Why Legal Software Helps Law Firms Grow
May 19, 2023
Starting and growing a law firm is no easy feat. There are endless decisions and tasks, from finding new clients to building a winning legal track record and hiring the right staff.
When focusing on providing a valuable service to your clients, it’s reasonable that technology gets pushed to the back burner for many smaller legal practices with under 50 staff. With limited budgets and time to learn new software and few staff members to serve as software administrators, some leaders see technology as a far-off investment they’ll consider once their firm is more established and has more capital.
However, recent Smokeball research shows the opposite: technology is the catalyst (not the result) of law firm growth. When used correctly, smart software solutions can help streamline administrative tasks and workflows, reveal trends in productivity and profitability, and ultimately help law firms expand their business.
Here’s why legal professionals should view technology as an up-front investment that results in a long-term payout.
How is technology helping law firms grow today?
It’s no secret that law firms willingly accept technology as a part of their everyday lives. An industry once steeped in tradition and time-tested manual and analog processes. Law practices embrace legal software solutions as they transition to hybrid work environments and compete for new (and maybe even recently graduated) talent accustomed to working in software.
Our new report, The Tech-Stacked Firm: How Technology is Changing the Legal Industry in 2023, unveiled just how much time legal professionals spend in technology every day:
The data also reveals a correlation between the amount of software a firm uses and its size. Law firms with a growth edge know that technology can unburden their teams from manual tasks, simplify lead and client management, and improve daily processes:
This time in software can be a double-edged sword depending on the usage. Are legal teams toggling between systems, comparing data and documents, and updating multiple instances of records? Then they lose their day to technology and spend less time with clients, winning cases.
Or, in the case of Smokeball, are they empowered to work in a streamlined fashion from one centralized location that boasts automatic activity and time tracking to make billing a breeze? If legal teams are working in a system like this, they cannot only capture more billable time by working more in the software, but the software will boost productivity, getting them back out of the software and focused on clients.
The time law firms spend working in fewer legal software solutions will grow even further as automation improves. For example, law practice management software gives legal teams one central location to complete many daily tasks, like client intake, document assembly, document management, and calendaring.
Plus, this type of technology works in the background, automatically time-tracking activities like billable hours and client communication without staff members having to think about it. You can even communicate with clients and work on the go with mobile app versions of the legal case management software.
Then when it’s time to invoice and collect payments, those are also made a breeze, even if you need to stay compliant in your trust accounting. Not only does a practice management tool reduce administrative work, but it also frees up more time to focus on bringing in new clients and retaining the ones you have.
In other words, more business will follow as firms spend more time using the right technology.
It’s not just about building any old legal software tech stack
Before we get carried away and give technology all the credit for driving modern law firm growth, we should share a caveat. Not all law software is created equally, and investing in any old software platform won’t automatically result in higher profits, more clients, or increased productivity.
In fact, survey respondents said there’s still room for improvement when it comes to software use at their firms:
Too many tools can create a disparate web of software clutter. A slew of point solutions means your firm might have five different tools with overlapping functionality. So simply purchasing a new software platform won’t solve all of your problems.
But without proper integration, there are redundancies or gaps (or sometimes both) in your law firm’s data sharing and documentation. These discrepancies throughout the scattered systems leave much room for overlooked tasks, missed deadlines, wasted time, and a messy overall workflow.
Second, app fatigue hurts productivity and increases team burnout. App fatigue is when your legal team has to context switch or toggle between tabs to access different law software that pieces together various aspects of your legal workflows.
App fatigue results from having disconnected legal software solutions that are not integrated, so your team has to transfer, match and search for data in disparate places. Your employees are constantly inundated with new software and endless notifications in their personal and professional lives. They don’t want to spend time switching back and forth between apps all day at work. It's an inefficient and unproductive approach.
Our recommendation: invest in fewer, more powerful legal tech tools. Cloud-based practice management software and similar solutions go deeper by covering more pieces of the legal workflow while still providing best-in-class solutions—rather than being shallow and spread thin. A one (or two or three) stop shop prevents burnout, drives employee retention, and increases organization and efficiency for your clients.
If you can find a select few law software solutions that integrate to handle everything in your legal workflows from lead management through accounting, billing and payment collections, then you're in a great spot to grow.
How to maximize your legal software investment (and firm growth)
As we’ve unearthed, it’s not enough to buy new technology and call it a day. The success of a new tool depends on your ability to use it effectively — both individually and as a team.
That starts with a strong customer support team. When vetting new tools, find out how each platform plans to support you through the implementation, onboarding and training process.
1. Focus on integrations. Our onboarding team here at Smokeball won’t just set up your new case management platform and make sure it runs smoothly. We’ll also ensure it integrates with the legal software you’re already using, so it all talks to each other and shares information correctly. That means no more missed deadlines, incorrect client details, searching for information across various legal software platforms, or overlapping functionality.
2. Train your staff. Once your new solution is in place, invest in robust staff training. Invite as many people as possible to your training sessions so that your whole team knows how to use your new software. Many software providers offer this service as a part of their overall packages, so ask them to lead demo sessions if possible.
Training isn’t a one-and-done task, either! Host ongoing learning sessions throughout the year to educate your team about more advanced features or new product offerings. Be sure to check in a couple of months after your new law software solution is installed to make sure everyone feels comfortable using it.
3. Assign multiple software administrators. Once a new tool is in place, it takes a village to ensure it runs smoothly and serves its intended purpose. Appointing a few software administrators helps law firms cover their bases, ensuring continuity if anyone at the firm leaves or isn’t available for questions and troubleshooting. If you work with a partner like Smokeball, you have ongoing support from our customer success team, along with pre-set workflows that help with employee training and retaining historical knowledge.
4. Review your firm’s metrics. Here’s where the real law firm growth begins. Once you’ve implemented a new tool and streamlined your daily workflows, it’s time to dig into the data. A platform like Smokeball offers Law Firm Reporting and Insights based on your practice’s activity within the tool.
These reports reveal trends in staff productivity, show you which types of cases are most profitable, give you an overview of open and closed invoices, and more. Using this data will help you make business decisions about where to invest more time, which practice areas need more marketing support, and which types of clients are most valuable to your firm.
Paving a new path with legal technology
We still have a long road ahead when legal software to drive law firm growth. Legal professionals report that they’re not using software to its full potential, and there are still many gaps in some places and overlapping solutions in others.
But with well-researched investments, conscientious implementation, and adequate staff training, technology can be the lever that launches your firm into the future. Check out our latest report to learn more about how legal professionals are using technology today and how to select the right one for your firm.
Learn more about Smokeball document management for law firms
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