Should Your Different Practice Areas Use Other Technologies?
For firms with several practice areas, pushing through digital transformations can be particularly challenging. Each practice area has specific needs, and frequently those needs do not overlap. Even when different practice areas have similar needs (e.g., date docketing, document creation, etc.), they may have different approaches and workflows for those needs. And there may even be some practice areas that are resistant to the idea of digital transformation overall.
Naturally, allowing each practice area to rely on separate tools is inefficient and costly in terms of software licensing fees and the added personnel needed to support those tools. It is no better a solution to force every practice area to conform to one-size-fits-all tools.
So how can today’s multi-practice law firms leverage digital transformation efforts to the best effect while still tailoring solutions to meet the individual needs of their practice areas? Integrated legal practice management (PM) solutions are the answer.
Why is digital transformation so important?
Digital transformation, or the integration of digital technology into every facet of a business, is an area of tremendous focus across industries. Corporate CEOs report rapid acceleration in the pace of digital transformation in recent years, with over 80% telling PwC that they intend to increase their digital transformation investments moderately to significantly in the next three years.
As clients transform, the legal industry will (and must) follow. But a recent survey by AbovetheLaw and AbacusNext is quite revealing regarding the state of digital transformation in law firms. Over 360 firms, ranging from 2 to 500 attorneys representing a wide selection of practice areas, participated in the survey. While most firms used calendaring (80%) and document management (75%), only about one-third of the participant firms used comprehensive PM solutions.
Those firms that started digital transformation efforts often did so piecemeal, with one solution for each particular task. Frequently these disparate systems did not, or could not, communicate with each other. So rather than increasing efficiency, they led to unnecessary duplication of data entry, sometimes with conflicting results. Each system also needed separate computer resources and trained personnel to respond to problems or educate new users on product features and operation.
Many firms are now integrating more cloud-based services into their digital transformation efforts, particularly as more workers operate remotely. But just as with other digital transformation efforts, this often results in multiple independent cloud-based services. Multi-cloud setups not only create headaches for the staff in charge of managing them, but they are also potential security vulnerabilities for firms.
Firms that rely on piecemeal digital transformation efforts deny themselves and their clients the benefits of firm-wide PM systems.
How do integrated practice management tools help firms with different practice areas?
Wait, you say, didn’t you just tell me that one-size-fits-all solutions don’t work when a firm has several practice areas? The beauty of cloud-based integrated PM systems is that they are neither piecemeal nor one-size-fits-all. Instead, they provide you with a wide range of configuration options that tailor product features to an individual attorney or members or practice groups or everyone at the firm, depending on needs and access levels.
Standardization is an essential feature of practice management tools that helps firms ensure compliance with firm policies and legal requirements. PM systems allow you to build business processes and workflows applicable to the entire firm as needed. You can also create firm-wide document templates that are always up to date for every user.
PM tools also allow you to easily configure features by how different users operate when it is appropriate. For instance, you can create different workflows and business processes and different document templates for your various practice areas. You can also configure PM dashboards so that each practice area has rapid and straightforward access to the features and documents they need the most.
Process automation is crucial to improving your firm’s overall efficiency. While automation will likely never eliminate the human touch (nor should it), it allows you to streamline repetitive and non-essential tasks, thereby freeing you and your staff to serve your clients better. In an age of ever-increasing downward pressure on legal fees, automation is one way to revive profitability.
One concerning statistic from the AbovetheLaw survey was many respondents (over 50%) who indicated that they were unaware of the requirements of existing and upcoming privacy laws such as the California Consumer Privacy Act. Respondents were equally uninformed on their firm’s ability to comply with these laws. Making the situation even worse, nearly 43% also do not restrict user access to data based on their role, a significant vulnerability in data privacy.
PM systems help resolve law firm cybersecurity issues. Verify that your PM provider meets relevant data security standards, and you can feel more comfortable with your compliance efforts. Reinforce those efforts by using your PM configurations to define user access at a need-to-know/access level.
What if my firm only has one practice area?
Even though they do not have as many different needs as general practice firms, single practice area firms can also benefit from using integrated PM tools. Indeed, these firms can avail themselves of PM solutions custom-suites designed for their specific practice, with modules available to handle every task from client intake to invoicing and payment. AbacusNext, for example, offers custom solutions for practice areas from general civil litigation to family law to criminal defense.
Do what makes sense
No matter how big your firm is or how many practice groups you have, you will benefit in both the short-term and the long run by introducing integrated practice management tools. Your attorneys will become more efficient, and your clients will receive better service, which translates into increased client loyalty and increased profitability.
AbacusNext, a leading provider of secure integrated practice management solutions for professional services, can help you with your digital transformation efforts, whether you are a large general practice firm or a smaller boutique.