What is Legal Case Management Software?

Legal case management software is a cloud-based tool to help law firms consolidate all case-related information, automate daily tasks, track client billings, communicate with clients, manage the law firm’s overall performance by practice area and billing type, and maximize efficiency and profitability.

Today, there are dozens of legal case management software solutions available to attorneys, but in the crowded legal tech space, it can be difficult for some to understand exactly what case management software does and what makes one solution different from the other. If you’re ready to see how Smokeball case management software is unlike other law firm software, schedule your free demo today. Still not quite sure what the best case software is or what legal practice management software actually does? You’re in the right place.

Watch a Demo
Smokeball Law Case Management Software

Part I: A Brief History of Law Firm Technology


Since the birth of the legal industry in the mid-20th century, lawyers had depended on typewriters and telephones to do most of their business, and the technology used by other types of businesses were essentially the same as the technology used by law firms. However, in the early 1950s, technological industries began to market directly to law firms.  Let’s take a look at the history and how legal technology has evolved to fit the needs of today’s law firms.

Recording sound on a machine was invented long before the 1950s but it was in 1953 that dictation machines were first marketed specifically to law firms. Lawyers could record information on dictation machines even if their assistant wasn’t present and they could have the assistant transcribe the information at some other time. It was a time-saving device as well as a more reliable method of recording information the lawyer needed transcribed.  Unfortunately, the first dictation machines were expensive, clunky, and often broke down. But today, any lawyer with a smartphone can quickly and easily dictate comprehensive information and have it immediately transcribed with a very high accuracy rate.

The 1970s provided another decade of technological and productivity leaps for law firms as Lexis and word processing computers arrived on the scene. Before the 1970s, lawyers didn’t have many options and spent an enormous amount of time researching case law by pouring over law books but the ability to research cases on a computer changed everything. In 1973, Lexis created the “UBIQ” terminal to let lawyers search case law online which significantly reduced the amount of time lawyers needed to spend researching case law and allowed them to spend more time on their clients. This is also around the time that personal computers began to appear in workplaces throughout America and by 1979, many organizations had purchased basic word processing machines that made it easier and faster to create documents.

Before the 1980s most law firms were dependent on mail or courier to deliver important documents to their customers. But once the fax machine began appearing in workplaces, the capabilities between creating a document and sending it to a client shortened from days to minutes. But of course, that was depending on the client having easy access to a fax machine which didn’t become widespread until the late 80s and early 90s.  This is also the time when the first digital case management systems began to emerge. Unfortunately, the early versions didn’t work for most large law firms because the product wasn’t easily scalable and many law firms were still using DOS instead of Windows. The migration from DOS to Windows didn’t happen on a mass scale until the 1990s — and still years away from having access to the version of attorney case management software we have today.

Early legal practice management software was helpful but flawed because they weren’t scalable and in many cases they did not address all of the critical needs of a law firm. Depending on which case management software a law firm purchased, they may have needed to patch together multiple systems to get all of their critical business needs met. But today’s case management systems have been completely revamped, leveraging all of today’s modern tech tools in a way that helps lawyers get the information they need when they need it and to easily manage client matters no matter where they are.  The essential component that sets today’s case management systems apart from its predecessors is how modern systems are “matter-centric,” linking all activity to related matters. Let’s take a closer look.

  • Email. Today’s case management systems track what emails are sent regarding matter, when they were sent and by whom. Using a quality case management system can provide a suite of tools including law firm email management software that lets lawyers quickly find out if a client was emailed specific information.
  • Tasks and Legal Calendar. A good electronic legal calendar software and planner are probably some of the most powerful tools that allows for collaboration for any business. However, legal case management takes this tool and lets the attorney share events and connect them to relevant matters, not just a single customer or case. A quality case management system allows lawyers to easily schedule appointments related to a matter and even assign tasks related to a matter to other users of the software.
  • Document management and assembly. Long gone are the days of copy and pasting text from one document to another. Today’s case management should include legal document automation systems to allow law firms to create document templates that will auto-populate client information. This means that administrative staff can enter client data into the interface and relevant information will populate into documents with just a click or two. The document management and assembly features in case management systems can save lawyers hundreds of hours a year.
  • Client matter database. One of the biggest challenges law firms faced in the past was keeping a working database with a large number of clients. If the lawyer wasn’t moonlighting as a programmer building their own portal, they might be forced to cobble together very basic excel database processes or patch together a network of different products to get exactly what they wanted for their client database. Now, modern case management systems make it easy to store client data with legal matter management software and all the matters related to their case in a single place. And lawyers can access that data from the mobile phone remotely.
  • Time and expense tracking. For a long time, many law firms manually tracked the time spent on a matter in a dedicated time tracking software platform. This could mean that time got inaccurately recorded and that clients became suspicious when reported time didn’t seem to make sense. One of the biggest advancements of modern legal case management software is that they allow lawyers to accurately — and automatically — record their time with lawyer time tracking software and generate law firm profitability reports based on associates time or by matter. And in many cases, this time tracking and reporting don’t require any extra work on the part of the lawyer because the case management application tracks how much time is spent on a matter as the lawyer is working on it in the system. It also allows partners to easily check the productivity of individual lawyers in real time so that they can make adjustments when necessary in terms of how an attorney is spending their time when working on a matter.

