How to Find the Right Law Practice Management Software

Law practice management software can keep your firm efficient and collaborative, so you can best serve your clients. And while you may already know this, deciding what to do next can be overwhelming, to say the least.

  • “What legal software is the right choice for my firm?”
  • “Should I consider cloud-based legal software?”
  • “How do I get my data from my old software to my new practice management software?”

We receive questions just like these on a daily basis. And with so many law practice management solutions on the market today, there’s no question as to why.

The good news is we’ve worked with hundreds of law firms and have seen many legal management solutions in action. While some are a great fit, others are not. We want to share that insight with you, so you can make the best choice for your firm.

Related:

See our list of the top Law Practice Management software. Ready full reviews of each product.

Introduction to Law Practice Management Software

Law Practice Management (LPM) software is a platform that provides the essential functions of managing a law office. This includes client and contact management, matter management, calendaring, time and expense tracking, billing and more.

Software is a simple way to streamline your firm’s day-to-day operations, so you can save time, get more work done and better serve your clients. From initial client intake to enabling mobile access for in-courtroom use, your Law Practice Management system is a central database for everything you need to run your firm.

A Note on Terminology

Throughout this article, and in the broader legal technology content, you’ll see the terms “Practice Management Software,” “Case Management Software” and “Law Practice Management System” used interchangeably. We’ll mostly stick with “Law Practice Management” but know they all mean the same thing.

Challenges Solved by Law Practice Management Software

As an attorney inside a busy firm, you’re no stranger to the challenges involved in running a successful practice. From searching endlessly for client documents to trying to make sense of fragmented data, there are surely moments where you feel like smacking your head on your desk.

Law practice management software solves these challenges as well as others you may struggle with daily. The best Law Practice Management software will:

  1. Be your single source of truth: Your Law Practice Management software will be your central database for case and client information. When you’re looking for past case details or even a simple client phone number, you’ll find what you need quickly inside your LPM database.
  2. Enable you to work from anywhere: Remote work is here to stay. You and your legal team need mobile access to your Law Practice Management software, so you can get work done from anywhere. If you choose a native cloud-based or privately hosted cloud-based solution (more on this below), you’ll be able to take your work with you on the go.
  3. Eliminate your disjointed “tech stack”: You may use Outlook for calendaring and Excel for time tracking. You may also have a separate task management app and another tool for contact management. All of these apps become a disjointed mix, leading to frustration, subpar client service and potential for data loss. LPM software is a single solution for tracking everything you need to run your practice.
  4. Solve data mismanagement: It’s common for each lawyer or legal team member to store and manage client and business data in their own way, on their own system. Unfortunately, this results in lost time spent looking for updated information as well as lost data. Using an LPM tool, you and your team will store and manage data inside a single system everyone can use and access.
  5. Automate repetitive tasks: Repetitive tasks such as document assembly and invoicing can eat up your time. Law Practice Management software can automate these repetitive tasks, so you can focus on what you do best: serving your clients and growing your business.
  6. Improve your firm’s compliance: LPM software features tools for data storage, trust account management and other critical processes that improve your compliance (with the right solution).

Related:

Law Firm Software 101. Learn about the differences (and overlap) of the three categories of legal software.

Caveats & Risks in Changing Practice Management Software

Misfires when choosing new (or changing) Practice Management software has its consequences.

You might be tempted to read a few online reviews and just pick a solution from the list. After all, what could go wrong? Plenty. Not selecting the right software to fit your firm has its consequences:

  • Lost investment: Let’s be honest—software is an investment. And choosing a software you and your team can’t (or won’t) use results in you losing that hard-earned money you paid for it.
  • Lost time: Implementing software also takes time. From converting firm data to training the entire firm on the software, it can take a few months to reach full implementation. If it’s the wrong software, you lose significant time that you can’t get back.
  • Lack of future team buy-in: Implementing a solution that doesn’t work leads to frustration for your team. And requiring them to forget all they’ve learned to get onboard with another software will be an uphill battle.

Common Practice Management Software Features

No two practice management solutions are the same. There also isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to the best legal practice management software out there. You must find the solution that works best for your firm. It should enable you to reach your unique goals, eliminate your specific challenges and it should fit well within your workflow.

One of the first steps you should take is creating a list of “must-have” features and “would like” features you’d like to see inside your Law Practice Management software. The truth is, many tools offer a slew of features that may dazzle you in the beginning, but will end up being useless for your firm. And unfortunately, this means paying for more than you need.

