Managing the Real-Time Law Office: Why Integrated Case and Financial Software Makes the Most Sense

While it can be said that a law firm is made up of the people who work within its walls - partners, associates and staff - it is also client information, documents, and financial information that are at the core of what makes a law firm a functioning organization. As a firm grows, the efficiency with which that information is managed determines how effectively the firm can provide the advice and advocacy demanded by its clients.

Ultimately, efficient data management will determine the health of the business. More than ever law firms must compete for clients. The ability to provide superior client service, while limiting non-billable time, is crucial to building a healthy business. Meanwhile, the bills need to go out the door and payments must be received in a predictable, timely fashion.

Most firms have used some form of billing and accounting software for many years. At some point a case management system may have been added. Then the number of documents and emails became overwhelming so a document management system was tacked on. In today's legal market place, this mishmash of systems leads to a lack of data integrity, inefficient use of timekeeper and staff time, and higher IT costs. Implementing an integrated case, document and financial management system that uses a single MS SQL database is critical to maintaining a competitive advantage in the legal market. Now, let's examine why.

Information When You Need It - As In Right Now

Clients expect real time information when they want it. Attorneys must be able to access that information instantly, yet they don't want to learn multiple systems and interfaces. Hiring additional staff hardly makes sense in the current economic environment. An integrated case and financial management system puts the most important information at people's fingertips instantly - no more logging out of one system and into another to locate A/R balances or the client's latest bill.

An integrated system pulls that data into the case management system in real time. It is time to get away from rushing down the hall to request a print out of costs for a case in the minutes leading up to a crucial conference call. That information needs to be accessible within seconds. A truly integrated system allows for the data most important to you and your client to be located and utilized with no wasted time.

Not All Integrations are Created Equal

Some case and financial management applications claim to integrate with each other, but they each require their own database. An integrated system requires only one database. While integrating two separate systems may seem to accomplish the same goal, it does not. If multiple databases are used, the inherent search, manipulation, and reporting capabilities of a relational database such as MS SQL are lost. Integrating disparate systems inevitably leads to multiple points of data entry. Certain information may be shared between the systems but other data will not flow. Dual points of data entry require more time (overhead), and offer more opportunity for human error. In a truly integrated case and financial management system, an update to a client's address is made once, and it updates instantaneously throughout the entire system. Unnecessary administrative time, and the risk to information integrity, are reduced.

Less is More

From an IT perspective, maintaining a single stable MS SQL database is simpler and more cost effective than maintaining several. If the disparate systems utilize proprietary databases, then the potential internal maintenance costs rise further. If the separate case, document and financial management systems require integration engines, additional complexity is added to the environment and IT costs again increase. When the separate systems come from different vendors, the integration engines are notorious for not being tested when one vendor releases an update or upgrade. Finger pointing between vendors is the norm, as the firm waits on functioning software. Many systems also require a dedicated server. Without realizing it, the firm has grown a money draining server farm. Utilizing a single integrated MS SQL database for case and financial management provides for greater stability, reduced IT costs and streamlined support when it is needed.

Law firm clients are savvier and have more information available to them via the web than ever before. Exceeding their expectations and building long term relationships is difficult. Implementing an integrated case, document and financial management system with a single database will allow the practice to surpass client expectations of service with instant access to the most relevant information, while reducing both administrative overhead and IT costs.

David A. Grabner Jr., Esq.; Client Profiles - Regional Sales Manager; http://www.clientprofiles.com

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