Thoughts on the State of Legal Tech (from LOS Fall 2022 Newsletter)
Posted September 25, 2022 to Legal Technology Trends.
As a consultant who has been supporting clients with legal technology for 35 years (this month!), I often reflect on where we have been and where we are going. As I mentioned in my speech as one of this year’s ABA’s Women in Legal Tech, I have often had to pivot when market forces changed the legal marketplace. While I still support a few firms on WordPerfect, the migration from WordPerfect came early in my career and forced me and my clients to convert to Word. Recently, Covid has moved many lawyers from desktops to laptops and remote access to their firm’s applications. As the cloud options have increased, server-based vendors have all moved to subscription models like their cloud cousins. Recent price increases have caused more clients to look at alternatives. The cloud options typically offer both practice management and billing with some also including their own accounting.
For a long time, I kept waiting for some of the cloud products to add features and functions that have long been part of the server-based products. A recent conversation with a colleague made me reconsider my thinking. Many of the cloud products came out more than a decade ago, some closer to two decades. If they were going to add the customization options, reporting and functionality of the server-based products, they would have done it by now. Their design and approach to tech is now baked into their product. Whether that means they are focused on medium size firms, adding a marketplace for linked add-ons or they are relying on Office 365 to manage calendar and emails, the strengths and weaknesses of their core design are now locked in. This doesn’t mean there won’t be new features or functions. What it does mean is that, when choosing a practice management, billing, or accounting solution, you need to go in with your expectations realistically set. It is also important to know what critical functions and features your firm needs to be sure your new platform can support you.
If you have relied on the ability of Time Matters to show you your calendar, with the option to superimpose others calendars and filter to show only court dates, you may find the calendar options in some of the cloud products lacking. Similarly, if your clients require different bill layouts and options, you may find those options aren’t available in the cloud.
Changing systems can be transformative or disruptive (or often a bit of both). Even if the vendor (or consultant) will convert your historical data, they often have a two-to-three-month lead time not including cleanup of your existing data. For the procrastinators among you, it’s probably too late to start your new system on Jan 1st. Before changing systems, it is important to take stock of what your must-have functions are as well as those you can live without. For example, if you have clients who require specific information and layouts on your bills, make sure a potential new system will let you produce bills your clients will pay. Similarly, if there is information about your cases that you need at your fingertips, be sure a potential replacement gives you the same fields. It is common to assume that the functions you have been using for years will be in the products you consider. The reality is that is not true. Both iPhone and Android phones have similar functions, they are not identical. If you have other Apple devices or your family all have iPhones, you can send imessages and use Facetime and share data across the devices. While there are other apps that can be used on both platforms, Androids are generally less expensive and more customizable. As with phones, practice management and billing programs have differences that can sabotage a transition.
Renewal prices also increased in the past year. With annual costs of Timeslips, Time Matters and PCLaw increasing, many firms consider alternatives. Often, firms think their needs are simple. It is easy to assume that “every” billing program will do the same functions as their current system. Whether it is specific reports or the ability to easily change bill layouts or creating mailing labels or custom reports, not every product does things the same. While cost is a factor, converting, which often means losing much of the historical data, can be disruptive. Worse is when you realize that an aggressive vendor trying to woo you to their product simply omitted functions, they can’t do rather than honestly point out that their solution can’t do them. For example, many firms who have relied on Time Matters are heavy users of the calendar function, with its ability to overlay different combinations of staff. Many of the cloud products have relied on Outlook or Google calendar which were designed as individual rather than group calendars and have no matter or case to connect them.
Many of the cloud products add functionality not available in server-based products. Often, those can be game changers in working with clients. Client intake processes and document portals can create positive change in your interactions with your clients.
We have supported many of your firms for years and know how you use your software and what functions are critical to the success of your firm. If you are thinking about making changes, we urge you to call us before making changes.
Increased prices, needing to purchase additional licenses or the cost of replacing a server are all motivators to move to the cloud. Adding client portals and the flexibility of working more remotely. There are many factors that can influence a firm to change systems. Working with a consultant who knows the products, your firm and its culture can help ensure a smoother transition. If the cloud is on your planning horizon, we’d be happy to help you make the best choice.