You should also determine if what you need is an all-in-one solution or a focused app that performs a few key functions well, such as billing and time tracking. If some of what you’re doing works, there’s no need to completely reinvent the wheel.

Let’s dive into some of the key features found inside Law Practice Management Software.

Client & Contact Management

One of the simplest and most important features any LPM platform should have is the ability to store and track contact information, from new clients to vendors. And in most tools, you’ll be able to link those contacts to relevant case information, appointments and more.

Matter Management

Matter management tools will vary depending on the Law Practice Management software you choose. Yet, most solutions enable you to link contacts, documents, appointments, time, invoices and more to specific case numbers for easy tracking.

Other tools may include additional functions such as extra fields for matter-specific information (i.e. auto accident information) or the ability to set case statuses (i.e. open or closed).

Calendaring

A solid calendar tool will help you organize meetings, consults, court appearances and vacation time (yes, even attorneys need time away from the desk). Some LPM software will allow you to share your calendar with others, make updates to your calendar on the go and add billable hours right to events.

Other tools are available for more in-depth docketing, updated with deadlines for your specific jurisdiction.

Task Management

These tools help you manage all of your daily tasks such as drafting legal documents and reaching out to clients. Some LPM solutions will allow you to assign tasks to specific members of your firm and will notify you when tasks are due or completed.

If you need a task management tool, the one you choose must allow you to add in custom tasks, so you can personalize it to fit your needs.

Time & Expense Tracking

Time tracking can be a thorn in any attorney’s side. Yet, using a time tracking tool can simplify the process and help your firm capture all billable time, maximizing revenue (while minimizing time spent tracking time).

Most LPM solutions include time tracking tools that feature timers you can start or stop as well as the option to use multiple timers at once. These tools also make it easy to assign hours to specific cases, so you can create accurate invoices. As for expenses, LPM software allows you to quickly add expenses and attribute them to the appropriate client or matter.

Billing

Most Law Practice Management software includes billing (which is arguably the core of LPM software). Billing-related features may include automatic invoicing as well as the ability to bill clients based on payment arrangements such as flat-fee.

Conflict Checking

This feature helps you search your database for related names to avoid conflicts of interest. Plus, you can document each conflict check, eliminating your risk.

Trust Accounting

It’s an attorney’s responsibility to track every IOLTA transaction and have an up-to-date ledger for each client’s IOLTA account. Some Practice Management applications have trust accounting built-in. Or, you can use a third-party integration if supported by your LPM software.

Business Accounting

Some, but not all, Practice Management applications include end-to-end business accounting (in addition to trust accounting). This means the LPM software includes all accounting essentials, such as a Chart of Accounts, operating accounts and standard accounting reports such as a balance sheet.

Sidebar: Accounting

Accounting is related to, but fundamentally separate from Practice Management functions. As such, some LPM applications include accounting, but many do not.

Some firms prefer (along with their accountant) to use QuickBooks for accounting, provided their Practice Management software integrates with QuickBooks. Practice Management applications that fit this model include LEAP, Clio and Time Matters.

Other firms prefer an end-to-end, all-in-one solution that handles all case management, billing and accounting in one piece of software. Practice Management software that fits this model include PCLaw, ProLaw and CosmoLex.

Document Assembly & Automation

This feature is incredibly useful for saving time when generating repetitive documents such as intake forms, pleadings and contracts. Using a document template generated by the LPM, all you have to do is enter the required information, review and move on.

Document Storage

If you’re a paperless firm, you must have robust and secure document storage capabilities. Some (but not all) Law Practice Management software tools include integrated simple Cloud-based storage.

Document Management

You’ll also need to be able to easily find and use those documents you store. Advanced document management capabilities found inside some LPM tools include version management, text search, tagging and more.

Sidebar: Practice vs. Document Management

Practice Management and Document Management are two very different categories of software. A Document Management System (DMS) is dedicated software that provides robust tools to manage, organize and search your firm’s documents and email.

Some Practice Management software includes limited or lightweight document management. Just be sure to clearly understand and define your firm’s document management requirements before assuming that your chosen Practice Management solution covers all of your document needs.

Related: Practice Management vs. Document Management Software

Email Management

Is your email inbox full of sensitive attachments, data and client information? If so, you need to manage those emails properly to avoid losing this critical information. Email management tools allow you to save or link emails to specific matters, so everything is in one place.

Related:

Learn how to use Document Management and Practice Management software to save, organize and manage client and matter-related email.

