How to Choose Legal Case Management Software – Part 1
Why do you need legal case management software?
Legal case management software has been around since the 1980s, but it has come a long way since then. All forms of technology have evolved into bigger and better versions over the last few decades. Music and movies have moved from tapes to a digital format with amazing audio and visual quality. Legal case management software has also transformed from a basic system to something that allows legal departments to manage everything that matters to them.
For legal departments that are still using ineffective software for legal matter management—or who have pieced together a system using spreadsheets, email, drives and filing cabinets—legal case management software presents an amazing upgrade for the office.
Rather than having everything spread out in multiple places throughout the department, legal case management software brings it all together in one cohesive, easy-to-access location. Attorneys, paralegals and other team members can create, track, store and review so much pertinent information.
Wondering what kinds of information this includes? Case information, contacts and involved parties, documents, email, notes, appointments, tasks and deadlines, time and billing, research and other work product, and reports. Basically, everything you could ever need to keep your department organized and help every member of your team be more efficient.
After realizing the wisdom of implementing a legal case management system, the next step is deciding which software is right for your legal department. It can feel like an overwhelming decision, but choosing the right software doesn’t have to be hard. The team at Legal Files Software can help. We have broken down what you need to consider when choosing a legal case management software into a simple, two-part series. Let’s dive into part one now.
The first thing that you need to realize about legal case management software
Since the 1980s, the number of commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) legal matter management solutions has exploded. A simple search for “legal matter management software” will deliver dozens of different options. Once you eliminate the programs that are designed for specific practices of law that are not your own, you’re still left with an overwhelming list.
As you begin to narrow down the list of COTS software providers, you should realize that all of these systems perform about 80 percent of the same functions, just with different user interfaces and commands. This means the remaining 20 percent is what you should focus on when selecting a legal matter management software. It represents features that are often overlooked, but that can provide a huge return on investment in terms of saving time and resources. This 20 percent—and how providers handle the 80 percent—are what we’ll focus on for the remainder of this two-part series.
You’ll want to consider system scalability and reliability
A legal case management system is only as good as it is reliable. Many legal departments make the mistake of selecting a software system that is designed for a much smaller user-base. Why would they do this? Simply because it is cheaper in the beginning. However, the initial cost-savings are not worth the tradeoff in headaches from issues with performance and reliability.
You want a legal matter management system that is able to support your needs—and all of your users. All of the money you might have saved by going with a cheaper software option goes out the window the first time the system starts to run poorly or crashes when one too many users logs in. When this happens more than once, your legal department will start to lose money in terms of lost productivity.
How can you tell if the legal case management software you’re considering will reliably be able to handle your needs? It can be difficult to gather this information during a simple demonstration, but you can ask some questions to help evaluate a program.
- Ask each vendor about recommended server and workstation configurations that would support the number of users you will have. Large server and workstation requirements are a big red flag. Software that requires a separate server is another warning sign. These answers all indicate that the software has been programmed in a way that will cause future support headaches, compatibility issues and problems if the system is introduced to additional users.
- Ask about the development history of the software. You’ll find that many legal case management programs started as a desktop application that ran against a desktop database. This led to lack of scalability and inefficiencies, which forced some software vendors to offer versions of their program that run against a true SQL relational database. If developers update their software and borrow some of the code from the previous desktop applications, it can bring over some of the problems from the old system. To avoid this issue, you’ll want to make sure that the software was specifically designed for a SQL relational database management system.
- Ask for a reference from an established customer who has four to five times the number of users needed at your legal department. This reference confirms that the software will still perform with no downtime or system crashes, even when a large number of users are in the system. It gives you the confidence that the system can handle whatever your legal department throws at it.
Some potential customers feel uncomfortable asking all of these questions, but vendors expect it. Buying a legal case management software is an important investment, and you want to have all of the information you need to make an informed decision. If you find that a vendor is unwilling to answer your questions, you should be unwilling to give them your business.
So much more to consider when selecting a system
Knowing the similarities between legal matter management systems and considering system scalability and reliability is just the beginning of the selection process. In part two of our how to choose legal case management software series, we’ll review even more factors to consider.