Legal technology tools have been revolutionizing the way lawyers do business, including making it possible for law firms to service more clients for less money.  Today’s modern legal case management software is poised to make it easier for lawyers to do their job more accurately and efficiently.

Part II: What Are the Benefits of Using Case Management Software?


Case management software (CMS) has been around for a long time but there are still some small law firms who haven’t made the leap. Unfortunately, a failure to at least explore the benefits of CMS could be putting some small law firms at a serious disadvantage. Let’s explore some of the most important benefits of case management software for law firms.

Deadlines are a daily part of any lawyer’s practice and missing one can have devastating consequences for a client and for the lawyer. If a lawyer misses a critical deadline due to their own negligence, they could be sued for legal malpractice.  Nonetheless, some lawyers miss deadlines because they have an ineffective way for maintaining their calendar and they’re depending on their support staff to keep them abreast of upcoming deadlines. Here are a few more reasons why lawyers miss deadlines:

  • Improperly prepared documents.
  • Oversight during document review.
  • Failure to calendar the deadline.
  • Delegation of deadline monitoring to someone else.

No matter the reason behind a missed deadline, once a lawyer makes this huge mistake his/her case could be in jeopardy.  Fortunately, online case management software solves the problem of missed deadlines because as soon as matter information is entered, important deadlines are automatically added to the lawyer’s calendar.

Law firms deal with a lot of information and different documents that must be reviewed, edited, stored and referred to again at a later date. The problem is that law firms using a paper system must rely on physical files to find the documents and information they need. Paper systems for case and client data can take up a lot of time when it comes to creating information and retrieving it. Task lists, notes, contact information and signed documents are all filed physically and rely on the accuracy and memory of support staff and associates. But people are only human and they can’t be right 100% of the time. This means that sometimes a document will get filed in the wrong place. Or, an associate may not remember where they made a note about a matter and be forced to look through a file for 30 minutes or an hour. That’s money and time that no client wants to pay for. Even if you have notes and files scanned into your computer system, without CMS it can be next to impossible to find the exact information you need in minutes. The best legal case management systems allow you to quickly access critical information such as documents, filings, emails, and the most updated contact information and notes that you made on a case. Legal case management tools with document automation can shave off hours from the document retrieval process and allow access to important client information and matters in just minutes.

One of the biggest causes of lost revenue, wasted time, and increased stress for lawyers is billing disputes. While lawyers do their best to record and track time accurately, manual time-tracking leaves absolutely too much room for billing errors. A good legal case management software is also a powerful legal billing software and systems like Smokeball include automatic lawyer time tracking software to help you capture more billable hours. Here are some of the most common time-tracking and billing errors even the most conscientious attorneys can make:

  1. Lost time-tracking notes. If an associate is recording their time on little post-it notes that they enter into a time-tracking system at the end of the month, it’s inevitable that at least some of that time will get overlooked due to misplaced notes.
  2. Rounding time up or down. When lawyers are manually recording their time, it may be tempting to just round out numbers to make the task easier but doing so can cause under- or overbilling of the client. On one side you have lost revenue for the law firm and on the other you have an inflated bill (and billing disputes) for the client.
  3. Billing for the wrong tasks. For newer associates or even experienced lawyers who have a very busy schedule, accidentally billing clients for administrative work or other tasks that shouldn’t be billed to them can happen with a manual system.
  4. Generic, vague descriptions. Billing a client several thousand dollars for something generically labeled “document review” will raise more eyebrows than a detailed description. In manual systems, this detailed description doesn’t happen often enough because time-tracking is too labor-intensive so lawyers try to make descriptions as acceptably brief as possible.

Even though clients may not have an insider understanding of how much they should be billed for legal services, if they see an invoice that “feels” wrong, you will inevitably have more billing disputes. But when you’re using web-based legal case management software, it’s easier to accurately track associate time because the automatic time-tracking system records the associate’s time and activity which gives the law firm and the client deeper insight into what exactly is being done on a matter.

Document creation is one of the most time-consuming parts of an attorney’s job and it’s also one of the places where the most embarrassing mistakes are made, which is why legal document management and legal document automation are so important. Here are some of the most common document creation mistakes attorneys and their support staff make:

  • Typographical errors. Small typos such as an extra letter at the end of a word or incorrect numbers on pages can have a huge negative impact on the law firm. Clients judge lawyers by these small errors and may begin to perceive the law firm as unprofessional or careless. And in some cases, small typos can cause really big problems like a court deciding to reject a document because the typo changes critical information like a client’s name or birth date.
  • Grammatical errors. Creating legal documents with clear and understandable language is critical. Bad grammar can prevent a document from being legible. And if a law firm has a habit of submitting too many documents riddled with grammar errors, they could eventually be suspended from practicing law.

Legal case management software reduces the chance of making embarrassing and catastrophic mistakes on legal documents by automatically generating and filling out forms. The lawyer or support staff can enter client data one time and the case management software fills in the information automatically. Law firms can even have the client sign the form electronically. Attorney case management software saves time, money, and improves the perception of the law firm as a professional place.

