Practice management is not a new concept. In fact, this information-sharing software has been around for about twenty five years. The key feature of practice management is cross referencing records into matters. Without practice management, records such as events, tasks, documents, emails, phone call journals and the like stand alone and are not easily compiled into matter history. Further, practice management features practice area specific fields for not only easy reference on a computer screen, tablet or smart phone near you, but also affords the ability to assemble key practice area information into documents and reports.
Outlook® v. Matter Centricity
Most firms rely on Outlook for appointments and emails. However, as great as Outlook is for emails, appointments and even contacts, Outlook falls short immediately because it doesn’t include an ability to record key information like appointments, tasks and contacts AND cross reference those records to a matter. The matter is the basic unit of organization for law firms. It truly is the central record around which most, if not all, activity revolves. Practice management affords one the ability to associate telephone calls with a Contact regarding a matter, associate appointments, tasks, and billing records with a matter. Documents and emails are cross referenced to the matter. Thus, the ability to arrange the firm’s practice information in a matter centric way is extremely valuable to law firms, and where the real power of using these systems comes into play.
Figure 1: Orion Practice Management - Matter Information Screen
The reason programs like Outlook® are called “Personal Information Managers” (“PIM’s”) is because PIM’s fail to really fulfill the potential for law firm data is the inability of PIM’s to relate any of the Contact and Calendar information to a Matter. For a law firm or legal department, the Matter is the central hub around which all other information flows. We need everything we do to relate to a matter as much as possible. PIMS can’t do that, they lack the concept of a matter. Yet the Matter is central to all practice management software packages. This is the crucial distinction between PIM-style programs, and practice management.
Figure 2: Practice Management’s Basic Workflow Diagram
Another critical piece of practice management is not just that it not only keeps and stores key information by the file/case/matter, but also, all of this information can be SHARED with everyone else in the firm. Think about the ability to be able to see the phone notes that another member of the firm recorded concerning a conversation held previously, or better yet the ability to easily reference who the players are on a case, whether an appointment is coming up or a list of tasks that have yet to be done. The value in having all of this information at your fingertips is immeasurable. This includes the ability to see a full history of everything that has ever happened on a file, no matter who did it.
Key information break down
Contacts: Practice management features the ability to see the players in a matter and how they relate to a particular matter. Contacts in Outlook are simply a personal list of people with addresses, phone number and email addresses. Orion Practice Management features the same robust contact list but each contact can be cross-reference to a matter and is made available to all users in a firm. Thus, if a contact changes his/her address, the update by one user propagates to all users instantly.
Figure 3: Related Contacts to a Matter
As with Contacts, the ability to share Calendar information is a big payoff with Practice Management software. Others can see your availability and create new items for you (and security can be set to permit or disallow certain users from being able to do so). You can cross-reference not only appointments, but also tasks (a/k/a to-do’s) linked to the Contact and to matters.
Practice Management features the ability to journalize and record key information communicated in phone calls, notes and e-mail messages. Take E-Mail as a prime example. E-mail is the communication medium of choice for most people these days and lawyers and their staff are no exception. However, many firms have NO PLAN for how to deal with e-mail records, much less how to bill for receiving or sending them. Practice management assists you in this endeavor by pulling in case related e-mails and linking them to the Contact, the matter and provides a vehicle for which you can bill your time easily. The email is journaled into practice management for easy future reference by anyone, at any time. Without practice management, most firms permit lawyers and staff to store emails in Outlook subfolders which makes emails private to each user. And, those emails are, worse yet, usually not properly backed up.
A big return on investing in practice management software comes when we begin to leverage the data that we’ve worked so hard to enter into producing documents. You can approach it from a very rudimentary level like merging existing entries into word processing documents like transmittal letters and simple pleadings, or you can invest in programs like HotDocs® that pulls data from the data tables in Orion and logically assembles the document including calculations, proper outlining and numbering to document wide gender pronouns and proper grammar.
The best part of practice management comes into play when we note that at every turn, and for every record, your users can add a fee entry right from most matter related records. This is a HUGE improvement over the expectations that attorneys, paralegals and staff will remember to bill for each activity as a separate action. By billing off a matter related record, you easily capture billable time accurately and effectively.
Figure 4: Fee Entry from an Appointment in Orion Practice Management
Critical information by practice area is able to be stored in practice management. Take a family law matter as an example. We probably want fields including date of marriage, date of separation, names of children, whether the children are minors, records to permit a list of assets, debts, etc. For a real estate matter, you’d probably want property address, tax information, property control numbers, tax authority information, etc. Custom field information is a key feature of practice management. And, this custom information can be used not only for easy reference, but also for document assembly purposes as well.
This article just scratches the surface of the possibilities with practice management. And, once your firm enables practice management, you will never look back except to wonder how you practiced without it. For more information, join us on our webinars scheduled for: