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Legal Tech Briefs: Law Firm Practice Management Tools

Legal Tech Briefs  Law Firm Practice Management Tools

He went to school to be a lawyer and wound up as a technology consultant to law firms for the last 12 years.

A little more than a decade ago, Craig Bayer finished school and went to work for a law firm, which coincidentally had just purchased LexisNexis® PCLaw® software for practice management.  Though at the time he had no experience, with a little determination, he figured it out and turned his skillset into a business called Optiable.

Today, Craig is a LexisNexis certified independent consultant (CIC) and he’s written extensively about the solutions and law firms he’s worked with on his company blog.  These posts often include pragmatic tips that customers and users can apply to get more out of the software, including:

We caught up with Mr. Bayer for a Legal Tech Briefs interview using Google Hangouts on Air and posed a few questions.  The complete interview is embedded nearby and runs just 12 minutes.  Here are some brief notes from the interview:

Law Firm Practice Management Defined

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Bayer takes a technology centric view of law practice management.  He breaks the concept into three distinct parts:

  • Front office.  This is the ability to managed contacts, calendars and to-do – all of the small but important details of case management.
  • Back office.  This gets into to the financial management of a law firm:  The ability to track time, expenses, manage trust accounts and even creating a tax return.
  • Document management.  This “side” of law practice management is the organization of all the emails and documents associated with a case – and being able to search through them.

Can Law Firms get by without a Practice Management Solution?

Mr. Bayer doesn’t think so, especially when it comes to back office functions.  He points out from the very beginning, a law firm needs to be able to send out bills, accurately track time and manage trust accounts.  Those that do not can quickly run into business problems – and said those firms that get into malpractice trouble are those that do not have practice management software.  It’s a valid point we’ve also head from malpractice insurance providers.

Citing the unique ethical requirements attorneys face, he also advises staying clear of generic business tools for managing a law firm. While those tools can be made to work – it requires extra effort to ensure it’s working properly and sees this as an unnecessary expense given the plethora of legal-specific practice management solutions.

Cloud vs. Premise for Practice Management

Mr. Bayer has a simple litmus test for a law firm that is comparing cloud and premise solutions for practice management:  What do you want the software to do?

This question also drives that the challenge of leveraging existing IT investments law firms have already made – will the new cloud software integrate with existing tools?  On the upside of cloud, he notes that it’s very easy to kick the tires and take a free trial of a cloud product, while setting up a premised based solution for trial can be challenging.  He put together a checklist of questions he says a cloud provider must answer before purchasing software.

We’d offer these posts as recommended reading as well:

What is the benefit of a CIC?

The benefit of hiring a CIC for practice management centers on experience with a wide range of products and many repetitions implementing software for a variety of law firms.  Mr. Bayer notes specifically he’ll guide a law firm though the process including:

  • Matching the firm with the best solutions
  • Installing the software
  • Converting data as needed
  • Training users
  • Providing tech support
  • Process analysis and recommendations for existing users
  • Recurring training

And of course, there are all those tips which Mr. Bayer answers so frequently on his blog.

Photo Credit:  Flickr via Creative Commons; CC 2.0; this photo was modified to include the words “law firm tech hero.”

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About Frank Strong

Frank Strong
Frank Strong is the communications director for the LexisNexis software division located on NC State’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh. In this capacity, he leads communications efforts in support of software products for law practice and law department management and also litigation tools – across large law, small law and corporate counsel segments. With more than 15 years of experience in the high-tech sector, Strong previously served as director of public relations for Vocus, which developed marketing, PR and media monitoring software. He has held multiple roles both in-house with corporations, ranging from startups to global organizations, and has also endured the rigors of billable hours, having completed gigs at PR firms including the top 10 global firm Hill & Knowlton. A veteran of two year-long deployments, Strong has concurrently served in uniform in reserve components of the military for more than 20 years, initially as an enlisted Marine and later as an infantry officer in the Army National Guard. Strong holds a BA in Film and TV production from Worcester State University, an M.A. in Public Communication from American University, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University. He is a PADI-certified Master Scuba Diver and holds a USPA "B" skydiving license.