Choosing Software

“It’s what my friend who practices law uses.” That sounds like an innocuous sentence. And it can be, if it’s in reference to a credit card, or a copier. But if it’s the basis for purchasing case management or other law office software, it sets my teeth on edge. Why? Because you’re admitting that you really don’t know what to buy and you haven’t bothered to research it further.

Take a step back and think: how similar am I to that lawyer? Do we have the same level of tech expertise? Do we use the same hardware and software? Do we have the same type of practice? What about staff? Since this isn’t the television show “Fringe” and you don’t live in a parallel world, you are probably more different from one another than you are alike.

So how should you decide what to purchase? Research, expert advice, and testing. Case management or law office accounting software is mission critical to your practice and one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make as far as practice management goes.

Before you start researching, assess your current situation and your future needs.
• Do an inventory of the software and hardware you currently use.
• List the functions you need the software to perform (e.g. produce reports of case activity, remind me of due dates).
• Determine who will need access to the software and whether it will be in a support role or as a timekeeper or primary user. Before you buy, you should know who needs the software and why they need it.
• Turn to the Internet to see the options available.
• Peruse the tech overviews and compare the features using the Legal Technology Resource Center’s (LTRC) comparison charts.
• Refer to the 2011 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide by Sharon Nelson, John Simek, Michael Maschke.
• Refer to The Lawyer’s Guide to Practice Management Systems Software, Second Edition by Andy Adkins.
• Consult your bar association’s practice management advisor. (If your state doesn’t have one, you might want to talk to your bar leadership about hiring one.)
• Go to the web pages of the software products you like. Watch online videos on their sites and read faq’s.
• Contact the company or certified consultants in the software you think you are interested in. Ask specific questions. See if they will give you a free demonstration via the Web.

Once you’ve narrowed the products down, do testing for a month. Some products offer 30 days free, others offer a full refund if you cancel or return within 30 days. If you find something you like, remember that buying the software is just one piece of the puzzle. You need to budget for training, installation and customization by an expert as well. Otherwise, you can expect frustration in the short and long term.