CEO Message for Legal Technology Roadshow 2017

2017 marks a great leap forward for legal technology in Singapore.

The year started with the Singapore Academy of Law releasing its 5-year legal technology Vision at the opening of the Legal Year, setting out 3 time-based levels of technology adoption in law firms (Baseline, Advanced and Innovative), the different solutions at each level, and the intended timeframe for achieving this.

Soon after, the Law Society announced: “Tech Start for Law”, which provides a 70% subsidy to law firms who adopt baseline technologies, such as Clio Practice Management System (“Clio”), which we are showcasing at our booth today. Just last week, the Law Society announced the launch of the Smart Law mark, to give recognition to law firms who have adopted baseline technologies to improve productivity.

I am personally very excited by these developments. Bizibody has been championing technology adoption in small and mid-sized law firms for over 15 years. Since 2002, we have enabled more than 150 law firms to adopt and implement baseline technologies such as LEAP Office, Clio and law firm websites. I am proud to say that more than 90% of our clients are eligible for the “Smart Law” mark.

The current level of interest in legal technology is unprecedented.  The generous government subsidies and smart law recognition are making many lawyers, who have so far been resistant, explore the possibilities. Once they have tasted the sweet efficiencies of legal technology there will be no turning back. We love seeing lawyers of many years standing getting excited about technology, especially once they realise it really is affordable.

If you are new to legal technology, connect with us to check out Clio and our special offerings, which include the following:

  • 70% CDG-CIP Grant + 10% Clio subscription discount
  • Complimentary client/matter data migration into Clio
  • Complimentary 30-minute Consultation on Automating Law Firm Processes.

Please visit our booth, and join me at my talk on Why Clio is the most popular law firm practice management system in the world today?

For the more advanced technology users, please ask us about:

  • Law Cloud, document automation and deadline calendaring solutions for high volume low margin process driven areas (eg conveyancing, personal injury, debt collection, corpsec);
  • Litigation solutions such as Magnum (for paper-less litigation) by Opus 2; and
  • Evidence Organiser (for bundle automation) by Litigation Edge.

You can also email us at bd@bizibody.biz or clio@bizibody.biz, or call us at 6521 7020 / 6236 2846.

Whether beginner or advanced, we at Bizibody look forward to being part of your digital transformation journey. We wish you an enjoyable and fruitful time at the Legal Tech Fair.

Serena Lim

CEO, Bizibody Technology

70% GRANT FUNDING FOR CLIO AVAILABLE UNDER TECH START FOR LAW PROGRAM (“TSL”)

Tech Start for Law ("TSL") is a joint initiative by Ministry of Law, Law Society of Singapore and SPRING Singapore. TSL provides 70% Grant funding to law firms who adopt approved "baseline" productivity tools in their law firm.

Clio and Bizibody (a certified Clio Consultant) are pleased to announce that Clio has been approved as a "baseline" productivity tool under the TSL. New Clio subscribers will enjoy a 70% grant from SPRING Singapore to support their Clio subscription and implementation fees.

In celebration of this recognition, Clio is offering an exclusive 10% lifetime discount to all Law Society of Singapore members who subscribe to Clio during the period of the Program.

Clio, a comprehensive and easy to use cloud-based practice management software, is currently in use by over 160,000 legal professionals over 72 countries.

Please click here to find out more about Clio. You can access the TSL and Clio promotion by contacting clio@bizibody.biz or  Tel 6521 7020.

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Law Society of Singapore Legal Technology Roadshow 2017

Bizibody will be at the Law Society of Singapore’s Legal Technology Roadshow on 27 and 28 March 2017.

We will be exhibiting Clio, a cloud-based practice management software, with a user base of 150,000 active users over 78 countries. Under the Singapore Law Society’s newly launched Tech Start for Law Program, new Clio subscribers will enjoy 70% funding for their Clio subscription and implementation.

Clio has been recognised as a baseline tool for law firm productivity under the under the Law Society’s Tech Start for Law Program (the “Program”). This approval means that Singapore law firms who implement Clio will be entitled to a 70% grant from SPRING Singapore to support their their Clio subscriptions and implementation.

