We sat down with Denny Newberry, Vice President of Business Development for Captorra, to discuss how case management software for law firms can help your firm uncover inefficiencies you may not know you have, streamline your processes, and provide better client service.
Why does a law firm need case management software?
The two biggest reasons are efficiency and accountability. If you’re a solo practitioner with no staff, you don’t need to communicate with anyone internally. But anytime you get beyond one staff member within your firm, there will be a communication hurdle.
There’s a need to communicate on a case-by-case or client-by-client basis. Using emails and folders won’t cut it. Case management software will help you efficiently organize information and streamline communication internally and, more importantly, with clients.
Accountability goes along with that as well. Again, if you’re a solo practitioner with no help, you hold yourself accountable. A case management system will not do a lot for you. But, if you’re working with any other staff members, then, as a business owner, you need to make sure they’re doing their job. There are other ways of monitoring that apart from a case management software, To get true transparency into the amount of work they’re doing, and make sure they are checking the boxes that they need to check on a matter or client, a case management system needs to be in place.
What key features should a law firm look for in a case management software?
First, I’ll mention some things that I believe that all practice areas could use. Email and calendar integration is extremely important. Some sort of document management tool is important as well. There are many systems out there that still, today, do not allow you to truly implement document management.
The old way of document management is to store a document in a folder on your server and then associate that link to a case. But this still means the document is physically stored in your office. A functional web-based case management system should allow you to store documents securely online, so you can access them from anywhere.
Another important feature is workflow and task management. There are different ways to build workflows within a firm. It could be an elaborate setup with 2,700 different tasks that pop up depending on how things are handled. Or, it could be something like three tasks that generate automatically once a certain type of matter is open for a particular case type. Whichever approach works best, any case management system should allow you to automate deadlines and reminders.
To be more specific, if you bill hourly instead of contingency, there is a huge difference in how you track your time. Case management systems in the marketplace typically focus on one side of the fence or the other. What you should look out for depends on what’s important to the firm.
Are there specific things contingency law firms should look for?
Yes. The ability to track case costs efficiently. When you resolve a case, you want to ensure that all case costs are backed out of that settlement before paying yourself and the client. If you’re not tracking those effectively, you are bearing them yourself.
To go a step further, there needs to be some process or automation for handling the settlement process in general, ensuring that tracking case costs, dispersing payments, and tracking liens all occur in an organized manner. Some firms rely on running complex spreadsheets before responding to an offer from an opposing counsel. An offer may change in a couple of days, so the ability to calculate your response quickly is important.
Another key feature is some type of accounting management or integration. If it doesn’t have an accounting feature within the case management system, it needs to integrate with something like QuickBooks. This is so you don’t have to double enter that data and helps to avoid errors, which can cause issues on settlement and fee distribution.
How can using case management software help firms uncover inefficiencies?
First, there is inefficiency in client communication. Usually, there are attorneys and paralegals involved in a case, and a client may contact any one of them. What happens in most firms, and business in general, is the person who gets a response or inquiry will just respond to the client. And if they don’t associate that response to a matter, no one is aware of it. So, someone at a later date might go to that client and ask them for that information. This makes your law firm look very inefficient, and it’s not great customer service either.
A second inefficiency relates to deadlines. Every case has deadlines that need to be met. If you track them manually instead of automatically within a case management system, missing some is inevitable. And missing certain deadlines can cause the case to be thrown out, creating a huge disservice to your clients.
A third common inefficiency I see with many firms is document creation. If you don’t have a tool that helps you create templates for your commonly used documents, you will waste a lot of time trying to copy and paste that information. Plus, there is a high possibility of errors.
Will a case management system pay for itself?
Yes, if used properly. And this is key. One thing we’ve done is to build our case management solution on top of a stack of solutions that people are accustomed to using. The case management system you should buy is the one your staff will use. It doesn’t matter if it does everything you want. If they will not use it because it is not user-friendly, you will not get your ROI.
There are too many stories out there where firms are talking about the amount of investment they spent, and then they’ll come to us and say, “Hey, we want to move off our case management system.” Of course, we’d love to work with every firm, but the reality is many would probably be okay with their current system if they used it properly.
Is there a way to measure ROI?
To measure ROI, you need to have the intention to do so and to measure some metrics before rolling out the system. One metric you can measure is the average life cycle of a case. So, how long are your auto accident cases taking from sign up to resolution? How long are your workers’ compensation cases taking? How long are your divorce cases taking?
You have to know what the situation is before the rollout so that some 60, 90, or 120 days after, you can look at those metrics and see if they’ve gotten better.
Is there anything you and your team provide that helps people hit the ground running?
Like most systems, we provide some customization capabilities, training, and ongoing support. We provide these at different levels depending on the size of the firm. I would say law firms should be careful about customization. Should a software company allow it at some level? Of course. But, as a firm, you can do yourself a lot of favors if you don’t focus too much on that during the implementation process, and rather, focus more on how your staff is going to use the application. You can always go back and customize it later.