Mobile Capabilities

In the age of remote work, attorneys must be able to work via mobile device from anywhere. Some LPM solutions will have mobile apps that feature some of the more critical capabilities such as time tracking and task management.

Client Portal

A client portal can streamline and improve client communication which can also enhance the client experience. Some tools allow you to share documents and updates with clients and other third parties from inside your LPM.

Open API

If you use any third-party apps, an open API (application program interface) enables you to integrate those apps with your LPM, so long as an integration exists. For example, if you use Microsoft Office 365 for document creation, you can use your LPM to track and store those documents from inside your software.

Again, not every Law Practice Management application will have all of these features. And you may not need all of these features to effectively manage your firm. Develop a list of those you need and those you want to start the LPM software selection process.

To help, develop a workflow of all the essential functions your firm uses each day, week and month. Then, decide which functions could use improvement via tech. Also, note if there are critical functions you’re missing that a LPM solution could provide.

Don’t Forget to Think About the Future

If you’re successful in selecting the right Law Practice Management solution for your firm, you’ll use it for the foreseeable future. This means you need to choose a solution that’s scalable and offers the features you plan to use in the future. Consider where your firm is headed, so you can properly plan for future needs.

7 Steps to Finding the Right Practice Management Software for Your Firm

Now that you have a list of the law practice management software features you need and desire, it’s time to start looking. It’s important to note that this can take time as you should be thoughtful and analytical in your search.

We know this process can feel overwhelming, especially when you have so many other things on your plate. To help, we’ve outlined seven steps you should take to ensure you choose the right LPM software for your law practice.

1. Get to Know Your Options for Software Solutions

Many lawyers already have on-premise software (or software on their physical computers) they know and love. Others are looking for new, perhaps more modern (natively-cloud) Law Practice Management software. The good news: you have options.

Generally speaking, you have three options when it comes to law practice management software.

On-Premise

On-premise software is traditional (non-cloud) based software. With on-premise Law Practice Management applications, the software is installed onto each computer inside of your law firm (plus usually an on-site server), and licenses are purchased for each.

This means you’ll be the server host of the software. To access your software, you’ll simply open it on your desktop.

Benefits

  • Robust functionality: Many on-premise solutions have been around for years, resulting in rich and robust capabilities that most newer applications simply don’t have.
  • No Internet required: Most on-premise solutions don’t require an internet connection to use. This means you have access to all of your critical data at any time.
  • Control: Since you own the software and are hosting it on your own servers, you have complete control over it. You decide what changes are made to your software and when updates are installed.

Challenges

  • Server requirements: As we mentioned before, servers are expensive. They’re expensive to buy, expensive to implement and even more expensive to maintain and repair, when there are (inevitably) problems. Even with a capable IT consultant, owning a server effectively puts you in the IT management business.
  • Difficult remote accessibility: If you want to be able to access your on-premise software on the go, you’ll need to have a virtual private network (VPN) set up, or another, equally clunky tool. Most law firms simply find these archaic remote access tools too slow and ineffective.
  • Implementation costs: Purchasing software for each computer in your office can be a serious investment. And to upgrade to new software, you may also need to upgrade your devices, which can cost thousands depending on the size of your firm.

Private Cloud

If you have on-premise or desktop-based software you’re committed to but want the benefits of moving to the cloud, this is an option for you. This option enables you to keep your current software but move to a server hosted inside of a private cloud.

Traditional (desktop/server) based software requires a server. Historically, this meant buying and maintaining a server on-site, in-house. Today, we have the option of a private cloud, which is the server, hosted and managed by a third-party company.

Private cloud platforms often use virtual desktops to give your team anytime, anywhere access to your law firm software.

Benefits

  • Keep your software: With a Private cloud and Virtual Desktop, you can keep the server that your firm is committed to and relies on.
  • Accessibility and mobility: A Private cloud brings the remote access, flexibility and mobility of the cloud to your otherwise premise-based software.
  • Enhanced security: Private clouds feature enhanced security, as they’re separate from the public cloud. And many vendors offer additional security features such as data encryption and two-factor authentication for next-level protection.
  • Cross-platform functionality: Private cloud-hosted Law Practice Management software allows you to use your software from a Windows PC, Mac OS or even a tablet or Android device.

Challenges

  • Internet requirements: Private cloud-based Practice Management software requires internet connectivity to function.

Related:

Native Cloud-Based Software

Native-cloud software or cloud-based software are applications that are accessed via a web browser. Think Google Workspace apps such as Google Calendar or Sheets. These apps run via remote servers, instead of being hosted inside your own server.