In celebration of this recognition and the opportunity to accelerate the adoption of legal technology in small law firms, Clio is offering an exclusive 10% lifetime discount to all Law Society of Singapore members who subscribe to Clio during the period of the Program. The promotion can be accessed by contacting us at info@bizibody.biz or call Tel 9012 7346 OR 6521 7025 to find out more.

We will also be exhibiting Law Cloud, a platform for automating high volume process-driven areas such as Conveyancing and Personal Injury, and Evidence Organiser, a productivity tool for document indexing and trial bundling.

Visit us at our booth to find out how we can help – find more details of the event here.

2017 Legal Technology Roadshow

 

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More than Ever, Small is the New Big

Small is the New Big

In 2006, at the Law Society Future of Legal Practice Conference, I spoke about how modern developments such as affordable legal technologies, online libraries, pervasive online communication and mobile technologies, would lead to a changed landscape where “Small is the New Big”.

You may recall this was a time where the legal profession was shrinking, both in terms of the number of law firms and the number of practitioners.

The collapse of seemingly invincible, venerated global financial institutions, the number of Big Law breakaways and the continued increase in the number of small law firms starting up (1-5 practitioners, as defined by the law society), has put to rest the notion that Big = Better. Today, with technology and the pay-per-use business model of outsourced legal support services, size is no longer a requisite to success. Small can be Great, as easily as Big can Fail.

At Bizibody, we are convinced, that this Small is the New Big trend will accelerate. What’s different now? Cloud-based legal technologies have now come of age, offering equivalent or better features than their onsite server counterparts, at a lower “cost of ownership”. Apple for Apple, cloud technologies will invariably perform better in terms of ease of use, scalability, affordability, upgrades and I daresay, security.

In 2016, we are truly excited to be offering you a really outstanding suite of different cloud-based legal technologies for practice management, document management, document automation and case management, that makes it possible for you to realise not just productivity gains but new ways of serving your clients, offering lower cost services without loss of quality or profitability.

To do this, today’s modern law firm needs to venture beyond word processing, and financial management software. Technology cost is not a factor , especially in the Singapore context, where cost of labour continues to rise, and technology costs are subsidized by generous government grants.

Serena Lim

What Are your Resolutions for 2016 ? Can We Help You Realise Them?

2016 Reolutions003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We hope that you had a great holiday, and that you start the new year, bursting with energy armed with a fresh list of ideas.  We wish you great success in all your endeavours, in 2016.

What’s new from us in 2016? We think Cloud Technologies for the legal sector have now come of age, and we will see many more small law firms adopt cloud-based technologies such as document management and document automation to power their business.

What improvements would you like to make to your practice this year? We would love to help you make some of your New Year resolutions come true or to just catch up with you.

We will be touching base with you soon to discuss your practice goals for 2016, and to help you explore how cloud technologies will help you work better, run a more profitable and enjoyable practice and win new business. If you would like to arrange a priority discussion, please email me at slim@bizibody.biz.

To the community that inspires and nurtures us, have a wonderful 2016.

Serena Lim

CEO, Bizibody Technology

Tel : 90127346

Cloud Powers Law Firms in 2016

2016 Year of Cloud_004

We believe that Cloud Technologies for the legal sector have now come of age, and we will see many more law firms, small and large, adopt cloud-based technologies for document management, document production, document collaboration, case management, evidence management, and eDiscovery in 2016.

By 2017, we expect that most of our clients would no longer need us to provide onsite support for windows-based servers.

Cloud technologies certainly reduces some of the traditional technical support roles that technology companies like Bizibody Technology play, but it also provides such companies with the ability to provide technologies that can reach a far-wider and geographically dispersed audience, with a small team.

We spent 2014 and 2015 getting cloud ready. Internally, we are cloud everything:  more than half my colleagues spend 1/2 to 3/4 of their time on the road, working from client’s place, their mobile or at a cafe. And we are now able to support clients from anywhere, including from Myanmar where our LEAP helpdesk is now based.

Bizibody now supports 2 of the world’s leading cloud-based products for the legal industry, Clio, a practice management system and NetDocuments, a document management system. We are targetting to bring in LEAP Cloud in mid-2016.

We have also created 2 exciting cloud products for the legal industry – Uberdocs and Action-It, for automated document production and collaborative calendaring, which you will be hearing more of.

