When was the last time you did a tech audit at your law firm?
If you’re like most law firms, the answer is probably never.
It’s time to fix that.
There is no doubt that law firms are increasingly embracing digital technology and software.
However, many firms tend to buy software piece by piece instead of taking a bird’s eye view of their overall tech stacks.
This antiquated approach results in many gaps where the legal practice could use software tools, while also having redundant technology with unnecessary (and expensive) overlap.
Tech audits reveal these kinds of issues. Plus, they’re a great opportunity to reconnect with your goals and spot underutilized resources.
A technology audit should begin with a ground-up assessment of all the tech currently used by the firm. From there, firm leaders must make concrete decisions on the primary software that will be implemented, as well as other solutions that will round out the firm’s tech stack.
Here’s how to do it:
Beginning your legal tech audit
Every tech audit begins with a list. You need to record all the tools you use and what you use them for.
The easiest way to do this is to create a shared spreadsheet or document that everyone in your firm can access. Create columns for the tool’s name, the URL if it’s web-based, the purpose, and the price. You can add an extra column for any other notes if you’d like.
Ask your team to keep the spreadsheet open in a browser tab, then check the list every time they open a system or go to a web tool. If it’s not already on the list, add it. If it is, check the description and add any further notes about what that tool does.
For most law firms, it makes sense to do this for a full month. That way, you’ll remember to include the important systems that aren’t used every day like payroll software.
There may be a few tools that you only need once or twice annually, too. Once you’ve got your main list, ask everyone to think through their beginning and end of year tasks to add any specialty tech tools to the list.
Next, take a look at your financial data. What systems are you paying for?
On your list of tech tools, add any subscription prices that you pay either monthly or annually. You might also find some tools that you’re paying for, but not using very much. Make a note of that.
This should give you a pretty complete list of the tech tools you currently own and use.
This step can be time-consuming, but it’s also very valuable. Stick with it.
On your spreadsheet, your team listed the ways they use each tool. Here’s what you should do with that information:
- Look for instances where people are using different tools to accomplish the same task.
- Note any tools that are being used for something other than their intended purpose.
- Research the full capabilities of each of your tools and note what features aren’t being utilized.
Now, you know which tools are redundant, which are being underutilized, and where your team likely needs more training. You’re paying for most of these programs. Every useful feature that you’re not using is a waste of time and money.
There’s also a good chance that you’ve got some gaps in your coverage.
Rounding out your firm’s tech stack
Opportunities to fill in those gaps might not be obvious. After all, you’re getting that work done somehow, right? Just because something can be aided by technology doesn’t mean it should be.
Besides, how would you identify all the tasks that you can improve with the right tool?
Even if you could get every person at your law firm to write down every single task they do in a month, would you want to go through each of those jobs to spot the opportunities to automate?
Yeah, we wouldn’t do that, either.
That’s where best practices come in handy.
You’re not the first law firm to look for better ways to do things. The thousands of businesses who have gone before you have learned some things.
Here’s what those law firms have found to be the best ways to leverage technology tools:
First, choose your primary legal software
Most law firms would benefit from first choosing their primary legal software or case management system (CMS) first. These systems are specifically built for law firms, and they cover most of the day-to-day tasks you and your team must do.
If you already have a CMS, you can skip to the next section.
The specific features of any case management software will vary widely from product to product. Some specialize in a certain practice area, while others are focused on being scalable to support your firm’s growth. Choose one that looks like a good fit for your individual strategy.
Common features include:
- Case and matter management
- Billing and accounting
- Client communication
- Document management
- Contract management
Many also act as a sales tool, helping you manage your leads and follow up with potential clients.
A good CMS will be the platform where you spend most of your day.
It’s certainly possible to run a law firm without one, but that is becoming increasingly impractical as more firms adopt this best practice. If you’re not using a CMS yet, you can bet that your savviest competitors are.
Your CMS should handle a lot of the functions you need, especially with integrations.
Integrations for your CMS
It’s great when software does everything you need, all in one place. At the same time, it’s frustrating when a tool does way too much, and all those extra features get in the way of the stuff you want to do.
That’s why integrations are so valuable.
Your primary legal software already handles many of the tasks you need to do on a daily basis. Adding integrated services gives you the specialized functions that are right for your firm.
For example, InfoTrack is built especially for litigation firms who use a case management or document management system. By activating the InfoTrack integration, your firm can eFile directly from a legal matter, request service of process and automatically file the proof of service, collect signatures, receive new docket updates, and more.
Whether you use an integration or a standalone tool, the best practice is to look for technological support in these areas:
Document automation and management
Document automation and management are clearly important in a document-intensive industry such as the legal profession.
Document automation will enable your firm to create templates of commonly used documents, then add information easily. Document management will allow for collaboration, editing, and organization of existing documents, such as legal pleadings and briefs.
If your practice management software does not cover these tasks, consider a stand-alone tool, preferably one that integrates well with your primary software.
Billing, timekeeping, and accounting
Capturing billable time is mission-critical for many firms, but manual methods of doing so can leave less time for actual legal work.
Software that handles timekeeping and billing could streamline these processes. You can generate invoices quickly and provide automated reminders for each bill.
Customer relationship management
A law firm that deals with many new incoming clients — such as many plaintiff-side litigation firms — could use digital assistance in this arena.
Customer relationship management (CRM) software can track leads and conversions, while providing analytics that give you insights into your best marketing efforts. These tools automate much of the sales process and remind you to follow up with leads at the right times.
Standalone tools can be especially valuable here, as advanced CRM features are often not included in practice management software.
A digital client portal can provide a platform where clients and attorneys can interact securely.
In addition, clients can access the portal to check on case status themselves, even accessing documents. Client communication is a time-consuming (but essential) process for firms, making it an excellent area to obtain tech assistance.
Bonus tip: get training and support from your software providers
When you created your initial list, you probably found plenty of apps and programs that weren’t being used to their full potential.
Perhaps you even discovered a few that were being used incorrectly.
If you pay a subscription fee for any of those tools, there’s a good chance that the company is more than willing to offer free training to help you and your employees get more value. After all, they want you to keep using (and paying for) their solution.
Reach out to your sales rep or account executive to ask for training opportunities. If you don’t have a dedicated point of contact, get in touch with customer support.
Extra training is a good idea for any tool on which you rely heavily.
Often, you can find online training to help you master advertising tools, analytics platforms, and other popular systems that aren’t specific to the legal industry. Some courses are free, while others might cost anywhere from a few bucks to a few hundred. A quick internet search can point you in the right direction.
Where to go from here
A thorough tech audit sets you up for success. Don’t let your effort go to waste!
Use your notes as a starting point to create good process documentation. When you have easily accessed files where your employees can go to look up things — how to handle eFiling, for example — you can save a lot of time and effort.
Schedule next year’s audit now, and save all your documents from this year to help give you a head start. It will be much faster with your existing list.
You’ll probably have some subscriptions to cancel in the coming months. Set yourself calendar reminders if you have anything to cancel when the contract expires.
Finally, remember to take changes one step at a time. Even if you realized that you need 3 or 4 new tools to be most effective, trying to make all of those changes at once is just too much. Prioritize, then move forward in manageable steps. Your team will appreciate it, and so will you.