Updated: Jul 2, 2021
Some practice management solutions have all the bells & whistles but won’t address your real needs. Ask yourself these questions before you buy to invest in software that is easy to learn and use.
What is Law Practice Management Software?
Practice management software is like a giant excel spreadsheet of all your files with the details of each file, on steroids (although I did once speak with a lawyer who claimed excel was what they use as their CRM).
Try Before You Buy
If a case management solution is geared towards sole practitioners, then they will almost always have a free-trial. If a free-trial is not available on their site without a demo, it is more likely their price is higher.
What Type of Buyer Are You?
Some attorneys ask other legal professionals what software they use, some like to research themselves, some ask their paralegal to do research for them and filter through some options to come up with the top two.
How Is It Priced?
Prices range from about $35 - $150 / user / month. The lowest one I’ve seen is Matters.cloud at $35/month. The best law practice management software isn't an easy pick simply because they are all quite similar, so it comes down mostly to easy of use (including having great help videos), and the expense. Some of the older case management software (like PC Law) charges a one time installation fee because it is desktop based rather than Cloud based. Some software like Cosmolex Cloud are also releasing a mobile-app version of their software soon so it will be just as easy to use on any device.
Common Features of Legal Practice Management Software
Matter Management: Allows you to open a file and link every contact, task, invoice, and time entry to that specific file.
Time Keeping: Allows you to track time (usually billable) spent on a particular file you have which is already created within the software.
Invoicing: Auto-generates an invoice outlining what a client owes based on the fees and disbursements entered on their file.
Client intake portals: There is a new trend in the market for case management software to provide customizable online intake forms that the law firm that can put on their website and their clients will fill out with their personal details and details of their legal issue. This information then gets submitted into the law firm’s case management software as a ‘lead’. The lawyer can customized and send this ‘lead’ a retainer agreement within the software, then once it is signed can convert the lead into an official ‘matter’.
Trust Accounting: Trust accounting features will allow you to generate reports in order to reconcile between your trust and general accounts. They will generate law society compliance documents for if you ever get audited.
Law Practice Management Software Feature Descriptions
Benefits and Potential Issues - Which capabilities are important and which you can do without (if you’re trying to save on cost)?
When attorneys are picking a case management system, they will want one that does trust accounting not just normal business accounting, which allows a clients’ retainer funds to go into a ‘trust’ account within the software, then when the lawyer is ready to charge the client for the hours they have worked on that clients’ file, they can write a cheque to transfer the money from the firms trust account to the firm’s general account, which means the funds actually belong to the firm at this point. Most of the law societies of each Canadian province have a list of software vendors that are ‘approved’ for trust accounting. This is because trust accounting is quite strictly regulated by the law societies compared to other areas of a law firm which software exists to help with which the law society would not regulate and therefore would not have a list of approved vendors for. Another reason law societies provide a list of approved vendors is that vendors with trust accounting built into it will also generate trust accounting reports compliant with the provincial law society standards, which will be needed if you ever get audited - Cosmolex Cloud is a good example of this.
Some case management systems have integrations with other accounting software like QuickBooks or Sage as a replacement to having their own accounting features built in. You should check though whether the legal software vendor charges extra to integrate with your QuickBooks.
What software do small law firms use / what is the best legal software?
The best is probably Clio, however it’s not the cheapest. Matters.cloud would be the best bang for your buck, because their prices are especially low as of 2021 as a strategy to expand into new markets like Canada (they were founded in the UK) and because they specifically cater to solo lawyers, however they haven’t yet built in reporting compliant with the Canadian law societies. Reporting will be a rarely used feature but when you do need it will save you a lot of stress. Cosmolex is priced in the middle of Clio and Matters.cloud at $89/user/month and emphasized the fact that they have a built in trust accounting in their marketing. They are also on the law society’s list of approved vendors.
One of your main concerns will be which trust accounting software is approved by your province’s / state’s law society.
Too Many Choices?