Litigation Edge continues in its mission to provide document digitization services  to litigation and dispute resolution practices, where the volume of paper evidence continues to explode. This outsourced conversion of paper to bits and bytes service makes it possible for more cost effective litigation to take place, and for lawyers to enjoy the electronic tools of tagging, searching and hyperlinking.

And our partner, Opus 2, the leading provider of in-court technology and transcription services, blends sophisticated document management cloud technology with court reporting excellence to enable more paper-less and more efficient court/arbitration hearings.

The economic forecast for 2016 may be uncertain and challenging. But the cloud direction is one thing that we feel confident and certain about.

PRACTICE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS – Making the Right Choice

February 2004

Much more than an accounting system that handles your office and client accounts, Practice Management Software (“PMS”) adds on an entire suite of other functionality to your accounting system – eg, case / matter management which involves tracking matter information and status from the opening of the file until it is closed and archive; automated workflow integrates with diary functions to provide group calendaring and task allocation; even generating documents and key performance indicators.

The proliferation of lower-cost PMS software means that such systems are now readily accessible to even solo and small practices. By implementing a robust and scalable PMS, a startup law firm is putting in place a sound infrastructure to support its future growth and expansion.

Due to the investment in terms of cost and resources, the consequences of choosing an unsuitable PMS for your law firm are monumental. Yet selection decisions are often made after a couple of sales calls and a few hours of software demonstration in your conference room. In discussions over functionality and price, we tend to forget issues that concern the underlying technology platform which impacts on scalability, support and maintenance, future development; and even the continued viability of the Vendor. Such considerations are important because they relate to the long-term investment in your PMS.

Most competing PMS products in the market today will be able to perform the functions described above to differing levels of competence. The best ones have more than enough bells and whistles to impress the most tech-savvy office managers. However, how high up each product appears in the popularity stakes is less important than how it fits into your law firm and business goals.

To narrow down your search, you need to –

1. Identify the best opportunities for improvements specific to your organisation

2. Evaluate how different software performs the functions most vital to you

3. Understand how the software integrates with your current technology setup.

Even before you meet the Vendors and launch into an evaluation of the relative merits of different PMS software, you need to be very clear about – what it is that you want the PMS to achieve.

I have set down below some guidelines on the issues that should be addressed when choosing the right PMS software for your practice.

CHOOSING THE SOFTWARE

The answer to your question – what do you want the PMS to achieve? – will depend largely in part on practice size, nature of legal service and business directions. Larger practices with several branch offices and a complicated management-equity structure will demand more sophisticated reporting functions than a smaller practice. Electronic Time Recording and its seamless integration with the backend accounting system will be more important to a firm that charges by time instead of fixed fees.

The ability to generate documents quickly and accurately from matter specific data is more important to a firm that derives most of its revenue from delivering resource intensive documentation such as housing loan mortgages or debt recovery. The ability to track matter progress (key dates) is essential to a firm that specialises in high volume transactional services such trade mark registrations or corporate secretarial services.

The first thing to do is to make a wish list and prioritise the items appearing on it. That way, if you are unable to find a PMS that delivers only 90% of your list, you can at least decide what tradeoffs are acceptable and whether you can live with the absence of the remaining 10% at the bottom of your list. Better yet, you will save valuable time nixing those PMS software that are unable to deliver the top 5 wishes on your list!

Once your wish list is established, you can begin to examine the different PMS software available in the market with these other considerations in mind.

Technology Platform

Due to the size of the investment, an average law firm is not likely to change its PMS for the next

5 -8 years. Consider the need to protect your investment from changing or volatile technology.

When a technology environment fails or loses its prominence, software built on that platform begins to lose market share because the marketplace will no longer buy products designed for a defunct platform. An example of this is software written for Wang or non-Windows versions of PCDOS. No matter how successful or well liked the software is, existing users are likely to suffer integration and support issues as the Vendor will find that it cannot afford to expend further resources for the continued support for a product that the marketplace no longer wants.

Furthermore, as new hardware / software will not integrate with or run on networks/workstations built on an obsolete platform, a progressive and forward-looking law firm will feel frustrated at not being able to take advantage of emergent technologies in office automation.

Database

Law Firms require information about their clients, contacts and matters; progress of their cases; and financial information in order to thrive. The PMS must not only manage this vast storehouse of information but also render it accessible so that it presents an accurate and comprehensive picture to the Managers.

