Best Attorney Practice Management Software
April 20, 2023
Over the last several years, the legal industry — and every industry, for that matter — has been faced with unprecedented challenges. From disruptions caused by the global pandemic to the mass exodus of millions of employees known as the Great Resignation, law firms have encountered no shortage of challenges that have forced them to reevaluate everything.
As part of their efforts to become more resilient and agile, countless law firms began searching for replacement solutions for their aging and antiquated technologies. Specifically, they chose to step outside of their technology comfort zones and seek out the best law firm management software on the market.
In the past, attorney practice management software was simply nice to have; law firms could get by without it and still remain mostly competitive within their practice areas. However, that is no longer the case. In the modern legal ecosystem, only organizations with the best law firm management software will be able to thrive.
Smokeball understands that deploying attorney practice management software requires a significant investment of your time, money, and resources. We also realize that finding the best law firm management software can seem daunting due to the number of options out there.
In light of this, we have carefully crafted our 2022 Legal Practice Management Software Buying Guide to help you derive maximum value from your new investment.
Below, we will explore how any law firm, big or small, can systematically choose one of the top attorney practice management software solutions using an established framework.
While you might think that the first step to business optimization starts with implementing the proper legal software systems, it actually begins with understanding why this software is a must-have for your firm. Then, and only then, can you ensure that you select an attorney practice management software solution that perfectly aligns with your company's needs.
Introduction to Attorney Practice Management Software
Law practice management software is a type of technology that enables you to perform all core functions related to managing your law firm. Some of the most useful legal software solutions include tools to facilitate client billing, expense tracking, calendaring, matter management, relationship management, and much more.
The best law firm management software is designed to streamline every facet of running a law firm. It makes it easier to perform task management, connect with clients, and work on cases, all while reducing the workload on you and your staff. In turn, this enables you to improve cash flow and boost profitability.
Is Legal Practice Management Software and Case Management Software the Same?
No, case management software and practice management software are not one and the same. Case management software is a more focused solution designed to assist with case-specific tasks like document management and maintaining information integrity. Conversely, legal practice management includes tools for managing your entire law firm.
Download the eBook: What is Legal Case Management Software
Understanding Why You Need Legal Practice Management Systems
Your legal practice management software journey doesn’t start with technology. Before you can identify the right tools for your small law firm (the “how” behind your success), you need to understand the “why” — your pain points, KPIs (key performance indicators, or measurements of success), and goals. Only then can you ensure the right fit.
Take a closer look at how identifying your pain points and goals will help you determine which KPIs to focus on.
Identifying Your Pain Points and Goals
Every member of your firm, from partners to paralegals to legal secretaries, experiences different pain points every day. So, it's important to consult each person when reviewing your pain points and setting goals to improve, whether that's through an online/in-person brainstorming session or an anonymous survey. Take every concern seriously, look for overlap, and use your findings to set both short- and long-term goals.
Here are a few questions to consider when identifying your pain points:
- What's keeping you up at night?
- What tasks serve as a distraction or feel like a nuisance?
- What's the one thing that would make your job easier?
- Would you like to work less?
- Would you like to take on more pro bono work or increase your community involvement?
- How much would you like to grow financially? In firm size? Would you like to add more offices, staff in additional states, or additional practice areas?
You should answer all of these questions yourself, then seek out feedback from other members of your law firm. Naturally, you should tailor the set of questions you ask to each member's role. However, everyone's opinion has value and should be taken into account when setting goals.
Remember that each member of your practice will have a unique perspective; for example, legal professionals will encounter different challenges and pain points than clerical staff. You should also consider reaching out to a few past or current clients in order to gather their thoughts on your practice management capabilities.
Measuring Your KPIs
Key Performance Indicators eliminate the guesswork behind your firm's success. When you assign numbers to goals, there's no place for failure to hide.
