How Case Management Tools Can Help Your Law Firm Project Manage
April 5, 2023
Once a far-flung, fanciful concept in the legal realm, remote work powered by law firm project management software is now the modus operandi for thousands of law firms across the country. When states decreed stay-at-home mandates, many firms came to unfortunate grips with the fact that they were in no way equipped to handle an entire docket from their living rooms. Attorneys resorted to giving clients their personal cell phone numbers. They spent hours hunting down drafts of documents. (Was it on the paralegal’s desktop, or the associate’s Google Drive?)
Practicing law in a physical office is already an anxiety-riddled and laborious process. Remote law firm life is an entirely different beast. But for more than two years, most U.S. law firms have operated in some version of a remote or hybrid structure. Just 11% of firms in Smokeball’s Law + The Great Resignation survey say employees currently expect to work in the office full-time.
But there’s a big difference between operating in a hybrid environment and thriving while working from home. The transition to successful remote work doesn’t have to be painful, as long as you lean on the proper case management tools.
Smokeball can save the day in a hybrid environment by acting as a law firm project management tool. Case management tools clearly outline task owners and deadlines, and can help law firm operations run smoothly from first client meeting to case closed.
Despite the pains of adapting to remote life, a huge silver lining appeared from the chaos: many lawyers learned they could truly practice from anywhere, be it a beach or Bali (depending on your jurisdiction). This remote practice firm model will only continue to grow in popularity as attorneys get comfortable with cloud-based law firm project management software.
Below, I’m sharing some common remote work challenges we see with our customers. Then, we’ll dig into how to leverage your law firm’s case management solution to get your firm ready for remote work — or to improve your current processes.
Pain point #1: Communication with staff
One frequent downfall of remote project management is that we can’t pop into our paralegal’s office and discuss what needs to be done on a case. It is also hard to schedule impromptu phone calls with associate attorneys, and email is not an ideal communication channel when your staff receives 200+ emails a day.
The solution? Lean on law firm project management software like Smokeball’s Communicate feature to collaborate with your staff and keep everyone on task. You don’t have to give clients your personal cell phone number to connect with them! Communicate allows you to directly message any user on your case in a central location. For example, users can open a client matter and message an associate about whether they received the opposing party’s credit card statements. Welcome to the future.
Pain point #2: Monitoring staff and capturing time
Many lawyers hesitate to go remote or hybrid simply because they don‘t know whether their staff will still work (and bill) like they did in a physical office. When the partner can’t pop into the associate’s office randomly throughout the day, how can they project-manage the employee’s workload? Can they truly rely on the staff to capture their time when they are working from home?
You don’t need to go full-on Big Brother to make sure your staff is doing their jobs. Instead, technology like Smokeball’s Automatic Time Tracking feature allows you to gather insights from your staff’s activity within the law firm project management system. You can see when a paralegal spent 15 minutes sending out emails to clients, or when an associate spent two hours drafting responses to discovery. And if certain members of your legal team are overworked or underutilized, project-manage their tasks by re-assigning through Smokeball’s Legal Tasks + Workflows.
This technology benefits not only the partner looking at profitability, but also the associate billing on the case. Attorneys won’t get behind on tracking their time and wait until the end of the week (or month) to document their hours. (It’s me, I’m that attorney). Instead, Smokeball tracks your work in real time, creating a document that displays all your billable time for the day. You’re able to capture more of your hours, and they’re automatically logged for you! This is a major, major benefit of case management tools that helps lessen the stress of remote work.
Pain point #3: No centralized information system
Let me give you a scenario: I am drafting a custody agreement. I am almost done, and just need the children’s full names and dates of birth, but I can’t find them. I spend half an hour searching the firm drive until I find the client’s intake paperwork, filled out by hand and scanned into the system, that contains the information I need. Part of what makes remote work so frustrating is the lack of a uniform, centralized system from which to pull basic information. Truly, these little details used to drive me nuts.
Legal case management tools like Smokeball means you never have to wonder where your case information lives. Enter relevant matter information into Smokeball’s system (i.e., names of parties, social security numbers, date of marriage, addresses, etc.), and you never have to worry about tracking it down again. In fact, Smokeball’s case management solution auto-populates this information on relevant documents in their form library. For instance, I filled out all of the party information in Smokeball (including the children's information) at the outset of my case. So, when I pull up my template for my final order, Smokeball’s case management solution auto-populates that basic information for me, saving me many rounds of Find & Replace in Microsoft Word and minimizing the risk of human error.
Pain point #4: Deadlines and calendaring
In my physical office, I was notified of upcoming trial deadlines by a big, red, angry sheet of paper in my physical inbox. I frequently had multiple settings in a week, and though I considered myself a responsible attorney, sometimes it took an aggressive red sheet in my face to remind me that trial was two weeks out.
Obviously, this isn’t an option if your firm is fully remote. Luckily, calendaring systems such as the one used in Smokeball’s software take the guesswork out of deadlines and managing each of your projects.
We live and die by deadlines in our profession. Deadline-focused tools are the one thing that must always be reliable, easy-to-use and organized. Especially in a remote world, it is imperative that you use trustworthy legal software programs that understand the needs of attorneys.
Running a remote law firm doesn’t have to be daunting. In fact, it can make you more money and substantially decrease your stress load. Start taking a look at complete, cloud-based case management tools if you truly want to level-up your law practice.
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