To ensure respect for the integrity of your database there should be only one point of entry and all other applications should integrate with that core database to eliminate duplication of effort and inconsistent information. If your PMS system does not store “one version of the truth”, it translates to costly and time-wasting manual validation outside of the system.

The database should be an “Open System” relational database that complies with industry standards as opposed to a proprietary custom-built database developed in isolation from other systems. PMS designed on a proprietary database is more likely to require “system down-time” for housekeeping routines (for rebuilding and re-indexing of the database).

An open system database offers ready support and maintenance from IT Professionals anywhere (not merely those employed or trained by your Vendor), ease of reporting and inquiry, ease of migration of data; and more importantly, robust and stable to ensure long term data integrity.

An isolated PMS operating on its own proprietary environment may be cheap at first glance, but the restricted access to qualified and experienced support resources may make you feel held by ransom by your Vendor and more costly in the long term.

Integration

For your PMS to be an effective productivity tool, it may have to integrate with existing systems –

e.g., Outlook / Lotus Notes for email, Copitrac / Softlog for disbursement recovery, Worldox / iManage for Document Management. Integration eliminates wasted time and effort. An example of this is email integration. As email increasingly becomes the default method of routine communication with associates and clients, your PMS system should have the ability to integrate your e-mail system into your natural workflows – so that you have access to emails related to a matter when you are looking at relevant information for that matter.

Ease of Use

How high up “ease of use” and “operability” appears on your wish list depends largely on how savvy or computer phobic your lawyers and staff are. However, given the pressures of operating a thriving law firm on limited resources, a PMS system that is intuitive, user-friendly and requires a shorter training period to master will win more support from your staff over one that isn’t. The good news is that the current generation of PMS software are likely to have a “Windows” graphical user interface. Conformity to “Windows” standards such as “file” “edit” “tools” and scroll bars makes the software less daunting to the uninitiated.

Security

Law Firms will have their own specific requirements on security and restricted access, but most proprietors would like to lock-out associate lawyers and clerical staff from access to financially sensitive information contained in the management reports or pay -roll. Important questions to ask the Vendor are – Can security be applied selectively to specific functionality? How many levels of security does the PMS support?

Scalability

Even if you do not have specific expansion plans for your firm, scalability (ie, the ability of the PMS to support a growing number of users without prohibitive upgrades and additional cost) is an issue that should be addressed from the outset. This is especially so when law firms today are allowed more flexibility in structure, and we find mergers or fluid associations of practice groups becoming increasingly frequent.

Remote / Web Access

In this era of greater mobility and the internationalisation of law firms, any firm with plans to set up a branch office in future (whether at home or abroad), to join a “global” network of associated law firms; or even to allow lawyers to work from home will require the PMS to offer browser based access to lawyers working remotely. In the same way, client’s demand for immediate access to real time matter status and other information online may drive the selection process in favour of a PMS that has such functionality..

CHOOSING THE VENDOR

As important as the functionality of the PMS software, consider that you are also choosing theVendor. The quality of the professional services rendered by the Vendor, the strength of its support, development and research programmes are important concerns if you view the PMS as a long term investment.

Vendor Services – Customisation & Implementation

Due to the complexity of its functions and the need to integrate with your existing systems, you should recognise from the outset that you are not buying a “shrink wrap” product; no PMS will work “out of the box”. The issue that must be put to the Vendor is – whether the PMS can be customised to the degree that ensures a satisfactory degree of integration with your existing systems and processes. Do you want to make the PMS jump through hoops or are you content with minimum customisation? In terms of cost, you can expect to pay more for a higher degree of customisation.

If you need to migrate accounting data from existing systems to the new PMS, then in addition to understanding the database structure of the new PMS, the data migration expert must also have a good understanding of CPA auditing requirements and an obsession with accuracy! To check if your Vendor is able to provide this level of expertise, you may want to makes checks on the Vendor’s past experience in data migration and obtain some references.

Programmers who designed and built the PMS software do not necessarily have the same skills to implement it in your office environment. The Vendor’s implementation team should compriseskilled business process analysts who possess in-depth knowledge law practice management; including client/trust accounting rules, matter management and specific workflow processes in a law practice. Copyright Bizibody Technology Pte Ltd – February 2004

Another indication of the Vendor’s implementation expertise is whether their professionals deploys a structured project management methodology that establishes clear lines of communication between the Project Manager and the Partner appointed to take charge of the implementation process in your office. To find out more, you should request your Vendor to give an account of implementations in law firms similar to yours in size and practice specialisations; and follow up with client references.