Admittedly, KPIs become easier to track once you're using high-quality legal practice management software — all the data and reporting tools you need are organized in one streamlined place. For now, you'll need to crunch the numbers yourself using timesheets, invoices, and more.
These KPIs may be valuable to your firm, depending on your practice size, area of law, and geographic location.
- Accounts receivable over 30 days
- Client acquisition cost
- Fees billed in a time period (and per attorney)
- Fees collected in a time period
- Increasing profitability per matter by x%
- Increasing utilization by x%
- New clients (and closing ratio %)
- New leads
- Number of complaints
- Number of days from initial consulting to signing
- Opened matters
- Realization by practice area
These are just a handful of KPIs that your law firm should be paying attention to. Once you implement legal software solutions, you will be able to track these metrics, along with countless others. In turn, these data points will provide actionable intelligence that you can use to grow your firm.
What Determines the "True" Value of Practice Management Systems?
Whenever your law firm is trying to decide where to invest your resources, it’s critical to understand how you can calculate the “true” value of an investment. Consider these three points of value: usefulness, cost-effectiveness, and psychological benefits. Let’s take a closer look at exactly what makes up each one.
When assessing a law practice management software's usefulness, consider these questions:
- Which team members will use the software?
- What will the learning curve be?
- How long will implementation take?
- Will the software provide value in the long term?
- Does the software integrate with or replace existing technologies?
If the answers to all of the above questions are promising, then the piece of technology you are evaluating is likely among the best law firm management software solutions on the market. However, if you have concerns about a product's usefulness and versatility, it is better to continue your search rather than settle for a subpar option.
The pricing for law practice management platforms varies greatly from option to option. On the low end, a legal software solution for a small law firm may cost less than $50 per month for a single user. Conversely, legal software solutions for midsize law firms will cost hundreds of dollars or more per month, and enterprise-level technology can be even more expensive.
When evaluating a potential client management solution's cost-effectiveness, make sure to look beyond the price tag. Going with the cheapest, the most basic option will not deliver the most value for your firm. On the other hand, breaking the bank on a technology designed for massive legal firms is not the wisest choice either.
We suggest evaluating what sort of time and cost savings you expect a platform to deliver. If the cost and time savings benefits outweigh the price of the platform, it is likely a great financial investment.
Psychological Benefits of Legal Practice Management Systems
The best legal software programs provide not only quantifiable monetary and productivity benefits but also immeasurable psychological ones. When you replace antiquated technologies with a cloud-based solution, your staff will experience a significant reduction in stress, an improvement in morale, and a better work-life balance.
Although the psychological benefits are difficult to measure, they will lead to noticeable improvements in firm productivity, client communications, billable time, and other KPIs. Prioritizing the psychological well-being of your employees will also help you move closer toward your law firm goals and grow your business.
Download Now: The Healthy Remote Lawyer
Common Practice Management Software Features and Goals They Help to Achieve
Not all legal software programs are equal. But at the core, every product contains tools designed to organize your firm in one place and efficiently sort through your data.
But only some legal software solutions go beyond that basic value and deliver strategy-driven capability that will increase your firm’s productivity and profitability. The best law firm management software serves as the front door for your firm’s business activities. The following list of goals and features of legal software programs (such as Smokeball) illustrates how this technology can deliver on our three pillars of true value.
Goal: Get More Work Done
Large law firms, midsize firms, and every size of practice in between share a common goal. These organizations all want to find ways to get more work done and increase productivity.
The critical question is this: How can law firms get more done without hiring an excessive amount of employees or asking existing staff to take on unsustainable workloads? The answer is simple: Adopt a cloud-based law practice management solution like Smokeball.
Our law practice management software helps law firms get more work done with tools such as:
1. No-Click Time-Tracking Software
Automatic legal time-tracking technology is one of our platform's basic features. This software allows legal practices to effortlessly track every billable hour so that they can bill clients accurately, capitalize on revenue generation opportunities, monitor employee productivity, and streamline task management processes.