To access the app, all you have to do is log in from any computer using a browser such as Safari or Google Chrome.

Benefits

  • Accessible from anywhere: Cloud-based apps are accessible from anywhere there’s an internet connection. Whether you’re at the airport or sitting in the courtroom, you can access your cloud-based LPM from your phone, tablet or computer.
  • Low maintenance: Since the vendor is hosting your apps, they’re also responsible for updates and routine maintenance. App updates are generally rolled out as soon as they’re available, which eliminates downtime for your firm.
  • Zero installation required: Installation of software can be costly and time-consuming. Cloud-based apps require zero installation, allowing you to get up and running quickly.
  • Serverless: It can cost hundreds of dollars each year to run one server for your firm. Cloud-based apps are hosted inside remote servers which means you can eliminate server expenses from your list.
  • Predictable costs: Cloud-based Law Practice Management software often features monthly subscription-based pricing, which results in predictable costs for your firm.

Challenges

  • Basic functionalities: Often, cloud-based apps are basic in nature (by comparison to their premise-based counterparts) and may not have the robust features of traditional, on-premise software. While some small or solo firms may only require basic functions, some larger firms may need more than a web-based app offers.
  • Internet requirements: If you don’t have an internet connection, you won’t have access to your cloud-based LPM. While some apps may have offline functionalities, they’re limited. The best way to manage this risk is to have a plan for backup internet connectivity.

2. Consider Your Budget

There are differences between the costs associated with all three of the options we discussed above. You must consider your budget and what’s “do-able” for your firm now and in the future.

What are the typical costs associated with LPM options?

  • Native cloud-based: Cloud-based apps require zero installation of additional software and low maintenance on your part, which may save you some cash. Some cloud-based vendors require a monthly subscription-based fee while others charge per user. Some require a monthly fee in addition to a user fee. In many cases, you’ll need to hire a legal software consultant to help you implement and get the most from your new software (as well as potentially migrate data from your old LPM software).
  • On-premise: On-premise deployments require an upfront investment to purchase software licenses for each device. And if you’re a new firm, you’ll need to purchase the hardware too. You’ll also need to bring in an IT specialist to set up and maintain your servers and network.
  • Private cloud: Private cloud pricing is similar to that of native cloud-based solutions. For example, you may pay per user/per month. The monthly cost will also depend on the features and support you need from your vendor. In addition, you’ll need to pay for the on-premise software licensing for those tools you plan on using in the private cloud.

Explore and compare the costs of On-Premise, Private Cloud and Web-based Law Practice Management.

As a quick note, we recommend refraining from selecting Law Practice Management software based on what’s cheapest. You want to determine your needs and narrow your list down from there. Trust us when we say that the correct LPM solution will save you money in the long run.

3. Determine Your Work Model

You know that an attorney’s work is never done. And that means plenty of work gets completed while traveling, eating dinner, visiting clients—even inside the courtroom. Recent numbers published by the ABA found that 54% of lawyers now work from home close to 100% of the time.

If this is you or anyone within your firm, remote access to your law practice management software is a must. Both native cloud-based and private cloud-based solutions can be accessed from anywhere on any device.

With a cloud-based solution (cloud-based software or a private cloud) you can track hours, send invoices, respond to clients, find client information and more on the go. We recommend all lawyers consider an option that allows for remote access. After all, the past few years have shown us that anything could happen.

Struggling to manage your remote work model? Watch the related video:

4. Check for Current Software & Tool Compatibility

Many law firms use several software tools or apps to get work done. For example, you may use QuickBooks for all of your business accounting, Microsoft Office 365 for creating and editing documents and another tool for case management.

If these tools work well for your firm and you choose to keep them, you’ll need to ensure the law practice management software you choose will integrate with them. Otherwise, you’ll have multiple siloed systems resulting in frustration and confusion.

Another challenge to consider is the recording of client data and information. If your LPM and additional apps don’t work well together, you’ll be spending a ton of time entering and transferring data between systems. Not only is this incredibly time-consuming, but it can result in serious errors.

Workflow Compatibility

There’s no reason to completely uproot a workflow that’s been working for you and your firm. Remember, as you implement new LPM software, you’ll still need to support your clients and your business.

Choose a solution that integrates well with how you currently do business, so there’s little disruption during implementation. If a certain tool requires you to completely change all of your in-office processes, it’s probably not the right choice for you.