Training

No matter which PMS you decide upon, the key to a successful implementation is support from the staff. The return on investment for any PMS is so spectacular that you can expect it to pay for itself within 3-6 months through savings in time and increased efficiency. However lack of adequate training in the use of a complex productivity tool induces frustration and anxiety. Users that have been poorly trained will be poor users. The lack of support for a PMS perceived by its users to be more problematic than helpful will lead to under use.

Most PMS vendors recognise the importance of providing adequate training. Some will even require mandatory training hours when you purchase the software. However it is frequently left to the Law Firm to ensure that commitment and weight is put behind the Vendor’s training programme as an integral component of its implementation and roll out plan.

Support & Maintenance

A comprehensive support and maintenance plan is crucial to ensure that any problems arising can be swiftly and proactively dealt with. More importantly, if you want your investment in a PMS to last the next 5 to 8 years, it is important to know that your Vendor is committed to supporting the software for that time and has dedicated resources to its continued development.

In your support contract, you should look out for –

1. Scope of Post-Installation Support – does i t include a Helpdesk? Onsite Support? (If your Vendor is located abroad) is support available in your time-zone?

2. Quality of the Support Personnel – is the Helpdesk staffed by trained Professionals? Is support Generic (eg, concerning technical problems only) or Function-specific (eg, covering law office accounting / business process issues / database management issues)?

3. Software Updates – Vendors who are committed to ongoing research and developmentgenerally update their software once or twice a year. Your support contract should state clearly if such “version upgrades” are included in the support programme; or whether it comprises only software “patches” that take care of “bugs” arising from the version of the software you purchased.

Any Vendor committed to long-term service to their clients will have a continuing “support programme” that includes – dissemination of information relating to software updates; training workshops on the use of new features; a dedicated website for users that is focused on product information and user-feedback. Some dynamic companies will even hold User Group Meetings for Users to find out more about the Vendor’s plans for product development plans; and even an opportunity to influence its direction.

Conclusion

In summary, an intelligent choice on a Practice Management System requires several levels of probing and analysis beyond the software’s functionality and features. You need to know what your needs and goals are to help you narrow down your choice; and then evaluate its technology platform and database structure; with considerations of security, scalability and ease of use.

Finally, consideration of the Vendor’s ability to lead a successful implementation and provide long-term support ensures that your investment is a sound one.

______________________________________________________________

Bizibody Technology Pte Ltd provides Business Process & Practice Management Consultancy for Law Firms. Bizibody Consultants are former lawyers and IT professionals with in depth knowledge of practice management, accounting, document assembly and legal process workflows. Our clients include law firms of different sizes, legal institutions and the Singapore Law Courts.

To contact us – email info@bizibody.biz or Call – (65) 6236 2840

LINUX: From Scratch to Server

Linux has been the mainstay of the server world. It is an operating system that powers the world’s busiest sites like Google and is also being increasingly embraced by enterprises and the Government. Furthermore, the host of vendors like IBM and HP supporting and promoting Linux strengthens the case that Linux is ready to be deployed on an enterprisewide basis.

What is Linux? How can it be used? How much will it cost? Why do I need to change? These questions and many more need to be answered to make a convincing case for Linux.

Linux is an Open Source operating system developed by thousands of volunteer coders who were motivated primarily to create a better operating system because they were not satisfied with the operating systems available at that time. This led to the development of the Linux kernel or the heart of the operating system. People get confused because there are many different types of Linux like Red Hat, SuSe, Mandrake, UBuntu and many more. This makes the decision making for selecting a type of Linux confusing and difficult. However, all these types share the same kernel.

