[NOTE: This is another in the series of repostings of my previously-published articles. This article was written in 2000. Because I think that there are many experts on case management software, I've rarely written on the topic of case management. This article is one of those occasions. It takes a high-level view of the topic and does not delve into specific programs, because, as I said, other people can do that much better than I can. Today, I'm interested in ASP (application service provider) approaches to case management and the integration of project and workflow management into case management tools.]
Why Lawyers Don’t Choose (or Use) Case Management Software
Take a minute and try this exercise: add up the time you spend looking for files, looking for misfiled information, designing filing and calendaring systems and digging through the rubble on your desk in the average day. (As a starting point, the average person spends sixteen minutes a day just looking for lost items.) Multiply that by the number of days you work in a year. Multiply that times your hourly billing rate. Ponder that amount.
Lawyers spend an inordinate amount of time looking for information and attending to administrative details. And, if true is money, lawyers should be adopting ways to decrease the amount of unproductive time they spend.
If there were a way to keep your files constantly accessible to you and your staff, to organize your client information, to reduce paper and clutter, to streamline intake and retrieval of information, to generate reports that give you meaningful information about your practice and to keep information at your fingertips, you would probably stand in line to sign up for it. Case management software offers all these potential benefits, and more.
Yet, after many years, many seminars and many consultants, many lawyers and law firms have not adopted these programs.
Let’s consider the reasons that lawyers give for not using case management software.
1. “I Don’t Know What It Is.” I’ve been surprised by the number of lawyers who have told me that “Someone told me that I need case management software, but I really don’t know what it is.” Part of the reason for this is that the term “case management” has a litigation feel to it and non-litigators struggle a bit with the concept. Think of it as “practice management” or, better, “matter management.”
Every lawyer has some find of system for dealing with ongoing matters and dormant or closed matters. Typically, that system involves file folders, filing cabinets and papers stacked in piles on their desks and in their offices. Information retrieval typically involves memory, knowledge of an individual filing system, a byzantine numbering system, and lots of scrambling around to find items.
Case management software automates that administrative process. It makes information available to people who do not physically control the file, makes it possible to update and modify information easily, and, most important, makes it easier to find information quickly when you need it. In the more sophisticated programs, you can also integrate timekeeping, billing, accounting and even document management into a single package.
As a result, accessing the case management program when a client or opposing counsel calls can immediately bring to your computer screen the information you need to address the issue at hand.
2. “It Costs Too Much.” I’ve heard this comment from lawyers about programs costing $295 as well as about programs costing thousands of dollars. I’m sympathetic to it because I’ve noticed that most firms have had at least one horrendous, money-wasting experience with technology in the last ten years and are, for good reason, gun shy.
Focusing solely on the costs of the program, however, is the wrong approach when considering case management software.
Instead, you will want to analyze this software requires on a “return on investment” basis. If you bill on an hourly basis, your income is limited by the number of hours you can bill. If you use value billing, the more efficiently you can work, the more profit you’ll make on each transaction. In either model, recovering lost or unproductive hours will bring you a meaningful return.
On a conservative basis, cutting in half the time you spend simply looking for lost documents alone probably recovers $5,000 of time per year for the average lawyer. Case management software also offers other efficiencies and the costs and benefits can be quantified. You can make a meaningful decision based on how long it will take for the software to “pay for itself.” In firms of 50, 100 or more lawyers, these economics will involve large, meaningful numbers.
Not surprisingly, lawyers starting a firm clearly see the benefits of a case management solution. If a solo can use case management software to help run a practice and avoid hiring a secretary (or can hire a paralegal who is billable rather than a secretary), those savings alone may make for an easy decision. In larger firms, simply reducing or holding the line of staff hiring may economically justify a move to a case management system.
3. “It’s Too Complicated.” I recently watched a demonstration of two case management programs for small firms in which the ability to enter information in six different ways was touted as a great feature. Wrong! Giving lawyers too many choices results in a training nightmare. Lawyers want to be able to use a program easily, to access the information they want simply and not be confronted with a computer screen that looks like the controls of an F-18 fighter jet.
Consultants and sales reps are too often guilty of describing an overwhelming vision of case management – all documents scanned, no paper, no filing cabinets, client files appearing on your screen as you pick up the phone. This overemphasis on the “gee-whiz” simply overwhelms many lawyers who see instead a future in which they are constantly trying to learn how to drive the software and never practicing law.
Each lawyer, however, if he or she thinks about it, can identify one to three administrative issues that, if they could be made available or eliminated, would dramatically improve his or her practice. Some examples: having accounting and timekeeping information immediately available when an opposing counsel calls with a settlement offer, having a list of all cases involving the same opposing counsel, judge or arbitrator, having a chronology of all contacts with a client readily available, or having the ability to do a mailing to all clients whose wills are older than two years.
Many case management products produce exactly this result and often give you the ability to enter data about a client or individual once and have it appear in a firm address book, in time, billing and accounting and in case and matter management. You do not need to make changes in 3 or 4 separate programs.
That simple feature really sold me and has sold many others. The point to remember: focus on your needs, not on the bells and whistles. In many cases, less is more and simpler is better. If the program can do the one or two things that you think are most important in a simple enough fashion, you probably won’t find the program very complex after all.
4. “It Doesn’t Match My Needs.” Last year at the ABA’s TECHSHOW (2000), I counted 25 vendors who offered some form of case management software. Some were general packages. Some were designed for small firms and some for large firms. Some were designed for specific practice areas or types of firms, such as plaintiff’s personal injury firms.
Unless you work in a specific practice area that may be covered by a particular product or two, it is difficult to evaluate choices meaningfully. As I’ve mentioned the term “case management” lends itself to the work of trial lawyers and you may notice that some programs take that approach. If, for example, you do estate planning, “matters” really won’t mean much because every client has the same matter. A demonstration of the software that focuses on the features of the software rather than its benefit to your practice will leave you with the feeling that the software is not for you.
Some case management software allows for a degree of customization. In addition to reading reviews and talking to others who use the product who have a similar practice, the ability to do some customization should be an important factor. If you also do a good job of identifying what the program can do to help you in your practice and insist on finding a program that will do that, I think you’ll find programs that do meet your needs.
5. “I’m Too Busy.” Time is money, after all. And why are you so busy? If the reason is because you are looking for documents or practicing in an inefficient matter, you may want to make some time to consider case management. For example, do you routinely work ten and twelve hour days that result in six to eight billable hours?
If you are too busy because of workflow, then case management software can really help you in handling that inflow of new work. Because case management information can be accessed remotely or even transferred to a Palm computing device, some lawyers have found that the software can help them avoid going to the office on weekends.
Again, the issue is one of identifying the barriers that keep you from working well and seeing if case management software can help you on those specific issues. Sometimes the simper changes can bring the biggest benefits.
6. “The Software Will Govern My Life.” You may have even experienced this at home with Quicken. This reaction is a reasonable one. After all, for better or worse, you have developed a system of organization that’s gotten you to where you are today. You want to practice law, not organization.
Sometimes I’ve found that this reason masks another reason. Lawyers can be embarrassed by their lack of technological savvy, the mayhem that passes for a “system” of organization in their offices or their utter dependence on a secretary who knows the system. In fact, it’s interesting to see how the possible loss of a long-time secretary motivates lawyers to consider case management software. You will get your best results if you analyze your current methods as part of introducing case management software.
Another legitimate concern is the amount of time it may take to convert existing systems and transfer data into new case management software. Won’t you be running a paper system and a computer system in parallel, at least for a while? Consider these issues in your return on investment analysis.
Finally, the closer a case management software program can mimic or adapt to your existing methods, the better a candidate it is for you. Again, customization may be an important consideration and worth additional expense. Your software should help you practice law better, not make you an expert on using the software.
7. “I’ll Lose Money If I’m More Efficient.” The villain here is hourly billing practices. What if I become 20 to 40% more efficient? Won’t that simply mean that I’ll make 20 to 40% less per year? Why would I want to do that?
Clients have not yet started to make lawyers pay for inefficiency. That tide is turning. As we see the rise of non-traditional competition and competition from law firms leveraging technology, there will be increasing downward pressure on the fees charged for standard legal services.
Case management software offers ways to deal with a higher volume, lower margin practice. It also can help you use information you have to strengthen personal relationships with clients (e.g., your software automatically reminds you of a client’s birthday or gives you a list of clients you haven’t talked with for over 6 months) or to track and identify sources of new clients (e.g., what clients reported that they came to you because of an ad you placed). A decision to use case management software will force you to look at your billing practices and what the alternatives are.
More important, this objection is based on the assumption that the time savings you find will eliminate billable hours. In fact, it’s likely to eliminate non-productive time that probably was not being billed anyway. How often do clients get a statement with an entry like: “tore apart office looking for piece of paper that had notes regarding bank accounts; finally found it buried in papers on desk after third try: 3.5 hours”?
Conclusion: There is a grain of truth in most of the common objections to case management software. On closer examination, however, the objections tend to dissolve. If you can focus on your most important needs and the simplest steps that will bring you the most benefits, case management software will bring you meaningful and measurable business results and financial benefits. That’s the whole point for bringing technology into your practice. Take a look at the programs out there today and what there capabilities and strengths are. Identify what your needs are. Then look at case management software. Your life may get a little easier.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
This post brought to you by Dennis Kennedy’s legal technology consulting services, featuring RSS and blogging consulting, technology audit, strategic planning and technology committee coaching packages especially for medium-sized law firms (15 – 100 lawyers) and corporate legal departments. More information on the “Second Pair of Eyes” packages for legal technology audits and strategic planning may be found here (PDF).