Whether converting paper to 1s and 0s or migrating from one practice management system to another, the change is a challenge. It can be frustrating at times, and that frustration can get the best of you, and even seasoned lawyers and consultants like myself. You’ve already put forth time and money in hiring a consultant like myself, and choosing a system that meets the demands of your firm. You’ve even invested effort into getting the new practice management system up and running but something isn’t right.
Before you claim nothing is working, however, consider the following:
Implementing the New System
First, remember that you picked the software because it does do everything you want. Remember, too, that the system doesn’t do all of those tasks on its own. You can think of it like looking at a pile of lumber and a bunch of tools and wondering why the house is not built. It takes effort on the part of the firm to make this happen.
There needs to be data in your practice management system to make it work. Yes, I know you said that you would make sure that you would put a number of people to work on the building of the database, and it would only take a week or so to put all your client matters into the system… that was two months ago.
You did say that you would dedicate the necessary labor to accomplish that, but then court dates and client meetings got in the way, along with the day-to-day pressures of running a business. You still want to move systems because you know it will be an improvement, but you are also comfortable in your current system, and it works for now to handle these immediate court and client tasks.
For the new system to work, however, the information must be in the system first. Given what you are currently working on, and all of your firm’s historical data, moving that data into the new system sounds daunting, and that is understandable. Instead of looking at it all, and going it all at once, break it down into smaller pieces. Take the first hour of the day, for example, turn off the phones, and let your staff do the work that needs to be done in creating the database. One hour a day… start your day with one hour of time dedicated to creating the client matters. Then prepare for court, call clients, and other matters that keep your business running.
Another suggestion: take the implementation one piece at a time. Yes, it will cost a little bit more because training is not done all at once. It may be done over two or three sessions. However, how much does it cost you to not have the system working to your satisfaction? How much does it cost you to buy the software and have it turn into shelf ware?
For instance, get the database of client matters built first. Focus your energies on that. When that is done, then perhaps start linking emails to those matters. Then start using the calendar. Then start using the billing links.
Learn to walk before you run.
Staffing and Staff Time
Many hands make light work, as the saying goes, but for this kind of task you also want the best. They know your firm inside and out, the odds and ends of various matters and will be able to spot errors or discrepancies quickly as you move to the new practice management system. I would suggest taking your best staff and having them come in one hour early and pay them accordingly. It is less expensive in the end to do that than to spend all that money on software and not have it work for you. You might even consider doing a Saturday marathon session.
If you do a marathon session, make sure you have someone that does know the software look over the worker’s shoulders and make sure they are entering the data correctly. There is nothing worse than doing all that work and finding out it was done incorrectly. Retrofits will eat your lunch as the old saying goes.
If you can have each of your staff participate in creating the new client matters, you can actually get this task done rather quickly. You get a double benefit here: you get the database built and they get to learn better how the system works. Nothing beats hands-on. If you can allow your staff to do this, you will be up and running before you know it.
Contrary to popular opinion, training is an essential ingredient. Entering data is one thing, being able to quickly access that information, make updates, share, bill properly and in a timely fashion, and generally get the most from what you wanted out of the new practice management system requires training.
Do not have your attorneys and staff attend training sessions and be texting, taking calls, reviewing documents, or otherwise not paying attention. Establish a rule for training: no cell phones, no laptops, no documents, no interruptions—just note taking.
How about those attorneys and staff that are simply are too busy to even attend the training? How about the attitude of “…well, I’ll learn it from Sally”? Alternatively, “I will just review the handouts and get it that way.” The only way an attorney or staff member should not be there is because of court or depositions.
The On-Site Practice Management Expert
You also need one person in the firm that takes on the responsibility of learning the software inside and out. The users in your firm need to have one person to turn to with questions. Do not get me wrong—there is no greater fan of billable hours than me. Nevertheless, it gets expensive having a consultant like me answer every little question about the software that arises. If your on-site expert does not have the answer, then the technical support will. Use me for the heavy lifting. That is much more cost-effective.
In summary, it takes an effort by people in the firm to do what is required to make a piece of software work in the firm. Your consultant can show you how to make it work right. That is their job. Nevertheless, you need to feed the system with the data that it needs. It does not happen by itself. That is your job.
So what is the moral of the story here? You need three things: one is a good consultant to teach you how the system works; two is a person that knows the program better than anyone else in the firm; three, you need to do your part to make sure the software works properly.