Linux, in our opinion, is useful as a server within the enterprise and it is difficult to envision that it will power desktops in the foreseeable future. The beauty of Linux is that it can coexist within a Windows or a hybrid environment and can be used as a server in the following main ways:-

File server that can act as a shared network drive for users.
Web server to host your external and internal web sites and applications.
Email server which allows users to send, store and retrieve emails.
Print server for sharing and printing via a network printer.
Database server by installing RDBMS software like MySQL.
Backup server for backup and restoration purposes.
Additionally, the Linux server can also be used as a FTP server, firewall and anti-virus server

[Insert Figure 1: Linux as a server in a hybrid environment]

Linux distributions are free but if you lack the technical expertise to install and configure then it is best to engage a vendor to support. There are also vendors like Net-iTech that provide complete turn-key versions of Linux-based server operating systems like NITIX. Generally, the Linux operating system neither has a license fee nor a ‘number of users per server’ restriction. Therefore, it is a cost-effective solution especially if you have a large number of users or if you expect that the scale of your operations will grow rapidly.

Apart from the cost factor, there are three other main benefits of Linux that make a convincing case to adopt Linux as a server.

Firstly, since only the server needs to be changed there is minimal disruption to the users because in most cases, no additional software needs to be installed on their desktops.

Secondly, Linux provides better reliability in terms of the performance.

Thirdly, Linux has better security as there are very few viruses and malicious software that is designed to attack Linux systems.

It is important to weigh the cost and benefit before adopting Linux as a server. However, in the long term we believe that Linux is a better solution mainly because of its affordability, reliability, security and scalability.

___________________________________________________________________

AUTHOR’S BIOGRAPHY

Dipankar Subba is head of the technology in Bizibody.

Dipankar has in-depth knowledge of strategic integration of web technologies into a business. He has system analysis and design experience and is well-versed with various software applications, programming languages and system design methodologies with a keen interest in Open Source technologies. He has led many Bizibody projects like RATIO, CaseTracker, Law Society Portal and the LAWNET content management system using Open Source as well as proprietary platforms.

Dipankar holds an MBA focused on e-Business from the National University of Singapore.

Email – dipankar@bizibody.biz

PRACTICE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS – Making the Right Choice

February 2004

Much more than an accounting system that handles your office and client accounts, Practice Management Software (“PMS”) adds on an entire suite of other functionality to your accounting system – eg, case / matter management which involves tracking matter information and status from the opening of the file until it is closed and archive; automated workflow integrates with diary functions to provide group calendaring and task allocation; even generating documents and key performance indicators.

The proliferation of lower-cost PMS software means that such systems are now readily accessible to even solo and small practices. By implementing a robust and scalable PMS, a startup law firm is putting in place a sound infrastructure to support its future growth and expansion.

Due to the investment in terms of cost and resources, the consequences of choosing an unsuitable PMS for your law firm are monumental. Yet selection decisions are often made after a couple of sales calls and a few hours of software demonstration in your conference room. In discussions over functionality and price, we tend to forget issues that concern the underlying technology platform which impacts on scalability, support and maintenance, future development; and even the continued viability of the Vendor. Such considerations are important because they relate to the long-term investment in your PMS.

Most competing PMS products in the market today will be able to perform the functions described above to differing levels of competence. The best ones have more than enough bells and whistles to impress the most tech-savvy office managers. However, how high up each product appears in the popularity stakes is less important than how it fits into your law firm and business goals.

To narrow down your search, you need to –

1. Identify the best opportunities for improvements specific to your organisation

2. Evaluate how different software performs the functions most vital to you

3. Understand how the software integrates with your current technology setup.

Even before you meet the Vendors and launch into an evaluation of the relative merits of different PMS software, you need to be very clear about – what it is that you want the PMS to achieve.

I have set down below some guidelines on the issues that should be addressed when choosing the right PMS software for your practice.

CHOOSING THE SOFTWARE

The answer to your question – what do you want the PMS to achieve? – will depend largely in part on practice size, nature of legal service and business directions. Larger practices with several branch offices and a complicated management-equity structure will demand more sophisticated reporting functions than a smaller practice. Electronic Time Recording and its seamless integration with the backend accounting system will be more important to a firm that charges by time instead of fixed fees.

The ability to generate documents quickly and accurately from matter specific data is more important to a firm that derives most of its revenue from delivering resource intensive documentation such as housing loan mortgages or debt recovery. The ability to track matter progress (key dates) is essential to a firm that specialises in high volume transactional services such trade mark registrations or corporate secretarial services.

