This article is adapted from the
October 15, 1999 issue of the Maryland Bar Associationís
Bar Bulletin, and is reprinted with permission.
Practice with Case Management
By Robert S. McNeill
Drowning in paper? Not enough hours in the day? Canít
find a file when you just need a phone number?
Would you like to deliver higher quality legal services
at less cost, and make your clients happier? Would you
like to be more efficient? More profitable? Lower your
cholesterol? Well, maybe not that last one.
Every law office has a management system, for better or
worse. Sometimes itís planned (everything runs like
clockwork); sometimes itís by default (everything is piled
in the corner of the office). You can use the computer
hardware you probably already have to help you run your
law practice better using these or other law practice
management programs, and manage your:
- Clients and other people with whom you deal.
- Cases and other legal matters.
- Calendar appointments and to-do list.
- File notes.
- Phone messages.
- Legal research.
Any law practice management program should
accomplish several objectives:
You or your staff should enter information only once,
and then use it over and over again. For example, once a
clientís name is entered into the system you should be
able to complete a conflict of interest search, print a
file label, generate a retainer letter, enter billing
information, and post appointments and to-do entries on
the calendar. You should never have to type the clientís
name and address again.
Once the information is in the system, it should be at
everyoneís fingertips. All staff should have computers on
their desks and have a minimal ability to use them.
Finding a phone number should be simple. Changing
information like a name, address, or phone number in one
location should change it everywhere else it appears. How
many times have you dialed an old phone number because the
new number did not get copied to all of the places where
the phone number appeared?
The system should be portable, so that you can take it
with you to the courthouse, a clientís office, a satellite
office, your home, on a laptop computer, a Palm“ device,
or a wide area network. It should exchange information
between these various devices so that changes made at the
courthouse on the Palm device, for example, are
transferred to the system at the office so appointments
can be made without conflicts.
Your staff should be able to create frequently used
documents, like retainer agreements, complaints,
interrogatories, loan agreements, wills, etc., using the
information already in the system and by responding to
short, simple prompts that a staff person can easily
answer. This results in higher quality documents.
Additionally, you should be able to focus on a case and
see everything that is going on at a glance: all
appointments and to-doís everyone connected to the case,
such as the opposing party and attorney, any other cases,
file notes, documents, internal and Internet e-mail
messages, billing records, and Web research results. This
information should be available at your desk with a few
In order to manage your practice better, you should be
able to focus on an attorney or staff member by checking
on his or her to-do list. You should be able to rearrange
the items on the list at any time, add new items, change
existing one to reflect recent developments. You should be
able to track the status of tasks you have delegated to
Moreover, you should be able to focus on a particular
type of to-do, e.g., statute of limitations deadlines, and
see all such deadlines dated within a certain time frame.
You should be able to further filter this by also focusing
on a certain attorney. This process allows any attorney to
see a list of all his or her statute of limitations
deadlines that are due in the next six to 12 months.
You should be able to see the calendar for a particular
person, or group of persons for different date ranges, not
just one day at a time. It should be easy to check othersí
calendars, to schedule meetings with other attorneys or
staff, and to reserve conference rooms.
Additionally, you should be able to enter the standard
appointments, to-doís, and documents that you will need
for a routine case, e.g., a collections case or a
bankruptcy petition, by making only one entry. If the date
entries can be calculated from a single starting date,
then a pattern can be set and the dates of the
appointment, to-do entries, and documents can be entered
automatically. If the starting date changes, e.g., the
court reschedules the trial date, then the system should
revise all of the records and correct the dates that were
The system should be able to list just your clients, or
just your expert witnesses or other category of contacts
at the touch of a button. To this list of people, you
should be able to send letters created by a merge function
so that you can, e.g., send your estate planning clients
notice of a change in the tax law.
Make sure that the system is customizable to your
particular needs. In an estate planning case, you may need
to track the date the clientís will was executed so that
you can send a follow-up letter in case there is a change
in the law. In a collections case, you may need to track
the amount of the debt. The system should show only the
appropriate information for that case.
It should be easy to "slice and dice" the information
in the system. If someone unexpectedly goes on sick leave,
you should be able to take all of that personís to-doís
for the next two weeks that havenít been completed and
transfer them to another individual. Then, if the person
returns from sick leave early, you should be able to
transfer the undone items back to the original staff
The userís ID and password should be required to access
the system, and multiple levels of security should limit
the ability to change certain information. Or, if
information like a trial date is changed, a message should
be sent automatically to the person whose calendar was
Using a practice management program can utilize the
power of the computer to make it easier to retrieve
information about your cases, make performing routine
tasks simpler and faster, reduce your reliance on paper
files, and organize your practice better. This will make
you and your staff more efficient, more productive, and
more profitable. You will be able to provide higher
quality legal services to your clients at less cost.
The cost of these programs, about $150 to $500 per
user, is modest, compared to the gains in productivity you
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