendaring, and scheduling, automating the process with an alert-and-reminder system.
Many software packages also allow for time tracking, giving users the ability to record billable time on an hourly or contingency basis. When a case is wrapped up, the time-tracking info can be used to generate the bill, rather than having to go back and add up all the time spent on the case. You can also often document billable hours and client expenses using time sheets, billing item forms, or timers, and apply hourly or flat-fee rates per client or matter before generating and printing bills for mailing. The software not only generates client invoices but also can create reports for individual billing attorneys, so they can keep track of recent trends and see how they stack up with other lawyers in the firm.
Of course, case-management software won't turn a sloppy, disorganized lawyer into a sharp attorney. But it can be a lifesaver for any law firm that's swamped by too much data and too many lost client files. Done right, case-management software takes the management grunt work out of legal practice, allowing lawyers to do what they do best - practice law