No-click time-tracking software controls for human error by eliminating the need for your staff to manually activate the time-tracker. Instead, our time-tracking automatically begins tallying billable hours as soon as team members open specified applications or begin working on legal files.
Download the Infographic: 8 Benefits of Automatic Time Tracking for Lawyers
2. Legal Document Generation and Assembly
Legal document automation tools can be a valuable resource for small law firms, corporate legal teams, and enterprise-level practices. These legal document management software technologies provide document automation capabilities that eliminate the need to manually manage case files, client records, and other documents.
Document automation technologies streamline various administrative tasks, reduce human error, and allow a law practice to operate more efficiently. Legal document generation and assembly solutions facilitate digital document storage, allow personnel to easily manage legal documents, and make those time-consuming copy-and-paste information transfer methods a thing of the past.
Download the eBook: The Complete Guide to Legal Document Automation
3. Legal Tasks and Workflow
Smokeball's cloud-based practice management solution also includes dynamic workflow automation technologies. Workflow automation is the process of automating various project and case management practices using artificial intelligence and machine learning tools. You can use these technologies to assign tasks to team members, manage legal information, increase firm visibility, and much more.
Workflow Resources by Area of Law
- blog: https://www.smokeball.com/blog/real-estate-law-workflows-for-smooth-transactions
- checklist template for Illinois: https://go.smokeball.com/checklist-for-real-estate-transactions-in-illinois
- blog: https://www.smokeball.com/blog/streamline-your-estate-planning-process-with-automated-workflows
- checklist template: https://go.smokeball.com/workflow_checklist_for_estate_planning_probate
- blog: https://www.smokeball.com/blog/set-up-family-law-case-workflows
- checklist template: https://go.smokeball.com/workflow-checklist-for-family-law-matters
- blog: https://www.smokeball.com/blog/business-law-workflow-blog
- checklist template: https://go.smokeball.com/workflow-checklist-for-business-law
- blog: https://www.smokeball.com/blog/making-your-personal-injury-law-firm-workflow-more-efficient
- checklist template: https://go.smokeball.com/workflow-checklist-for-personal-injury-matters
4. Software Integrations
Are you already using technologies like Rocket Matter, Microsoft Office, or QuickBooks and want to keep doing so? The good news is that you can when you choose law practice management software that includes software integration capabilities.
Top law practice management software solutions can seamlessly integrate with your existing suite of technologies. These solutions can share and exchange information with Rocket Matter, Microsoft Office, and other popular platforms. When your new legal software programs and your existing solutions can freely exchange information, you will be able to gain actionable insights into the state of your practice.
Goal: Get More Visibility into Your Cases
One of the greatest challenges associated with law practice management is visibility. The problem of visibility presents a challenge to small firms and large practices alike.
Issues that can reduce case and practice visibility include a lack of integration between your legal software solutions and poor communication among staff members. The latter has become an especially persistent pain point since many firms have transitioned to remote or hybrid work models.
Fortunately, law practice management software can eliminate data blind spots and give you more visibility into your cases. These technologies can provide rich insights into deadlines, the number of active cases, overall law firm performance, and much more.
Two of the most notable advantages of law practice management software are that it enables you to:
Gain Law Firm Insights
Law practice management software provides comprehensive law firm insights about everything from individual attorney performance to the financial health of your practice.
These technologies help you verify that you are engaging in accurate billing practices and maximizing your cash flow. Law practice management software not only helps you track billable hours, but it can also use this data to create rich, easy-to-digest reports that you can use to monitor business performance.
You can use the information gained from your law practice management software to plan for the future and pave the way for the continued growth of your practice.
Watch Now: Actionable Data from Firm Insights
Eliminate Data Silos
When law firms rely on a cobbled-together network of aging technologies, data silos are formed. A data silo occurs when a particular piece of software or application stores data but isolates that information from other applications. Data silos make it difficult for team members and departments to easily share or exchange information.
