Know Your Needs to Save Time and Money

You’re going to invest in practice management software to make your firm more efficient, your clients happier, and your business more profitable. Awesome!

But which software to choose? Clio? MyCase? Practice Panther? Something else?

Today we are talking about three mistakes I see people make all the time in this process and how to avoid them with a little bit of upfront planning.

Mistake #1 – Signing Up for the Cheapest Option

It is tempting as business owners to go with the cheapest option. Save some money, save time in the decision-making process, and move on with your life. And with some vendors or software platforms, you can get away with this. Practice management software is not one of them. Unless you are a true solo with a small number of ongoing cases, the time and expense of switching platforms is just too high to not take your time and make a thoughtful decision.

Let’s look at one example. I had a client who wanted to spend as little as possible for his two-attorney firm with no staff. So they picked the software their local bar recommended, did a sales call, and signed up immediately with no demo. Why? There was special pricing through the bar association, and the sales associate offered “promotional” pricing that would expire in a couple of days. Fast forward a few months. The firm paid to have their data brought over from their old server-based system (not cheap) and get all set up in the new software. The import went as well as these things go, and the firm thought they were in good shape.

Fast forward another few months. They realized this software was not compatible with their accounting software. It also did not have the court rules features they needed, and a report they had on their old server-based system, which was mission-critical, simply did not exist. They had to start all over again and now get the data out of this ‘cheaper’ option by paying yet another transfer fee, thus losing time and money in the process.

Mistake #2 – Picking Software without an Extensive Trial by Multiple Stakeholders

You’re the CEO of your firm, the managing partner, or in charge of technology by virtue of being a millennial. You do your research, try out numerous possible vendors, cost-compare, check for features, and you’re ready to go. You make a decision, sign a contract (or pay 12 months up front ?) and you’re off to the races.

The problem? Someone on your team hates the software. A feature they need isn’t there, or they find the UI horrible. Someone else points out that the software doesn’t work well on their Mac or the platform doesn’t have a robust Android app to use on the go.

There is a fine line between input and decision-by-committee. But making the decision in a vacuum is a mistake I see regularly, especially with ‘solo’ attorneys, who are the only lawyer but have several staff members working with them. The attorney makes the decision without input from the staff, who has to use this software all day, every day, and then they have employee dissatisfaction.

Mistake #3 – Cobbling Together a Frankenstein System

Using seven different apps is not as efficient as using one practice management system, or even one practice management system coupled with a CRM. I know some lawyers like to use Monday, Trello, Google Sheets, and various other platforms, then stitch it all together either with Zapier or through some kind of convoluted process. Not worth your time.

I understand the value in having one tool for one aspect of your practice and making it the right tool. That’s not what I’m talking about here. Want to use Things 3 or ToDoIst instead of Clio’s built-in tasks? Go for it. Using Box to store your files instead of MyCase’s internal storage? Be my guest.

The mistake I am illustrating here is the system that relies on synchronizations to make it work, especially if there are multiple Zaps or integrations flowing around like a convoluted organizational chart. These systems are a mistake for several reasons:


The more diverse your software stack, the more potential entry points for hackers. The more places client data is stored, the more places it can be stolen from. If you have client data synchronized across four or five different SAAS platforms, it only takes one breach to expose that data. And if these are all smaller companies, or even worse, free platforms, you are doing your clients a disservice by relying on those companies.


The more pieces in any machine, the easier it is to break. Refrigerators with touchscreens, wifi, bluetooth, and all sorts of other nonsense, break more often. The touchscreens stop working or a chip goes bad. The same can be true of these Frankenstein systems. If one Zap malfunctions, or if one SAAS platform tweaks their API, the whole system can come crumbling down. And if you don’t check on things regularly, you might not even realize it.

Ease of Onboarding/Implementation

Training lawyers and staff on technology can be tough. This is especially true with new technology or when replacing a long-time system. The problem compounds when a new team member has to learn several new tech platforms all at once.

How to Avoid these Mistakes

Assess Your Needs

This may seem obvious, but it is a critical step. How are you going to use practice management software in your…practice?

Some questions to ask:

With these questions in mind, it is time to move on to looking more closely at your needs.

Compatibility with Operating Systems and Other Software

If you have some folks using Windows and others using MacOS, you will want web-based practice management software. How about your other software? If you are already using calendaring software, document generation, contact management, and email, you will want to ensure any practice management software you choose works with those systems or can replace those systems.

Make sure the software supports any automations or integrations you need . For example, MyCase has a closed API and thus minimal opportunities for automation and custom external workflows, while Clio has an open API allowing you to trigger Zaps to create unique automations.

Client Portal

I have a love/hate relationship with client portals. I like them for their security and for keeping all of the information in one place. But once the clients start using the portal, they tend to download the app and use the messaging feature as if it was SMS or WhatsApp and expect immediate responses.

When considering your system give some thought to the client portal and the client experience. Is there a separate app for clients? Is it easy for them to pay their bill, share files, and communicate with you all in one place? Is this something you even want/need?

What are Your Other ‘Must-Have’ or Nice-to-Have Features?

Today’s practice management systems have all sorts of features that didn’t exist ten years ago. While most tout similar features, the pricing can be different since each system has tiers to unlock different features. Here is a list of features to consider and determine if they are “must-have” “nice-to-have” or “don’t care about”

Get Input from Multiple Stakeholders

As you can see from the list above, there are a lot of possible features. And so far, we’ve talked about thinking through your use case and your firm’s use case. But unless you’re a true solo with no team, you’re probably missing something.

Getting input from multiple stakeholders in your firm serves two purposes. First, it ensures the software you choose has the features needed by everyone on the team. Second, it gives everyone (or a number of people) input in the process which will increase buy-in down the road. This is important because switching systems or moving from a Frankenstein solution or Excel sheet to a full-on practice management system is a daunting task. There will be a learning curve and you will want as much buy-in from your team as possible to make things smoother.

Try the Software

You’ve got your list of features, you know the pricing, and you’ve narrowed your choices down. Now it’s time to try the software. Just going out and making a choice based on your list of features and pricing is silly. You may spend ten minutes on the website and hate the aesthetic. Or the day-to-day operations could be annoying, or a feature they advertise may not work as expected. Take the time and try it out because once you pick a PMS you are not going to want to switch.

Hire a Consultant

Are you overwhelmed by everything in this article? Don’t know or care what a client portal is or how to set up automations? Then it’s time to hire a practice management consultant to help guide you through the process and do the dirty work of comparing options for you.

Do you use practice management software? Let us know in the comments.


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