5. Involve Your Legal Team in the Selection Process

All stakeholders in your firm should be involved in the Practice Management software selection process. Each individual on your team may have different needs. Involving your team ensures all needs are met with the software you choose, which will also increase morale and acceptance of a new solution.

Gathering input can be as simple as having a meeting where everyone discusses what a new LPM system should look like. Or, you can offer a survey to other attorneys and team members to fill out and send back to you. Some questions to ask include:

  • What do you think we could improve in our current processes?
  • What do you think works well in our current processes?
  • What are the features you believe are critical in a new Practice Management platform?
  • What features would be nice to have but are not critical in a new Practice Management system?

When you receive the responses, take some time to review them and make note of the most common concerns and needs. This should help you pinpoint the features that are most important to those in your firm. And it may even uncover important features you haven’t even considered.

6. Dig Deeper Into the Tool’s Ease of Use

The goal of implementing an LPM solution is to make work easier and faster. Choosing a cumbersome legal practice management solution won’t be worth the time, cash, or effort when all is said and done. Instead, it will lead to mismanaged or lost client data, inefficient workarounds and a frustrated team.

During the selection process, dig deep into the tool’s design, interface, features and navigation. Ask yourself: Is it easy to use? Will it be easy for my team to learn? Do my other apps integrate seamlessly? Am I already seeing the need for workarounds?

Team Training & Support

Both you and your team will require initial training and ongoing support after you implement your new LPM software. While researching potential solutions, be sure to consider each vendor’s training and support options.

For example, does the vendor offer troubleshooting or tech support after go-live? If not, where should you go in the event of a software issue? While most vendors offer some form of support, you’ll need to tap into your own comfort level to determine how much support you require.

7. Develop a List of Software Options That Tick All of Your Boxes

There are literally dozens of law practice management software tools out there. And chances are, you’ll find a few that truly meet all of your requirements and tick the boxes on your wishlist. With that list ready to go, it’s time to pick a winner.

To do so, you’ll want to reach out to your chosen vendors and ask any remaining questions you have. For example, you may want to clarify pricing or ask about a certain functionality you didn’t see listed on their website. This is also a great way to gauge their response times and level of customer service.

Take a Test Drive

Now, it’s time to test the solutions on your shortlist. Most vendors will allow you to try out a live demo of the software for free. And some may even offer a free trial, so you can see how the solution works in your practice.

Either way, immerse yourself in the software to see how it might work for you. We also recommend selecting a few people from within your firm to test the software too. This can include fellow lawyers, paralegals, receptionists, legal specialists and others from your team.

After following the steps found here and your test drive, you should feel confident in which solution is right for you. Kudos for making it this far!

Legal Software Report

A successful legal software search starts with a list of the top candidates. We’ve started this process for you in our annual Legal Software Report.

Get the Report

Our comprehensive report on the top 15 Law Practice Management software applications.

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3 Tips for a Successful Legal Practice Management Software Implementation

Choosing a legal practice management software is followed by implementing the software into your firm. This too can take some time, as it requires initial set-up, data migration, onboarding and training. For a smooth implementation process, here are some tips:

1. Bring in a Legal Software Consultant

During implementation and after, you’ll need an experienced legal software consultant that can help you implement your legal software, integrate it with your other technology and provide training and support for your entire firm. This should be a person or firm that knows your legal software.

For this, avoid generic IT consultants. Although IT consultants know desktops, networks, routers and servers, they’re almost never experts on law firm software and processes.

2. Create a Change Management Plan Before Rollout

With any major change comes growing pains, especially when it comes to implementing software. To make the change easier on your team, develop a change management plan before you get started.

Define the goals of your software implementation project and establish team member roles and responsibilities. Determine where attorneys and other team members should go for answers to questions and troubleshooting. And don’t forget to communicate your wins throughout the process to boost morale.

3. Provide High-Quality Training to Your Team

Finally, you should take the time necessary to provide high-quality training to your team, including your attorneys, paralegals and support staff. Law Practice Management software is only useful if you understand how to use it.

The software company and/or a legal software consultant should be able to provide initial training and ongoing support. It’s also a great idea to schedule refresher training to gather team feedback, solve workflow issues and learn how to use updated tools.

Get Your Law Firm Software Assessment Today

Finding the right legal software for your firm is hard. Yet, making the wrong choice can greatly affect your firm. To help you out, we offer our comprehensive Legal Software Assessment, complete with customized recommendations and an actionable implementation plan.

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