The first thing to do is to make a wish list and prioritise the items appearing on it. That way, if you are unable to find a PMS that delivers only 90% of your list, you can at least decide what tradeoffs are acceptable and whether you can live with the absence of the remaining 10% at the bottom of your list. Better yet, you will save valuable time nixing those PMS software that are unable to deliver the top 5 wishes on your list!

Once your wish list is established, you can begin to examine the different PMS software available in the market with these other considerations in mind.

Technology Platform

Due to the size of the investment, an average law firm is not likely to change its PMS for the next

5 -8 years. Consider the need to protect your investment from changing or volatile technology.

When a technology environment fails or loses its prominence, software built on that platform begins to lose market share because the marketplace will no longer buy products designed for a defunct platform. An example of this is software written for Wang or non-Windows versions of PCDOS. No matter how successful or well liked the software is, existing users are likely to suffer integration and support issues as the Vendor will find that it cannot afford to expend further resources for the continued support for a product that the marketplace no longer wants.

Furthermore, as new hardware / software will not integrate with or run on networks/workstations built on an obsolete platform, a progressive and forward-looking law firm will feel frustrated at not being able to take advantage of emergent technologies in office automation.

Database

Law Firms require information about their clients, contacts and matters; progress of their cases; and financial information in order to thrive. The PMS must not only manage this vast storehouse of information but also render it accessible so that it presents an accurate and comprehensive picture to the Managers.

To ensure respect for the integrity of your database there should be only one point of entry and all other applications should integrate with that core database to eliminate duplication of effort and inconsistent information. If your PMS system does not store “one version of the truth”, it translates to costly and time-wasting manual validation outside of the system.

The database should be an “Open System” relational database that complies with industry standards as opposed to a proprietary custom-built database developed in isolation from other systems. PMS designed on a proprietary database is more likely to require “system down-time” for housekeeping routines (for rebuilding and re-indexing of the database).

An open system database offers ready support and maintenance from IT Professionals anywhere (not merely those employed or trained by your Vendor), ease of reporting and inquiry, ease of migration of data; and more importantly, robust and stable to ensure long term data integrity.

An isolated PMS operating on its own proprietary environment may be cheap at first glance, but the restricted access to qualified and experienced support resources may make you feel held by ransom by your Vendor and more costly in the long term.

Integration

For your PMS to be an effective productivity tool, it may have to integrate with existing systems –

e.g., Outlook / Lotus Notes for email, Copitrac / Softlog for disbursement recovery, Worldox / iManage for Document Management. Integration eliminates wasted time and effort. An example of this is email integration. As email increasingly becomes the default method of routine communication with associates and clients, your PMS system should have the ability to integrate your e-mail system into your natural workflows – so that you have access to emails related to a matter when you are looking at relevant information for that matter.

Ease of Use

How high up “ease of use” and “operability” appears on your wish list depends largely on how savvy or computer phobic your lawyers and staff are. However, given the pressures of operating a thriving law firm on limited resources, a PMS system that is intuitive, user-friendly and requires a shorter training period to master will win more support from your staff over one that isn’t. The good news is that the current generation of PMS software are likely to have a “Windows” graphical user interface. Conformity to “Windows” standards such as “file” “edit” “tools” and scroll bars makes the software less daunting to the uninitiated.

Security

Law Firms will have their own specific requirements on security and restricted access, but most proprietors would like to lock-out associate lawyers and clerical staff from access to financially sensitive information contained in the management reports or pay -roll. Important questions to ask the Vendor are – Can security be applied selectively to specific functionality? How many levels of security does the PMS support?

Scalability

Even if you do not have specific expansion plans for your firm, scalability (ie, the ability of the PMS to support a growing number of users without prohibitive upgrades and additional cost) is an issue that should be addressed from the outset. This is especially so when law firms today are allowed more flexibility in structure, and we find mergers or fluid associations of practice groups becoming increasingly frequent.

Remote / Web Access

In this era of greater mobility and the internationalisation of law firms, any firm with plans to set up a branch office in future (whether at home or abroad), to join a “global” network of associated law firms; or even to allow lawyers to work from home will require the PMS to offer browser based access to lawyers working remotely. In the same way, client’s demand for immediate access to real time matter status and other information online may drive the selection process in favour of a PMS that has such functionality..

