Posts Tagged ‘business planning’

KRONOS – Evaluation Criteria for Software and RocketMatter

I recently engaged in a long conversation with Larry Port of Rocket Matter about the state of software design, and the common disconnect between programmers, marketeers and end users.  It turns out Larry was a specialist in “usability studies” – the new buzz word in software design. He pointed me to TED.  At that time I recalled a series of ABA Techshow and other presentations I made back in 2001 on how legal software should be evaluated. I reproduce my unedited article from 2001 below, with the caveat it is not Web 2.0 aware …. But will in the future revisit some of theses ideas, particularly in a forthcoming review in Technolawyer of RocketMatter.

In evaluating technology, I look for inspiration to the Greeks, and in particular the father of the gods on Mt. Olympus, none other than KRONOS.  I use the following criteria in evaluating all technology:

Keystroke Count. The tool must be easy to use.  A subjective judgment on ease of use can be reduced to an empirical keystroke count.  In comparing similar tools, count the number of keystrokes (or mouse clicks) require to accomplish regular tasks.  The fewer the keystrokes, the better designed the software, and the more likely it will be used properly.

Return on Investment. The tool must pay for itself in increased productivity, improved work product, greater client satisfaction, or more efficient organization and information retention.  Don’t just look at price per seat.  Look at the “total cost of ownership” (equipment requirements, training, support and customization) and compare it to the expected return on investment.

Opulence and Intuitiveness. The tool must be “good looking”.  An ugly interface is often a proxy for poorly designed and thrown together software.  If the developer did not take the time to build an elegant and appealing interface, the developer may also not have taken the time to fully test and debug the software.  Also, if the icons, menus, and screens are not intuitive, you may find yourself spending a fortune on training, and your users may never fully utilize the potential of the software.

Networkability and Integration. The days of stand-alone PC’s are over.  The tool must function in a networked environment, and allow multiple users to access the system simultaneously.  And the tool should be able to communicate with other programs, sharing or exchanging data.

Options and Customization. It should be easy to install software, with a single CD-ROM and a menu of options to allow you to configure the software installation for the requirements of your network/PC.  A good software designer recognizes that each IP practice is unique, and should allow for some degree of customization, whether the addition of custom fields or the ability to modify or add new templates.

Suitability for the Task. The tool must be designed for or configurable for the specific use desired by the practitioner.  A general purpose case manager is a poor substitute for an IP portfolio database.

Deciding on a Practice Management System: The Three Lists Method

By this point, most law firms and businesses have automated to some degree. Few offices still depend on the typewriter and the paper calendar. Word Processors, MS Outlook and some form of billing program can be found in most, if not all, offices.

Lawyers, paralegals and businesses are ready to move to the next level. The most important thing to determine, of course, is which is the most efficient and cost effective move to make.

FROM THE FRONTLINE:

I often receive inquiries that go something like this: “I’m looking for some software for my office. My office has gotten to the point that I really need to get things more organized. It takes forever to find information on a client. It is also taking us far too long to create documents and get them out the door. We’re losing money on client work. In fact, I’m having a hard time keeping track of my billables and I’d really like to get a handle on how long it is taking my staff to do certain tasks and how to speed them up. If possible, I would like to be able to increase my business without having to hire new staff.”

When I hear this, the first thing that springs to mind is that what they are looking for is really three different types of software: (1) Case Management, such as Time Matters, Amicus Attorney or PracticeMaster, to organize their matter data, documents and case notes; (2) Document Assembly software like HotDocs to more quickly create quality controlled documents like Wills and Real Estate Contracts. And (3) a good billing program to track time and invoice clients.  The question that also springs to mind is: “Do they need all of these all at once?”

It is natural to want it all at once. However, the cost f such an implentation and the disruption of a wholesale transformation may undermine the very value of such action. It is far better to prioritize – both areas of frustration and desire. That’s why I always ask my prospects to make three lists.

LIST ONE:I AM SO FRUSTRATED THAT . . .

I ask them to list, in order, the five to ten things that are happening in their office that are driving them up the wall.  For some people, its “I am so frustrated
because when I have a paralegal or a junior attorney create a document, I often spend more time revising it than it would have taken to do it myself.” Or, “I am so frustrated because I have such a hard time tracking phone calls and other items that I know I should be billing.”