Law practice management software eliminates data silos by creating a centralized database for document management and information storage. When team members need to access data, they can leverage the unified law practice management software instead of having to go searching for the information they need across multiple applications.
Goal: Make More Money
Increasing revenue is the only way that law firms can grow, bring on more staff, and better serve clients. The best law practice management software solutions not only include tools for optimizing the client experience and streamlining practice management but also have software designed to improve cash flow.
The two sets of money-making features that law practice management software includes are:
Legal Billing Software
Billing clients manually is time-consuming and tedious. It also leaves the door open for data entry errors. When these errors inevitably occur, law firms are leaving money on the table.
Legal billing software is a core component of the best law practice management software solutions. This software tracks billable hours, creates financial reports so that law firms can monitor total revenue and cash flow, and much more.
In addition, legal billing software enables law firms to accept online payments. This functionality is crucial, as it eliminates friction from the payment process and allows clients to compensate legal practices for their services more efficiently.
Law practice management software that includes dynamic billing tools can also foster trust between law firms and their clients. Attorneys can use these billing tools to increase transparency and demonstrate that they are providing real value for clients.
Download the infographic: Get Paid Faster with Automated Billing and Payments
Lead Management and Marketing
Even the best law firms will not thrive in the ultra-competitive legal sector unless they can generate a steady stream of leads and convert a healthy number of said leads into clients. Unfortunately, lead management and marketing are not among most attorneys' strong suits.
The good news is that the leading law practice management software includes comprehensive lead management and marketing tools. These tools can empower law firms to more efficiently funnel leads to their websites and earn opportunities to drive conversions.
However, routing a potential client to a firm's website is only part of the equation. After law firms acquire lead contact data and bring these prospects to the website, they have to follow up by targeting these visitors with additional outreach efforts, such as presenting them with marketing materials or contacting them directly to gauge their interest in legal services.
Top law practice management software solutions can assist with this as well via contact management technologies and client intake software. Client intake software can take care of new client onboarding tasks, including gathering contact information and creating a digital case file.
Contact management tools are designed to streamline every facet of client management and enable law firms to establish clear and open lines of communication with potential clients. These contact management tools can be used to keep clients in the loop on the status of their cases, reach out to qualified leads that are very likely to hire a law firm, and maintain communication with clients after their case is resolved.
Watch Now: Digital Marketing for your Law Firm
Goal: Get the Support You Need
Thus far, our discussion of the best law practice management software solutions has centered around tools like legal document management software, task management, case management, and client management.
While these management tools deliver value to law practices, there is more to a great law practice management software solution than just the technology. If you want to ensure that you derive a strong return on investment and a condensed time to value from your law practice management software, it is critical that you select an option that is backed by a world-class support team.
Unfortunately, far too many law practice management software providers offer little to no post-deployment support to their clients. When law firms deploy such law practice management software, they are essentially on their own — unless they want to incur hefty support fees.
This is not the case with Smokeball. At Smokeball, we stand behind our product because we are committed to delivering true value for law firms of all sizes. Whether you operate a small practice with less than five employees or a rapidly growing firm, our client success team will be with you every step of the way.
All new Smokeball clients will receive complimentary onboarding services that are designed to set your business up for sustained success. We want you to maximize your ROI and minimize your time to value when deploying Smokeball.
Additionally, you will have the opportunity to forge common bonds with other law firms via the Smokeball community. This community gives our existing clients access to live events, webinars, and other opportunities, all of which are designed to help you get the most out of your Smokeball solution.
Get Started with Smokeball
Smokeball provides the best law practice management software on the market. Our leading law practice management software solution includes a comprehensive set of tools and features that are designed to optimize every facet of managing your firm. Our technology is equipped with document management software, client management tools, matter management capabilities, and much more.
Learn more about Smokeball document management for law firms
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