Lumose Marketplace employs legal-tech experts who have done the research for you. We test free-trials of legal software everyday and have done an analysis on which features each software vendor does and doesn’t have.
You should pick a legal case management system with excellent quality help videos on how to use their software, here is why:
Of all categories of legal software, case management is the most complex type because it includes timekeeping, invoicing/legal billing and payment, adding each file as a matter with all the client’s KYC information and billing information, task management, contact management, built in legal calendaring (not that most people use this), accounting features for your law office accounting, and a dashboard that shows an overview of all matters, finances, and work done in your entire firm. Even the most intuitive case management software will have a learning curve to be proficient with it, and once you learn it you don’t want to have to spend YOUR time teaching each paralegal/associate you hire how to do something. The vendor needs to have a continually updated library of videos for our new hires to learn with. Cosmolex also does this well because they have help videos for each different section in their software interface so you don’t even have to logout or search their website. Hotdocs/Abacus also has a lot of videos however they’re a bit harder to locate.
If you see that a case management system has the ability to keep track of leads rather than only clients that have officially opened a file, that's a sign the software is more modern because that feature tends to be popping up recently in the industry. Matters.cloud includes this feature for free in their software which is already an under-market price at $35CAD / user / month, whereas Clio sells this feature as part of their ‘Clio Grow’ add-on which costs an extra $49 USD/User/Month.
5 Categories of legal software used by small law firms
Client management - keep track of all files opened at your firm and the personal details/hours billed on each.
Document Management / Document Automation - Allows lawyers or clients to enter the information particular to them, then the software will auto-populate the information into a document such as an employment agreement, Last Will & Testament, or investment proposal/term sheet, probate documents. The new trend in this software category is a ‘client portal’ which allows the lawyer to send an online ‘questionnaire’ to the client so that they can enter their own details in order to populate the document. The lawyer then reviews the auto-populated document and can edit particular clauses if necessary. They also offer e-signature and streamline the workflow by cutting out the need to email, upload to your file storage system (google drive/Onedrive), and allows all parties to comment on the document being reviewed in one place, kind of like how someone can comment on a google doc (they call this ‘collaborative workflows’)
Legal Research: WestLaw or Lexis Nexis on steroids using A.I.
Security: Encrypted file sharing and emailing.
Marketplaces: Online non-legal entity platforms that help clients find, compare, and retain lawyers. They are like an amped up, more streamlined version of the lawyer directories found on law society websites except that they don’t just refer the client to the lawyer, they actually take care of the signing of the limited scope retainer, customer service, and marketing of different practice areas and your specialties, while the lawyer completes only the legal work.
Market Trends to Understand
Matter management: Opportunity pipelines. Look for software that caters to your marketing efforts and keeps track of leads, or email campaigns would be even better.
Self-serve/Client Portals: Juro and HotDocs have client portals so that you can per-say ‘out-source’ some of your work to your client by allowing them to login to a branded web portal where they have controlled access to some of your forms and documents which they can purchase self-serve style, but are required to retain you to draft more complex contracts or review and edit a routine contract they have already purchased. Self serve client portals are a law firm’s version of the ‘freemium’ model many tech companies employ to generate lots of engagement with their customers which they can then convert into paying customers who are already in the habit of using their product and already trust their brand. You can also charge clients a monthly fee to access your client portal if you want - another innovative way to generate revenue for your firm that clients are more accustomed to purchasing, since paying a monthly subscription for an App is such a common way to pay nowadays. It also means they don’t have to keep give you their credit card details or receiving invoices, which just reminds them how much they are paying you.
No-Code: These allow you to create online forms without having to code. You can build the form to ask whichever questions you want, then set it to automatically generate a document based on conditional logic like e.g. “If the client enters yes to the question that they have children under the age of 18, then they will be asked if they would like to appoint a guardian for their children”, then on the document side, if they do want to appoint a guardian, then and only then will a guardian clause appear in their Will. An example of one is AfterPattern.