Legal Accounting at your fingertips

And whilst this is a usually a positive, it is not always used to its best advantage. And that is kind of like looking a gift horse in the mouth. Wouldn’t you say?

Let’s explain why…..

The legal process

As we know, every law firm has its own unique culture and distinctive way in which they serve their clients, and get their work done. Often, this involves processes which are highly individualised, with each attorney utilising technological solutions that fits their specific comfort level (and needs). In this tech “free-for-all” type of environment, miscommunication, frustration, and inefficiency often reign supreme as partners, associates, and legal support staff grapple with trying to understand and cater to one another’s individual processes and preferences.

What is the result? Important messages are lost in communication with hours wasted on getting up-to-speed on legal rules and procedures, and multiple drafts being sent back and forth via email. And this often leads to clients not receiving the best from your legal team. Expectations aren’t met, confidence and trust in your firm is eroded, and they ultimately turn to your competitor.

And this can be easily avoided.

What do you do?

Law firms are notoriously slow to change. And in some (no, most) cases that is a dramatic understatement. In an article titled The Impact Of COVID-19 On How Law Firms Do Business When It Is Just A Memory, author Stephen Mabey opens with a statement by founder of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab: “Law firms have never rushed into anything”. And, in part, we would have to agree. But what this global lockdown has revealed is that with the fourth industrial revolution upon us, the legal industry needs to turbocharge their digital and technological transformations by realising that simply adopting video conferencing software just won’t cut it anymore. It is now crucial (more than ever) that law firms embrace technology in order to ensure longevity and success in these ever changing (and uncertain) times. 

And some local law firms have done just that. They have embraced technology. There are (in fact) many law firms who have seen the light of day and have begun to successfully use technology through case management, billing, reporting, workflow and document management solutions, resulting in a more streamlined, efficient and cost effective practice. Which can be done from anywhere, whether at the office, at home or even on the Moon. And that is a brilliant first step.  

On the other hand, there are still those firms that fear that the costs and pains associated with adopting new tech will outweigh any possible benefits. To them we say – think again. Because, when you consider the efficiency afforded to both attorneys and clients in terms of speed, consistency, collaboration, and outcomes – concerns over minor growing pains should quickly fall away. 

Remember, when it comes to winning and retaining clients, you need to set your law firm apart and deliver something that your competitors can’t. And that starts with ensuring that you are not only providing the best possible advice, but that you are doing so by utilising the latest and most up to date, “cutting edge” technology. Guaranteeing that you are not only becoming “Tomorrow’s Lawyer” today, but that you are catering for tomorrow’s techno-savvy, self-aware (millennial) clients. And as they are your clients, you need to learn to speak their language. Fast. This way of thinking is not new. It is just more paramount and in today’s times, essential to the optimal operating of your practice.  

Ok, ok we get it – technology is crucial!

But the question now is, are you (or will you be) using your technology correctly?

In the fledgling stages of any business (and especially in law firms where time is money), solving problems in the quickest, most cost effective way possible often takes precedence over what is best in the long run. And this is completely understandable. But over time, this leads towards one of the biggest pitfalls for any growing operation—using multiple standalone business applications for varying departmental functions in an ad hoc manner. 

In the usual course of business, firms will first install the software that is most needed (and invariably the most important to a fledgling business), like accounting software (such as QuickBooks) in order to manage their bookkeeping and ensure that money starts rolling in (obviously the most important aspect of any business – getting paid for the work you do). Invariably in a mission to acquire (and retain) more clients, firms will go on to install standalone case management systems, along with separate systems for reporting and document management. Often resulting in the different systems being addressed with disparate software that doesn’t speak to each other. At least not in the same language. 

You see, what usually happens is that proper planning of an integrated business management software system takes a back seat to short-term revenue acceleration goals. As a consequence, various disparate applications are installed at different points in time in various functional areas, resulting in business process inefficiencies and software integration challenges. 

The result – a growing firm quickly becomes entangled within a complex application landscape. And this is not ideal.

So the questions invariably are – how did these problems arise in the first place, and how can they be avoided? Do you purchase individual software for each workflow process or do you purchase an all-inclusive software package that contains all you need and more?   

Well, there are arguments for both. So let’s discuss them briefly… 

Why you should not get standalone software 

Firms that evolve their systems (over time) often find themselves with a poorly planned architecture that handles short-term tactical needs sub-optimally while holding the firm back from scaling up efficiently over the long term. This tangled web of siloed practice management software systems, is often referred to as a “software hairball” – it inhibits flexibility, productivity, and ultimately slows down the firm’s ability to grow, creating “an unstable, confusing and ineffective tangle of ad hoc integrations, processes and systems.

Firms often forget that with their ultimate growth, the importance of system integration grows with it. It’s common practice for more and more software programs to be added on to various operations, each doing its own handy thing and each offering its own unique service. But unfortunately, system integration is often inadvertently overlooked – new programs don’t always play nicely together. And as you add more programs, it becomes harder to integrate them into your current workflows. Without system integration, you lose efficiency, productivity and opportunity. All those technologies you implemented to save time can lead to more manual work as you try to connect uncooperative touchpoints.

