Upgrading a practice management system is a big decision for any law firm. Existing IT systems have often been adapted over many years to fit working practices, staff feel comfortable using them, and there’s always concern that a new practice management system will disrupt day to day business. Also, if the current system isn’t ‘broken’, it can be hard to build a business case to justify any new IT investment.
However, there’s a point when sticking with what you have can hold your law firm back. How do you gauge when the efficiency and growth potential of a new IT system is far greater than the cost and risk of disruption? Here are the signs that now is the right time to upgrade your practice management system:
- No support from your software provider
Technology moves at a fast pace. If you are using a system that is a few years old, the chances are that it was built on technology that has now been superseded. Many software vendors are ‘retiring’ older IT systems to focus on new versions. It means that they will no longer develop updates for previous versions and limit how long they support them.
It’s tempting to stay with a system that is functioning well enough now. But will support for your system still be available in a years’ time? If not, and something goes wrong, who will help you fix it? The potential disruption to your law firm could be disastrous, so it’s better to plan for an orderly and timely upgrade now.
- Limited compliance functionality
The regulatory landscape is evolving and new legislation such as GDPR will have a significant impact on working practices. Older practice management systems won’t have the functionality to help you stay compliant and may not have the flexibility to adapt workflows to meet new regulatory requirements. Plus, vendors will only develop relevant updates for the latest versions of their software leaving you struggling to keep up.
The risk of non-compliance is huge for law firms. The penalty for non-compliance with GDPR could involve fines of up to £20 million or 4% of your annual global turnover, whichever is greater. So it’s critical that your practice management system can provide the checks and balances that support your compliance needs – both now and in the future.
- Poor integration across functions
Making all your business systems work together seamlessly is essential to improving efficiency, productivity and, ultimately, profitability. If your practice management system does not integrate core business functions and enable the automatic transfer of data between them, you will have a large amount of manual work in your business. Employees will be spending time switching from one system to another, transferring data across manually, which is not only inefficient but also increases the risk of introducing errors and inconsistencies.
Modern practice management systems provide full integration between matter and case management and invoicing, accounting and financial analysis. Automatic time recording, integrated with Microsoft Office applications like Outlook and Word, allows solicitors to work efficiently while keeping accurate records of costs that automatically flow through to invoicing. Prospect and client information, including contact preferences, can be shared with business development and marketing teams to develop stronger relationships.
- No mobile access
Today’s world of work is mobile. In 2017, half of all internet traffic came from a mobile device. Employees expect to be able to work anywhere, whether on their laptop, phone or tablet. Your practice management system has to respond to this change in working culture. It needs to offer secure, remote access to data and systems that empower your employees to be productive, whether they are in court or travelling to a client meeting.
- No customisation
Law firms have to respond to almost constant change. They need to improve and refine business processes to be more efficient, respond to client needs and maintain compliance. The ability to customise your practice management system to different teams, and continually update workflows and processes as circumstances change is essential.
You may want to develop a custom process for your conveyancing team to improve efficiency and profitability. Or you might want to introduce new workflows across multiple teams to manage risk and compliance. Being able to adapt and respond to change quickly and easily will help you to innovate in challenging times and put you ahead of your competitors.
Deciding to upgrade your practice management system is not easy but assessing your current system against these criteria will help you identify how well it is performing. While every technology upgrade involves a degree of risk, sometimes the greatest risk is not to change. It may be exactly what you need to drive positive changes through your law firm. From time and efficiency benefits through to developing innovative new services, a new practice management system could help you achieve your goals faster.