By: Aaron Grinhaus
The market for law firm practice management software has blown up in the past decade. When it comes to bookkeeping and client relationship management (CRM) programs, many of us were either trained on, or continue to use older legacy systems, despite their obvious deficiencies: constantly having to back up the data on a server, slow and irrelevant updates, centralized storage as opposed to cloud storage, and technical and complicated interfaces. The latest and greatest technologies tackle many of these deficiencies and more by providing a user-friendly experience, free access to support, mobile apps, cloud-based storage solutions and more.
Nothing worth doing is every easy, but transitions are made easier when you know what’s coming. Here are a few things to expect when you are transitioning to a new practice management software:
The information from your existing platform must be "migrated" to your new platform for continuity purposes. In other words, if you are transitioning to a new bookkeeping software, all your old data must be uploaded to the new program. Most new software solutions provide support for your migration in order to make the transition smooth. It is in the interests of the companies producing these technologies to make the migration as easy as possible in order to encourage people to make the switch. Before switching make sure you back up your existing program and find out what their migration procedures are in order to ensure you are supported through the transition with the least amount of interruption to your practice.
Don't be surprised if you get some push back from your staff when integrating new systems such as practice management software. Make sure that whichever new platform you adopt also has a robust support system to train and provide assistance to your staff as they deal with the transition. When it comes to bookkeeping and accounting software having an experienced and knowledgeable bookkeeper to answer these questions is invaluable. If you do not have an in-house bookkeeper, ask whether your contracted bookkeeping service is familiar with the new platform and whether it will be able to provide support to your staff during the transition and beyond.
The most robust practice management programs, such as PC law and Cosmolex, operate as a docketing software, a CRM, and bookkeeping and accounting software. Not all legal bookkeeping programs do all three. Make sure that if you are adopting a new kind of software that doesn't provide everything that you are used to having that you supplement it with something else that does.
Most new law practice management programs are provided in the form of a software as a service, or "SaaS". These are typically billed monthly per license or in accordance with some form of package deal. Others will charge either a one-time flat fee for the purchase of the license or an annual fee. There may be additional fees such as tech support fees that will require you to buy a support plan. There may be additional costs as well; for example, if the software requires that you maintain a server you will have a hardware cost and regular maintenance cost to make sure that server remains in good working order. A cloud-based service mitigates this expense. Make sure you fully understand all the costs associated with the use of the software before buying.
5) Cloud Based
Most new platforms are “cloud based”, meaning everything is backed-up to a secure remote server so that you can access anything from anywhere as long as you are connected to the internet. Everything is backed-up to the cloud in real time so that you are never at risk of losing your data. This may leave you with some extra IT equipment, and lower IT fees, which is a good thing. The risk is that when you lose internet connectivity you do not have access to your data. You can still back up your data if you want but it may not be necessary.
6) Law Society Compliance
If the software you are buying is not Canadian or Ontario based you may have some issues with trust account bookkeeping. Certain Law Society rules impose obligations on your bookkeeping, such as completing a form 9A when making an electronic transfer and maintaining a proper trust account reconciliation record. When transitioning to a new software platform for your law firm ensuring you are in compliance with Law Society rules should be top of mind.
Everyone has their own preference when it comes to comfort levels with technology. Some of the platforms available today are very simple and others can be very complex. It is important to take advantage of the free trial provided by most software companies to make sure that you are comfortable with the new platform before purchasing and going through the migration process. It does take a little time out of your schedule to do a demonstration, and you will be dealing with a salesperson (which is not always fun), but it is well worth it.
Transitioning to a new practice management platform for your law firm may seem onerous; however, if you are using an archaic and outdated program you will be surprised and delighted to find what new programs have to offer. Being able to docket quickly and easily on your smartphone while waiting for a bus saves you and your staff time and makes everything more efficient. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is accept change, but as long as you take some time to familiarize yourself with the new system you will find that the rewards far outweigh the inconvenience.
Aaron Grinhaus is a lawyer and law firm consultant who provides strategic, regulatory and structuring advice to professionals, including lawyers, accountants and doctors. Aaron is a business and tax lawyer by trade and is the founder of Grinhaus Law Firm, a full-service law firm located in Toronto (grinhauslaw.ca). He regularly advises lawyers and other professionals in private practice on such matters as business structuring, regulatory compliance and business/marketing operations. Aaron is immediate Past Chair of the Ontario Bar Association (OBA) Law Practice Management Section and Current Chair of the OBA Sole, Small Firm and General Practice Section.