Based on what was known many decades ago as ‘time and billing’ systems, the modern practice management system (PMS) qualifies as such because it not only provides all the basic ‘time and billing’ functionality, but also elements of:
- enhanced time capture
- matter costing and pricing
- matter management
- advanced billing
- business intelligence and management information
Such systems might also variously be integrated with the same vendor’s Case Management, Document Management and Client Relationship Management modules, although they should also be able to integrate with such modules from other suppliers to enable you to build the best solution for your firm.
There are a small number of market leading applications in the pure PMS arena for very large international law firms from a small number of vendors, and a larger set of domestic PMS systems from these, and a large range of alternative, vendors.
Procuring a new PMS can be a nightmare both because they are generally the largest system a law firm procures, with the broadest range of functionality then any other application, and because they generally have to integrate with so many other systems.
In relation to the functionality of PMS software, the key issue here is not so much what a PMS does, but how it does it: in other words, can the lawyers actually get to grips with using it in practice?
A good example of this problem is matter costing and pricing – a number of PMS vendors, and other independent vendors, have additional modules to assist partners in this key activity. They provide tools to allow the division of a matter into component parts, the assignment of time and resources against these tasks and the setting of related budgets. Once a matter is costed, it can then be priced, in the full knowledge of the available profit margin. Once the work has started, then other related reporting tools will provide both law firm and client the ability to track progress against budget, and manage the job accordingly – in a way that both meets the clients expectations of timeliness, quality and consistency – as well as the firm’s expectations regarding profit.
The problem is that these operations are highly complex and sophisticated – and the user interfaces currently provided in these areas are proving difficult for lawyers to use, especially as their adoption involve new business management disciplines in which they are not well practised.
We have a wealth of experience in working with many firms of all sizes to select, replace and implement practice management systems, as well as also working with a number of suppliers to assist them in improving their systems for the legal industry.