For most law firms and legal departments, Outlook plays a vital role in their day to day operations. Whether users rely on it for email, calendar, contacts, tasks, or all of those things – its ease of use and simple interface make it a staple in just about every firm.
The troubling thing is, when asked what they use for Practice Management, all too often firms answer with “Outlook.” The truth is, Outlook is not a practice management program. Outlook is best defined as an email and personal information manager. To that end, it’s organizational structure in largely contact centric.
While Lawyers deal with Clients…they also need to organize their work product by Matter. Think about the way you organized (or used to organize) paper files in your office. You might have one giant red rope for the Client, but each of their individual MATTERS warrants their own separate manila folder and label. Why? Time entries belong on a matter. Documents belong saved to the matter. Notes and Phone calls and emails belong saved to the Matter. Think about the reason you open a separate paper file for the matter, and then look for the record type of “Matter” in Outlook.
It’s missing. So, when you want to see all of the notes you have spent on the Ramovs vs. Jones matter in Outlook, you can’t. When you want to track the assets for the Probate Inventory on the Probate matter in Outlook, you can’t. When you want to see a report of all the upcoming appointments or tasks associated with the Jones Bankruptcy, you can’t. You might be able to see appointments you have with a particular person, but to look at it from the Matter level, you need true Practice Management.
Outlook also gives some firms a false sense of organization. By creating subfolders in their inbox, user feel like they have what they need. “Everything is in a folder in Outlook.” Not exactly. Every email (maybe) is in a folder in Outlook, to which only you have access. When someone else on your team needs to collaborate on the case, or cover the case for you, they generally don’t have access to your Outlook inbox. Oh, and the emails OTHER people have sent and received to that client? Not in your folder. What about all the people you are dealing with on the case? Are they in that Outlook folder? All the upcoming appointments, tasks? Are all the case documents in that Outlook subfolder? How about your time entries and phone call notes? Are you tracking the custom information that is relevant to the case in that Outlook subfolder? (Date of Death, Date of Injury, Case #, Claim number, Policy Number, Bankruptcy Chapter Filed? Tax Parcel ID #? Date of Marriage, Date of Separation)? Describe how you run a sufficient Conflict Check in Outlook. Your malpractice carrier can’t wait to hear….
As an aside, local folders in Outlook are not always part of a law firm’s backup policy. So, if you feel like everything you could possibly needs is in a subfolder in your Outlook inbox, confirm with your IT professional that your local Outlook folders re being backed up.
Make an investment of time and explore a true Practice Management Program for your firm that compliments Outlook, and protects you and your clients.