Ask just about any general counsel or legal operations director and you’ll hear a similar refrain: Law departments are under increasing pressure to reduce costs and to improve efficiency. Add to that the need to manage the exponential growth in information bombarding the typical Office of the General Counsel and it’s easy to understand why legal matter management systems have become all the rage in the modern corporate law department.
It wasn’t long ago when the choice of which system to get was rather easy – there were relatively few players in the field and the features that were offered were fairly similar. Today, however, the picture is very different. New products have appeared with powerful features that could barely be imagined just a few short years ago. Today’s Legal matter management systems can help your legal department become more efficient and cost-effective. Most deliver the ability to generate reports that reveal important insights into your matters. Likewise, matter management systems that incorporate an e-billing component offer potential cost savings that can range from 3-10% or more. Systems that are accessible from mobile devices like smart phones and tablets are the latest innovation.
If you are considering implementing your department’s first matter management system, or considering an upgrade to an existing system, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. The following tips can help can help you sort through the morass.
Consult an Expert
Hiring a consultant with experience in selecting, evaluating and implementing matter management systems makes good sense. It’s hard to get impartial information these days, especially when the primary source of information is the vendor’s representative whose main goal may be closing the sale, rather than finding the system that can accomplish your objectives within your budget. Further, new vendors and new products are being launched so quickly that it can be very difficult to keep up with the growing number of choices available. A reputable consultant is invaluable when it comes to helping you identify the requirements that are specific to your organization. Armed with that information, a skilled consultant can help identify available systems and provide unbiased assessments of their relative strengths and weaknesses. Many professionals also offer valuable services related to implementation and customization and enhancements. A consultant is like an essential, yet temporary, coach or team member who can ensure that your implementation is built on a solid foundation.
Assemble the Stakeholders
The most important step is determining exactly what you need the system to do. It sounds simple, but in reality it is much harder than it seems, which is why it’s crucial to put together a team of stakeholders early in the process and solicit their input about what matters to them, their practice area and, if applicable, their business unit. Don’t forget to add non-lawyers to the team, too – billing coordinators, administrative assistants, and paralegals will likely have different needs than the lawyers and, in many cases, spend more time using the system than the attorneys with whom they work. Synthesizing all of this input and helping narrow the list of possible candidates is another area where an experienced a consultant can help you avoid costly headaches.
Establish a Budget and Set Priorities
Once the team is established, the next steps would be determining a budget and then putting together a project plan. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to do too much at once. Remember, it is extremely unlikely that any solution is going to satisfy all of your department’s needs right out of the gate, so it is important to establish priorities. Put together a list of “must-have” and “like-to-have” features and capabilities. Many of the matter management systems today are modular platforms. In other words, the system may have limited functionality out-of-the-box, but additional software modules can be added to offer even more powerful features. Generally, though, it’s best to start small and set reasonable implementation objectives. Once you’ve had some experience, you’ll be in a better position to determine what enhancements will be necessary.
Having a legal matter management system can result in significant benefits to your legal department, including increased efficiency, better record keeping, enhanced reporting capabilities and even lead to an overall reduction in legal fees and expenses. But selecting the system that meets your department’s needs and budget can be a daunting task. Yet, the process can be more easily managed if you seek unbiased outside expertise to guide you through the process, assemble a broad team to help determine what you need, establish (and stick to) a budget, then develop a reasonable multiple-phase project plan to implement the system.
- Consult an Expert
- Assemble the Stakeholders
- Establish a Budget and Set Priorities