August 24, 2010
When planning and executing your purchase of legal case management software, the old adage holds true. A failure to plan is a plan to fail. Planning your strategy for choosing, purchasing, and implementing your software is essential. Investing some extra time at the start will reap huge benefits for you in the long run.
Make sure you do the following before you start shopping for case management software.
- Decide exactly what you need the program to do. Make a list of your “must haves” and “would like to haves.” Carefully consider what you don’t like about your current way of managing your caseload, and how you would change it if you could wave a magic wand.
- Make note of the specifications of your current hardware. Case management software is robust, and may require that you upgrade your hardware for optimal performance. Have your list of current specs handy when you’re shopping.
The following steps are essential during the actual research phase.
- Seek recommendations from other law firms of a similar size and specialty. Case management software is certainly not a “one size fits all” commodity, but it’s still helpful to have an insider’s view of not only the program itself, but also the quality of the technical support and training to back it up.
- After compiling a list of possible programs, request live (either online or onsite) demonstrations of the product. Include as many of your key staff members as possible in the demonstration; often, your colleagues will think of questions that you may overlook. Request multiple demonstrations of the same software, if necessary; you want to make sure you’re selecting the program that is the best fit for your firm.
- If you are currently using case management software and are considering switching to another program, consider how you will transfer your data from your current platform to the new program. Ask questions about data conversion and alternatives for migrating your data. (Look for more information in a future post about the pros and cons of a data conversion!)
- After the live demonstration, request access to a demo copy of the software. Get some hands-on practice with the program, and allow your employees to do likewise. You wouldn’t dream of purchasing a new car without a test drive, and you should treat your investment in case management software the same.
The real work (and fun!) starts after you purchase your software. Planning and executing an appropriate implementation strategy is crucial to your success.
- Purchase adequate training for your staff. If you skimp on anything, don’t let it be the training! According to Andrew Adkins, III, of the Legal Technology Institute, insufficient training is the #1 reason that case management software implementation fails. Require that attorneys, as well as other staff, participate in the training. If the attorneys don’t show their support by attending the training session(s), your staff won’t value the importance of it, either.
- Pick one “team captain” for every five employees at your firm. Your team captains should be people who are technologically proficient, patient with others, and are respected by their colleagues. These captains can help with follow-up training after you “go live” with your case management system.
- Schedule benchmarks for implementation. Often, it’s better to take baby steps, rather than rolling out the entire program all at once. You may decide that you want to have your document templates completed by a certain date, your Rolodex populated by another date, and so on. Based on accomplishing these benchmarks, you may then plan your “go live” date. Some firms use a slightly different approach by having a pilot group (a cross section of employees from the entire firm) use the program first; that way, you can work with the software company to make any necessary adjustments prior to your “go live” date.
- After training, and before your “go live” date, conduct a firm-wide meeting to decide your firm’s protocol for data entry. For example, though it may seem trivial, you should decide how everyone will abbreviate certain words in your list of contacts. Will you use acronyms where possible, or spell out all words? That seemingly insignificant decision can have a huge impact on database searches, documents, and reports in the future. Garbage in equals garbage out. Invite a representative from the software vendor to participate in your meeting; he or she may be able to offer some insight gleaned from working with other firms.
- Don’t try to implement another software change at the same time you go live with your new case management software. For example, if you decide you’re ready to change word processing programs, schedule that project several months down the road. Otherwise, you’ll likely have a rather frustrated staff!
Purchasing case management software is a wise investment that can help you save more time and make more money. But, before you dive into the deep end of the pool, make sure you give due diligence to selecting and implementing your program.