LIST TWO:  I WISH I COULD . . .

This is your dream list. These are the things you wish you and your office could do that would make it into the model office of your dreams. Such as “I wish that I had an easy way of accessing, from my desktop, all of the information I need on a client. Then when they call for advice or a case update, I could tell them everything they need to know instantly instead of having to send someone to look for a file and flipping around in it.”

LIST THREE: THERE’S GOT TO BE A BETTER WAY TO . . .

This in some way overlaps with the first two lists and is not completely necessary but it is a good exercise in office psychology and basic venting.  In the heat of the moment, you may cry out “There’s got to be a better way” – to prepare documents for real estate closings, to track estate assets, to communicate with other firms on document changes, etc.

ANALYZING THE RESULTS

Now, put your lists side by side.  Do most of the items have to do with billing, document preparation or general office organization?

  • If most of the entries have to do with billing, start there. Possibly, your greatest need is a well set up billing program like PCLaw, TABS or even Quicken and the services of a specialist in that area.
  • If most of your frustration lies with lack of organization, it might be time to look into a Office/Case Management system, like Time Matter or Amicus Attorney, that can help you organize your data on the computer.
  • On the other hand, if getting any document out the door is a slow and tortuous process, HotDocs might give you the best initial bang for your tech buck.
  • Or, possibly, your biggest issues involve none of the above. Maybe, your greatest area of frustration is computer crashes or other hardware issues and not a software issue at all. In that case, you must address this issue before investing in the newest software.

This is something that I cannot urge too strongly.  Before you invest in any of these great software programs, you need to be aware that they can take a toll on computer memory and performance. Putting wonderful, memory intensive software on a clunky, obsolete computer will only result in additional frustration, software returns and many, many bouts of misdirected cursing.

Use the three lists methods to get a handle on your real tech needs. A ounce of foresight can avoid pounds of future regret.  NOW, you’re ready to give us a call.

Law Practice Management -The Business Plan

Practice management is different from case management; any good business plan should include a strategy for processing leadsPractice management is different from case management. Case management begins once the client is signed up and the case is opened. Law Practice Management begins with at the door, at the web portal, as the auro that surrounds you in your everyday interaction. It is part of everything you do.

Just as you would invest in a product like Time Matters to manage your cases so that you can better serve your clients, get the necessary Time Matters training, retain the requisite Time Matters consultant, so you would wish to invest in growing your practice.

How many of you have written a business plan for your law practice? How many of you have sat down and laid out a P&L for your practice, identifying those areas where you would get the most return on investment.

I know these actions seem to be a thankless task. When you are already plugging away for 60 hours a week and trying to make ends meet, to have so “guru” tell you to take another 10 hours to develop a business plan.

But that is what I am doing. For if you look at your law practice with a critical “business eye” you will see that some of your activities are more “profitable”. You may decide that other activities are more fun (and less profitable), so that you should budget time for those activities.

Any good business plan should include a strategy for processing leads … a formal marketing plan that identifies where those leads are likely to come, and how to best turn those leads into paying (and profitable clients). One area, often overlooked in these plans, which call for fancy web sites, expensive “glossy pamplets” and strategic print adds, is the phone and email. Because the phone and email are perceived as “cheap” they are undervalued as a source of leads by many attorneys.

The phone call

Use Time Matters to log “every phone call”. This will give you a wealth of information and a baseline to determine which phone calls get converted into paying clients. Every call that comes in should be logged, and every called profiled as a contact. If you haven’t check, phone calls are now practically free with unlimited calling time phone plans. And if you get the person on the phone, they will listen for a minute or two.

The email

This mechanism has been most over-rated. The V&*#iag#$ra ads and other tonic sellers have destroyed this as an effective mass marking approach. But if you build up e-Newsletters and have subscribers, you can create an awareness among clients and potential clients of your capabilities. Give them content and they will read. Time Matters lets you track the results of your newsletter campaigns. Take a field and convert it to a check box and label it Newsletter. You can then export a list to a mass emailer (or use a Time Matters groups for the mailing).

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