When a law firm is using online case management software that is cloud-based, they gain the freedom to work from any location—in the courtroom, between appointments, on their laptop, tablet, cell phone. Using CMS, lawyers can work anywhere and on all devices. No more losing productivity because an associate isn’t in the office.

Modern legal case management software is transforming the way law firms do business. By allowing lawyers to reduce errors, improve effectiveness, and save time, law firms are better positioned to charge for the efficiency and value they deliver to clients.

Part III: What Should Law Firms Look for in Legal Case Management Software?

Law firm case management software is a great way to effectively manage client and matter information. With the right training and knowledge, case management software saves associates and administrative staff time and in the long-term improves the profitability of the law firm. But not every case management system is the right fit for every law firm. Some programs may not be robust enough for large firms while others may be missing critical features that could benefit solo and small law firms. Some solutions aren’t able to create recurring events on a legal calendar and others don’t have very stable mobile apps for lawyers. That’s why it’s important that you carefully research available content, read case studies, watch video demos and vet any case management software BEFORE you make a commitment. Here are a few things you should look for when deciding what legal case management software to use for your firm.

Today’s lawyers are on the move, working remotely and often in the courtroom. This is why having access to your client and matter data is critical no matter where you are. The best lawyer apps allow associates to access data from the desktop, laptop, tablet or their phone, and they offer a seamless experience.  Test drive the case management software you’re considering to make sure that it can be used on all your devices.

  • Check both Android and iPhone compatibility. You never know which type of phone your team members will use when accessing client and case data.
  • Test accessing data from your desktop, laptop, and tablet on both a Windows system and a Mac system.

Long gone is the necessity of storing everything exclusively on your law firm’s server and risking lost data when things go wrong. Now that many web-based legal case management softwares use a secure cloud to store and backup case and client data, it’s less of a risk that you will lose important data just because your server went down or data became corrupted. Using cloud storage, your law firm can feel secure that your client and matter data is safe. Here are a few things your storage system should have for your cloud case management software:

  • Data Encryption. Law firm’s have sensitive data that should be encrypted when stored in a cloud system.
  • Redundancy System. The case management software storage infrastructure compliance should include redundant systems so that if one server goes down, you don’t lose client and case information.
  • Security Notifications. If there has been a breach in security, your account manager and the legal case management software company should notify you immediately.

Tracking contact information and correspondence can easily become overwhelming if it’s done manually. That’s why law firm case management software should have an effective and intuitive way of tracking client phone calls, email management for law firms, and other correspondence right inside of the system. Attorney case management software should also automatically update all relevant files once contact information is changed, and there should be an integrated system for setting up callback reminders and legal tasking software so that associates never forget to follow-up.

Law firm case management software should provide a clear overview and make it easy for associates to view matter related tasks, deadlines, and meetings with legal calendaring and docketing software. And the calendars of all associates working on the matter should be visible so that workflows can be easily seen across the law firm. The best case management software systems will automatically populate related deadlines so that associates never miss important deadlines because of an oversight.

For many law firms, the attorney time tracking software and simple legal billing software features of case management software are the most important, and that’s for a good reason. Time tracking and billing errors can cost law firms a lot of money.  When associates under bill because they haven’t tracked all of their billable time, this adds up to a significant amount of lost revenue for the law firm. And when overcharging happens because of human error, this anger clients, encourages invoice disputes and can cost the law firm clients. You’ll want to find a system with lawyer time tracking software and billing features that allow the associate to track their tasks and time as they go. The best law firm software will automatically record the time it took an associate to complete a task inside the system such as when they’re creating a document. The system should also be flexible so that time can be filled in on an hourly, contingent, or other user defined basis.

Creating documents is one areas where some of the most embarrassing mistakes can happen. Most associates use previous documents—copying and pasting data as needed—to make document creation easier. But this method can introduce errors. Your law firm case management software should automatically generate the necessary documents once client data is entered and a new case is created, making copy and paste document creation a thing of the past. Case management software with a good document automation and assembly features can shave hours off the time required for creating relevant documents.

How Do You Pick the Best Case Management Software for Your Firm?

Needing to access case information manually in paper files can be a serious nightmare and time waster. It seems that no matter how meticulously you handle your manual filing systems, it’s inevitable that an item will get placed in the wrong file. Case management software completely eliminates the possibility of misplacing information in the system. Once you generate a new client case, all matters related to it are “attached” so that you can always get your hands on the information you’re looking for. Case management software for lawyers should provide legal matter management as well as allow you to manage related to-do lists, documents, emails, and other correspondence, making it easy for you to search and find exactly what it is that you need at the moment.

When you’re searching for the right case management software for your law firm, keep in mind some of the standard features that should come with the system. You should also think about what features you feel that your law firm absolutely needs. And if you have existing systems that you’re using and that you want to continue using, consider how compatible the case management software will be with those systems. Talk to the law practice management software vendor about your firm’s specific needs to make sure that they can deliver exactly what you need.

See the Smokeball Difference