Leverage your firm's case management software as project management software

Once a far-flung, fanciful concept in the legal realm, remote work — and remote case management — 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 cellphone 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, so long as you utilize the proper case management technology. 

Smokeball can save the day in a hybrid environment by acting as a project management tool. PM tools supply clear feedback on task owners and deadlines and can help law firm operations run smoothly through a calendar view of caseload-related tasks. 

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 software. 

Below, I will discuss some common pain points of remote work, and how to leverage your law firm’s case management software as a project management software to get your firm ready for remote work — or to improve your current processes.

Pain Point #1: Communication with Staff

An oft-discussed peril of project management during remote work is the inability to pop into your 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 choice to communicate with your staff when everyone receives 200+ emails a day. The solution? Utilize your software, especially the Communicate feature if you are a Smokeball user, to collaborate with your staff and keep everyone on task. You don’t have to give clients your personal cellphone number to communicate 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.

Desktop, mobile and smartwatch images of messages sent regarding legal cases from Smokeball’s Communicate for legal firms

Pain Point #2: Monitoring Staff and Capturing Time

Many lawyers hesitate to adopt a remote or hybrid office model simply because they don‘t know whether their staff will still work (and bill) on cases like they did in the 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 are doing their jobs. Instead, technology like Smokeball’s Automatic Time Tracking feature allows you to gather insights from your staff’s activity within the case 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.

A screenshot of Smokeball’s desktop and mobile automatic time tracking feature that tracks billable activities for law firms.

This technology benefits not only the partner looking at profitability, but also the associate billing on the case. Attorneys no longer need to get behind on tracking their time and wait until the end of the week (or month) trying to recreate 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 that helps lessen the stress of remote work. 

A screenshot of Activity Insights in Smokeball legal case management software that shows how many legal cases were opened or worked on, and by who.

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 cannot 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 vexatious is the lack of a uniform, centralized system from which to pull basic information. Truly, these little details used to drive me nuts.
Legal technology 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 system 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 auto-populates that basic information for me, saving me many rounds of Find & Replace in Microsoft Word and minimizing the risk of human error. 

A screenshot showing the integration of Smokeball legal case management software with Microsoft word to automatically fill important case information into word a document.

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.

Calendar view of tasks and due dates in Smokeball case management software on desktop and mobile app.

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 software that understands 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 practice management systems if you truly want to level-up your law practice.