CHOOSING THE VENDOR

As important as the functionality of the PMS software, consider that you are also choosing theVendor. The quality of the professional services rendered by the Vendor, the strength of its support, development and research programmes are important concerns if you view the PMS as a long term investment.

Vendor Services – Customisation & Implementation

Due to the complexity of its functions and the need to integrate with your existing systems, you should recognise from the outset that you are not buying a “shrink wrap” product; no PMS will work “out of the box”. The issue that must be put to the Vendor is – whether the PMS can be customised to the degree that ensures a satisfactory degree of integration with your existing systems and processes. Do you want to make the PMS jump through hoops or are you content with minimum customisation? In terms of cost, you can expect to pay more for a higher degree of customisation.

If you need to migrate accounting data from existing systems to the new PMS, then in addition to understanding the database structure of the new PMS, the data migration expert must also have a good understanding of CPA auditing requirements and an obsession with accuracy! To check if your Vendor is able to provide this level of expertise, you may want to makes checks on the Vendor’s past experience in data migration and obtain some references.

Programmers who designed and built the PMS software do not necessarily have the same skills to implement it in your office environment. The Vendor’s implementation team should compriseskilled business process analysts who possess in-depth knowledge law practice management; including client/trust accounting rules, matter management and specific workflow processes in a law practice. Copyright Bizibody Technology Pte Ltd – February 2004

Another indication of the Vendor’s implementation expertise is whether their professionals deploys a structured project management methodology that establishes clear lines of communication between the Project Manager and the Partner appointed to take charge of the implementation process in your office. To find out more, you should request your Vendor to give an account of implementations in law firms similar to yours in size and practice specialisations; and follow up with client references.

Training

No matter which PMS you decide upon, the key to a successful implementation is support from the staff. The return on investment for any PMS is so spectacular that you can expect it to pay for itself within 3-6 months through savings in time and increased efficiency. However lack of adequate training in the use of a complex productivity tool induces frustration and anxiety. Users that have been poorly trained will be poor users. The lack of support for a PMS perceived by its users to be more problematic than helpful will lead to under use.

Most PMS vendors recognise the importance of providing adequate training. Some will even require mandatory training hours when you purchase the software. However it is frequently left to the Law Firm to ensure that commitment and weight is put behind the Vendor’s training programme as an integral component of its implementation and roll out plan.

Support & Maintenance

A comprehensive support and maintenance plan is crucial to ensure that any problems arising can be swiftly and proactively dealt with. More importantly, if you want your investment in a PMS to last the next 5 to 8 years, it is important to know that your Vendor is committed to supporting the software for that time and has dedicated resources to its continued development.

In your support contract, you should look out for –

1. Scope of Post-Installation Support – does i t include a Helpdesk? Onsite Support? (If your Vendor is located abroad) is support available in your time-zone?

2. Quality of the Support Personnel – is the Helpdesk staffed by trained Professionals? Is support Generic (eg, concerning technical problems only) or Function-specific (eg, covering law office accounting / business process issues / database management issues)?

3. Software Updates – Vendors who are committed to ongoing research and developmentgenerally update their software once or twice a year. Your support contract should state clearly if such “version upgrades” are included in the support programme; or whether it comprises only software “patches” that take care of “bugs” arising from the version of the software you purchased.

Any Vendor committed to long-term service to their clients will have a continuing “support programme” that includes – dissemination of information relating to software updates; training workshops on the use of new features; a dedicated website for users that is focused on product information and user-feedback. Some dynamic companies will even hold User Group Meetings for Users to find out more about the Vendor’s plans for product development plans; and even an opportunity to influence its direction.

Conclusion

In summary, an intelligent choice on a Practice Management System requires several levels of probing and analysis beyond the software’s functionality and features. You need to know what your needs and goals are to help you narrow down your choice; and then evaluate its technology platform and database structure; with considerations of security, scalability and ease of use.

Finally, consideration of the Vendor’s ability to lead a successful implementation and provide long-term support ensures that your investment is a sound one.

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Bizibody Technology Pte Ltd provides Business Process & Practice Management Consultancy for Law Firms. Bizibody Consultants are former lawyers and IT professionals with in depth knowledge of practice management, accounting, document assembly and legal process workflows. Our clients include law firms of different sizes, legal institutions and the Singapore Law Courts.

To contact us – email info@bizibody.biz or Call – (65) 6236 2840

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