With the legal market becoming more competitive, law firms are embracing technology to make sure their practices provide clients with value for money as well as being effective and efficient. Here we look at some of the tools lawyers are using so they stay one step ahead of the competition.
Online Research Tools
While most law firms still possess a traditional library, they are also relying on online databases to find the most up-to-date cases and legal precedents. Additionally, many companies offer versions of precedents and forms that are regularly used in practice which can be downloaded and personalised for completion by the lawyer. This can save a lot of time, making the firm more efficient and saving money for clients.
Managing the Workload
Case management systems and tools have revolutionised the way that law firms do business. These systems integrate themselves into every aspect of a firm’s business, from how they should be conducting a case to legal document management, billing, time management and accounting. The most sophisticated case management systems can take a legal professional through the entire workflow for conducting a case, providing him or her with the documents, forms and legal precedents they need to deal with the case. It is sometimes possible to have these precedents and forms linked to a firm’s client database so details can be entered automatically, preventing data entry errors. Whatever the firm’s speciality, there are systems to help with different areas of law. These ensure a consistent approach across a firm and help free up time that would be otherwise spent on routine administrative tasks.
Apart from tools to manage workflow, there are systems to help firms keep control of their electronic documents by providing secure online access for both the firm and for clients while also ensuring that all the firm’s data is being stored in accordance with the Data Protection Act and is protected in case of emergencies. Systems are also available to facilitate reporting on budgeting, billing and time management.
Managing Time and Billing
Good billing processes and excellent time management are vital for any law firm if they are to succeed. Time management and billing software can enable a firm to accurately record how much time is being spent by fee-earners on particular cases as well as to make sure that clients are being billed accurately for time spent on their cases. Accounting software packages for law firms are available, but some firms prefer to leave their accounting and billing functions to an outsourced accounting provider.
Why Use Technology?
Although large firms benefit hugely from new technology, it is actually smaller firms that are the ideal market. As they probably don’t have the space for lots of legal research materials and paperwork, the move towards a ‘paperless’ environment is perfect for this part of the market. The move to outsourcing client billing and invoicing, or using tools to automate these processes in-house, can be a great way for all firms to free up their fee-earners’ time to work for clients.
Disadvantages of Technology Advances
For all the benefits of technology, it does have its disadvantages. Firms still like the idea of paperwork and are fearful of what can go wrong if electronic documents are lost, stolen or destroyed. Additionally, electronic systems require staff to be trained to use them, so firms will need to allow time for this as well as for installation.
Overall, the advantages of the new technology outweigh its shortcomings, so firms that are unsure should embrace the future, which for now can walk side by side with elements of the past.