Why you should get standalone software

In choosing standalone software, a fledgling business has several options to implement at the front and back-office systems and where needed. Dedicated standalone software applications are exclusively designed to address a specific and single aspect of business operations, such as accounting/billing, reporting, workflow management, case management, client relationship management (which will help your team onboard, monitor, strengthen and manage relationships of all shapes and sizes. It will also offer you the ability to access the information stakeholders need to make strategic and informed business decisions) as well as document automation. Each application is therefore dedicated to just one area of your business, so it delivers focused and highly efficient outcomes as well as detailed reports about that particular segment of your practice. 

A variety of specific functions and specific software applications allows you to manipulate the data (as it is needed) in order to obtain the information you are looking for. Because these programs focus on a specific department, it is easy to find the data you need without having to sift through information from other areas or struggle with reports that don’t tell you exactly what you need to know.

From accounting to client relationship management (CRM) to document automation and beyond, applications can be implemented in a piecemeal, staged process or in a process that takes into account how these various systems will interact with each other and what level of integration they require. 

And these standalone applications do their jobs very well. 

So it stands to reason that during busy times, an employee will want a focused system that will provide exactly what they are looking for. Especially when it comes to reporting. After all, if you know exactly what you require for your practice, why not go ahead and purchase just that specific programme instead of having all of these “added on” applications and ad hoc products that you are unlikely to use? Under these conditions 9and as logic would dictate), it would make sense that you would go for exactly what you need. 

But, is this the most efficient way to design your software landscape?

What about integrated software applications?

Integrated software “suites” or “bundles” are a collection of software especially created to work on closely related programs. All programs in an integrated package are accessed via a common launching pad i.e. the data for all of the departments within your practice is all stored in one program. The different integrated aspects, add-ons and plugins of the program are all designed to work together seamlessly, so it is easy to generate reports and comparisons that encompass the entire workings of your organisation. The data in the reports is automatically generated in a way that is easy to understand and gives a full overview of the state of the business at a particular point in time or over a specified time period. Employees from various departments can access information from other departments without the need for complicated conversions and data manipulation. And that will, inevitably, improve your overall effectiveness and efficiency. Two key aspects of a successful practice. 

Legal software has been revolutionised! And Tomorrow’s Lawyer (today) will need to ensure that they are ahead of their competition by ensuring that their software applications are not only the latest on offer (and therefore cutting edge) but that they streamline their practice, thereby offering their clients the best service “out there”. Being blasé about your practice management software is no longer an excuse. If you are not careful, your competition may just steal your client due to their practice being more thoroughly technologically driven. Does it not therefore make more sense, to create a working environment that has better access to information and supports better coordination across a greater range of tasks? Everyone having undisturbed access to the most up-to-date case and contact details at all times, results in no one having to spend time chasing down information.

In addition, the add-on products such as FICA management, which are originally considered an ad hoc product (and therefore will hardly be used) are actually extremely useful if used correctly (often only a little training is involved) resulting in increased functionality and an overall better managed practice – if you have an integrated system which contains all required programmes that cater for your specific legal landscape, it offers peace of mind knowing that whatever the requirement, you can actually deliver. In addition, there is no need to source different systems for different requirements or to have to deal with often clumsy integrations if you have an integrated system. 

And as logic would also dictate, that this is a definite plus (an understatement).

But there must be a con, surely?

The only (and main) drawback of using an integrated practice management solution is that the reporting and functionality in each area of the software does not go into as much detail as with a standalone software program. However, it’s equally important to note that the functions and reporting features offered in integrated software are able to meet every requirement of your practice, with no added cost for the additional products (which you only discover you require a year down the line). Advanced functions in standalone software likely go unused for most, if not all, of the year.

So what is the take away?

While there are pros and cons for each type of software landscape, it is imperative that law firms use sophisticated business software to fuel their growth. However, we realise that many firms are still struggling to keep up with their growth and manage costs effectively because of a hodge-podge of disconnected functional systems causing process bottlenecks and employee productivity issues. Integrated business software suites are transforming how law firms run, enabling them to transcend growing pains that were previously holding them back from taking their practice to the next level of profitable growth. And that is critical, especially today. 

At AJS we pride ourselves on being market leaders in our integrated product suites. Although we initially earned our reputation for dependable legal accounting and practice management software, today we provide a broad range of associated products for a diverse range of industries, that all work seamlessly together. No hassle, no extra (or hidden) cost – you get exactly what you pay for and that is often much more than you think. You just need to take advantage of it.

In Part Two of “It’s all at your fingertips” we aim to take you through each of our product offerings in order to shed some light on exactly what our integrated system entails and why we think it is important. 

We look forward to taking you through that…

Until then we leave you with the following quote from Jacques Ellul (who was a French philosopher, sociologist and longtime Professor of History and the Sociology of Institutions on the Faculty of Law and Economic Sciences at the University of Bordeaux ) – 

“Modern technology has become a total phenomenon for civilization, the defining force of a new social order in which efficiency is no longer an option but a necessity imposed on all human activity.”

Written by Alicia Koch on behalf of AJS

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