Small law firms and technology

“The times they are a-changin” – an old saying that is still true today (actually a song written by Bob Dylan in 1963).  To compete in this modern age many law firms install a case management system.  The problem is they sometimes don’t let the system manage.  Many law firms use only a small percentage of the function that they paid for.   Here is an example of what we find.  The case management system logs in all the callers, creates intake sheets for potential cases, creates a case for those that qualify and tracks the progress of the case.  The case management system logs the status of the case, sets a task to put the folder out for pick up and waits for the staff to come in.  Each morning the lead attorney comes in to pick up all the folders for cases he or she wants to handle at court that day. When the folders are picked up in the morning the attorney marks the task done and the system marks the folder as out to court.  The attorney is now on his way to court.  When the staff comes in they can see the status of each case and know which folders were picked up.

Sounds like a simple process to keep the flow going.  A fair amount of money was spent buying and installing the case management system.  More resources were used to train the staff on the new process.  The case management system created a simple process that required the attorney to mark a task done in the morning.  The problem is, this attorney does not understand or like the system.  The attorney just wants to run in, pick up the folders and get on the road.  The attorney is focused on the case, not the business. The majority of lawyers had no intention of running a business when they decided to go to law school, they wanted to practice law. In this example, the actual case status and the status recorded in the case management system soon get out of sync. The staff no longer relies on the system for status and falls back on old habits.  All the resources applied to the new system were wasted.

The case management system was put in to allow for a greater number of cases and to improve the overall productivity of the firm.  If one person decides not to follow the process the system begins to fall apart.  All is not lost here.  When we find someone that, let’s just say, wants to do it his or her way we just embrace the situation.  One solution is to assign an administrator for the case management system.  It will be this person’s job to keep the case management system in sync and to smooth over the interface to the system for those hold outs that want to do it their way.  Over the last few years we have found that the new position of firm administrator has become very popular.  This is the person that understands where the boss’s inbox is, how he or she wants the folders arranged in the morning for pick up, how the data should look in the case management system, and a host of other “administrative” task that make everything run smooth.

Sometimes it is not as simple as just buying new technology. In most cases the way you do business and even your work culture will change.  When you are ready to move into the new age of technology, look at the big picture.  Ultimately your firm will run with a lower HR cost because the skills needed and the number of staff will change.   Besides a lower projected cost the primary advantage of a case management system is ready access to status where ever you are.  It is not unusual for a firm owner or attorney to call in remotely to get status, new case information or just to see how the firm is running.  The system can provide a snapshot of what work was completed, who is working on what, and what needs to be done next if everyone uses the system.  Where a question needs to be answered by an attorney or a position taken, that can be done remotely through the case management system with new work task created that keeps the work flowing.