Software Selection from a Cashier’s Perspective

Published On: November 18, 2013

During my time at The Law Factory I have worked on numerous software packages. I have often seen people from IT departments and software companies write about software but seldom do I see someone who uses the software write about it.

Therefore, this blog will briefly delve into different types of software from the perspective of the user.
The software I will concentrate on is the accounts and case management software.

In my experience, the law firms that move forward with and embrace technology become more productive and also more compliant. The Outcome Focused Regulation from the SRA focuses on systems, making sure that the partners/members are aware of what is going on with their firm at all times. This means that making sure the accounts and case management entries are always fully up to date is paramount. The problem I find is that dated software and dated information retrieval techniques can often hinder this.

There are three things that must link in order to be compliant and to be “in the know” with regard to a firm’s financial stability when changing software:

1. The software changes MUST make life easier for the staff. Not just fee earners but support staff too.
2. The new software must be easy to understand.
3. The new software must be faster than the present system.

In order to get to where you want to be, you need to understand where you are presently. This is the height of importance. So ask yourself these questions:

1. How old is the package that we are using?
2. Is it stored on our server or the cloud?
3. Are we pulling off paper reports or saving them digitally?
4. What system is being used with regard to accounts information? Pink slips? Pieces of paper?
5. Is my cashier often frustrated with the system?
6. What is the support like and how much is the annual maintenance charge? Value for money?
7. How long does it take to get the month-end reports?
8. Are my ledgers ever up to date?

Case Management:
1. Do staff time record properly?
2. Do we ever have to write off WIP due to not keeping control of the time spent on the case?
3. Do we lose hard copies of documents that then need replacing? Sometimes at a cost.
4. How much is our copying bill each month?
5. How much paper do we go through each month?
6. Can we only access a file’s documents by looking through the paper file?
7. Do we lose money by over time recording on fixed fee files?

In my experience I have seen many firms who are asked these questions and either don’t know the answers or have negative responses. This is all due to a lack of control over what is happening in the firm. Think of the software you chose as a portal to the engine room of your firm. For example, if you have a case management package that enables you to easily view a report showing time spent vs. time billed on certain clients, you’ll have a quick spot check of your company’s efficiency. If it’s not where you want it to be, start planning and discussing ways with partner’s/members about what systems can be put in place to help. In my experience, inefficiency is rarely a problem with individual staff members, it’s more to do with the tools they have or have not been given. Staff members need procedures to follow so that they can function in the way the business needs. If everyone is working to the same general procedures it means that everyone is pulling in the same direction. This increases efficiency and in turn, profitability.

So now we need to ascertain what kind of software will help the company in the accounts and case management areas. Some of the questions that need to be asked are:

1. Do I need to have a package that allows us to forward post?
This will allow ledgers to be fully up to date at all times without affecting the month end reports if the current period has not been closed. It also means that errors can be picked up without delay and transaction decisions can be based on the ledger information in real time to help prevent breaches.
2. Do I want the package to be accessible online?
An online or hosted package will mean that when working offsite, the ledgers will be available saving time waiting until you are back in the office.
3. Do I want to keep printing off all of the reports?
Some reports do need to be printed as they need to be signed (unless you have a digital signature). All reports do not need printing. By saving reports to PDF the company will save on stationery and printing costs. It will also mean that the year-end reports can be emailed to the auditors.
4. Would I benefit from having a digital slip system or a slips system that is part of the software?
Slips can get lost and destroyed very easily. Digital slips can be reprinted when required. They are also backed up meaning that all financial source information is safe. Also digital slips are given to the cashier in real time, increasing speed.
5. Do I need a package that’s fast and allows me to access reports to stay compliant?
A package that provides accurate, up-to-date reports means that partners/members/fee earners can take action on ledgers to stay compliant. The most common being the 14 day rule with regard to client to office transfers. The SRA are also looking at profitability which means that accurate profit & loss/balance sheet reports will also be needed at a moment’s notice.

Case Management
1. Do I need a package that is easy and fast to time record on?
A software package that is fast and easy to use will keep the workforce happier. A happy workforce is a more productive one. Also if it is difficult to enter time, staff are less likely to do it promptly, if at all! Take your time to study packages before diving in. Some promise the earth but do not deliver. Also don’t let cost be the only factor in choosing your package. Quite regularly with software, “you get what you pay for!”
2. Do I need a case management package that is integrated with the accounts?
An integrated package means that time is linked to billing. This makes interim billing much easier as the time and unbilled time will always be accurate. Monthly interim billing could be introduced increasing cash-flow.
3. Do I need a system that lets me store documents digitally?
Having digitally stored documents means that the reliance on the paper file is much less. The documents can then be accessed by more than one member of staff. Also if there are any documents like disbursement schedules or bills missing, the cashier can access them too. This will save time bothering fee earners or partners. There is also the argument over whether to go paperless, saving on printing & stationery.
4. Do I need a package that can give me up to date and accurate reports?
Having up to date reports on case management means that efficiency can be monitored. Seeing where time is being lost is really important. Analysing the ratio between time recorded and time billed per department is essential, especially when trying to be a profitable Legal Aid firm where fixed fees are issued on contracts.
5. Do I need a case management package that is online or hosted?
This is especially helpful when needing to access a digital file or a time ledger when working out of the office. Time and digital document storage is often missed if it has to wait until the fee earner is back in the office.

I have noticed that it’s very much about doing things little and often. The easier the software is to use and the more accessible it is, the more compliant and up-to-date the firm is. Partners/members need confidence that their accounts and case management entries are up to date. They need to be able to access reports based on up-to-date information “at the drop of a hat” and having outdated software and slow in-house systems will most certainly prevent this.

In my view, an innovative firm is a successful one.

Alex Simons
Outsourced Accounts Manager
The Law Factory