Forward Thinking Software & Why it Matters!

Published On: June 10, 2024

We are now a quarter of the way through the 21st century and for many in the legal world this is hard to believe! It doesn’t feel that long ago that all files were dealt with on a fully paper-based system, where emails were something only seen on Tomorrow’s World and everyone paid by cheques and cash!

Now we are approaching 2024, things are a lot different and the expectations of our clients have changed dramatically.

Speed and efficiency are vital in legal practice now. Clients expect issues to be dealt with almost instantaneously. They expect emails to be answered immediately and for funds to be moved quickly. This is all a result of technology moving forward at an incredible rate.

Therefore, software needs to not only keep up with technology trends, but it also needs to start setting them. In legal, the best software packages are the ones that seek out ways to improve as well as anticipate client needs.

The primary client requirements for any matter or transaction are communication and information. Historically, the only way to get any information from a legal professional about your case was to call the practice and speak to them directly. Whilst there is still a requirement for this in certain circumstances, this is a huge undertaking for the firm when extrapolating all the active clients over the number of legal staff and support staff within the firm. It is now the forward-thinking software packages who have identified that this is unnecessary for basic questions about matter progress. The answer therefore is to put the control into the client’s hands by giving them a Stakeholder Portal. This portal allows the client to login and check the position of the file without having to contact the firm. It can also be used as an ongoing means of communication by using task notes as well as automatic update emails every time a task has been completed by the firm. The firm also has the option of sending documentation through the portal for reviewing and signing. This not only hugely increases the efficiency of the firm due to reduced phone calls but also gives the client peace of mind that things are progressing smoothly, and they will be kept updated on an ongoing basis. A Stakeholder portal can also be used for the client to upload ID and the firm to carry out ID checks fully without having to undertake a laborious manual process. 

Forward thinking software also appreciates that choice and flexibility is a huge benefit. The legal market is now in a position where one package cannot undertake absolutely everything required for certain work to be done. It therefore needs to allow for outside integrations and give firms the choice. There are so many types of outside integration that can be useful to a practice and since the practice management system is always the core of any firm, it makes sense to allow this integration to keep the firm efficient and provide the best service to the clients. 

Integrations include:

  • AML Checks, Source of Funds & Onboarding
  • Outside email integration such as Outlook and Gmail
  • Office 365 and Microsoft Exchange 
  • General ledger accounting integration such as Xero
  • Integrations with search providers and other third parties

It is crucial to try and keep everyone in the firm “on-system” to gain the maximum efficiencies. So software that goes a step further to help the firm get organised from the outset is usually the best choice. For example, software that has done the research and already knows the general workflow for certain case types. A standard residential purchase for example has a set of stages/tasks that usually all go in a specific order known as a workflow. With the workflow readily mapped out by the software at the beginning of the matter, the fee earner on the file can easily work through each stage and update their client accordingly. Also having the flexibility to alter things as the case moves on or change things as queries arise is very useful. Workflows do not have to be complicated. Providing all the tasks, contacts and documentation is in one place working through the matter can be very straight forward, even if there are complications along the way. 

Thinking about the back office and accounting function is also not something that can be overlooked by software. After all, every firm needs to have a good accounts department that is reliable. The accounts department itself therefore must be able to rely on the software that it is using. The best software pays special attention to the day-to-day accounting operations and thinks carefully about several things:

  • Compliance with the Accounts Rules
  • Presentation to the user
  • Functionality and ease of use
  • Double entry and how transactions appear on the general ledger
  • Reporting

Legal cashiers aim to have system set up so that the daily entries into the accounts system can be undertaken quickly. This means that the ledger needs to be easy to read and the entries easy to do without unnecessary complication. Also having a system that anticipates what is going to be required on an accounts ledger for a certain area of work is a huge bonus! Take a residential purchase for example. We know that there are certain items that are going to be required on every single one:

  • Searches (environmental/local authority/water) etc.
  • Bankruptcy search fees
  • Office copy Entries
  • Land registration fees
  • Professional charges to the firm itself

Being able to record the cost for these as receivables in advance is a huge advantage, especially when it comes to final billing and the completion statement. It makes reconciliation of the file at the end much easier and ensures that nothing is missed. It also provides a great overview for the fee earner running the matter.

Software that links to Xero and has a link going both ways is also very beneficial. It is certainly helpful when it comes to the payment of client invoices. Considering the complete transaction flow between firm and client will always make things easier for the accounts department. 

Essentially, the whole process becomes much more streamlined: 

  1. Receivables are added at the start of the matter and await billing.
  2. Upon conclusion, the bill is drawn and is synced to Xero and the client is given the option to pay via Xero itself using their payment function. 
  3. Until the bill is paid the matter shows as a debtor on the software and on Xero in the general ledger.
  4. The client pays via Xero, automatically routing through to the software where everything is marked as paid and the debtor is removed.

This process removes a lot of manual input and saves a lot of time. Time the cashier can better spend dealing with reports, budgets, cashflows etc, working on furthering the profitability of the firm.

These are just some of the ways that certain forward-thinking software looks to improve the experience for legal professionals and their clients. We are going to see this level of innovation increase as demands change and as technology improves. The key is to use software at the forefront of this innovation, leading the way!

Alex Simons MAAT
Outsourced Accounts & New Business Manager
The Law Factory LLP