The Law Institute of Victoria has this definition of ‘practice management’ – ‘Practice management involves resources, information, education, decisions and actions to enable the provision of professional services to meet the objectives of a business.’ 
In simpler terms, practice management for lawyers is all about running a successful legal practice. Now more than ever before, a legal practice is a business that needs to be competitive and profitable, while providing a professional service that not just satisfies but also delights clients. The Head of Marketing & Brand of DAS UK has recently said that 'Delighting and exceeding your clients' expectations will invariably generate a stronger 'client bond' leading to more retained work, more word-of-mouth referrals and more profit per equity partner.'
We all agree that inefficiencies create dissatisfaction, and inefficiencies are unproductive. This is indeed true in legal practice management. Having to jump through hoops just to find the one transfer form or property certificate you need is frustrating. It disrupts workflow, and it slows you down. And that's bad news. You see, all businesses have workflow. Workflow gets things done. What's more is that your time, effort and energy is much better spent elsewhere, such as on making progress in a transaction, servicing (delighting!) a client, and generating billable work.
In our hearts, we know there is a better way. Nowadays, innovation in technology can be the solution to our problems. The Law Society of New South Wales's 2017 FLIP ('Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession') report shows that innovation can have a great impact on the practice of law. Innovation in legal practice management software certainly can help eliminate inefficiencies.
If you think your practice may be too small to need practice management software, think again. Law Technology Today, published by the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center, gave this example in an article  earlier this year when they explored the topic of practice management software for solo and small firm lawyers - if you have a small firm with lots of paper files, you should assess the risks to your practice if your office caught on fire. Thinking more broadly, if you are manually keeping track of deadlines, or if you are housing documents such as contracts in paper files or if you are scanning them to store on your hard drive, then how can you be sure that you are effectively managing risks, or protecting your data from damage, loss or theft? Technology can be utilised to better manage information, and even help you go paperless, regardless of firm size.
And if you think you don't have the time or the resources to make changes, let's consider whether you actually have time to continue working the way you do now. This is food for thought. Do you physically extract information from different documents in order to create reports for internal use or to provide status updates to clients? Automation is possible with the help of legal practice management software. This can transform and streamline a practice by ensuring every step in the matter cycle is completed on time and error free, billed, audited and tracked with the highest levels of accuracy and compliance.
A recent Lawyers Weekly cover story on the 'rebooting' of the legal profession reported that for law firms, the 'big wins' of embracing technology include increased client retention rates, flexibility and employee satisfaction, together with the ability to offer a more effective and efficient way of doing business. So you want a piece of the 'big wins'. But there are so many legal practice management software out there for lawyers to choose from - how do you choose? Here's a shopping list to help you get started. When looking for legal practice management software, consider the following:
- Does it provide secure storage? Transaction data and client information must be 'parked' securely. This also helps with compliance with record keeping obligations.
- Is there easy access? There is no point storing something securely but it is hard to find when you need it. Instant 24/7 retrieval is the gold standard.
- Is there the ability to share? If you can securely share things such as mortgage documents and settlement figures with whom you wish to collaborate with, then working together towards achieving a common goal (be it service excellence or practice sustainability) is well within reach.
- Can it track? For example, can it act as your virtual assistant and alert you to important dates so you will never miss a deadline? Some practice areas, such as conveyancing, are packed full of tight deadlines. You cannot risk not settling on time - this will be the complete opposite of delighting the client!
- Does it have the reporting capabilities you need? The ability to generate accurate reports is key to many things, including trust accounting - there are stringent laws concerning the receipt, holding and disbursement of money held on behalf of a client or other people in the course of, or in connection with, the provision of legal services.
- Last but definitely not least - does it automate? Let's use the trust accounting example again. Software that has built-in banking workflows to automatically prepare deposits, disbursements and reconciliations so you can manage trust accounts from receipt to disbursement is attractive, and even practitioners who are conservative adopters of technologies will want to implement this practical solution.
A good practice management system is your strategic business partner.
SAI Global is committed to providing our customers with the best technology solutions when it comes to practice management, document management and accounting software. Contact us today to discuss search integration with your current software provider or prospective provider.
 Law Institute of Vitoria Practice Management Advisory Group, December 2016, What is Practice Management? https://www.liv.asn.au/Staying-Informed/General-News/General-News/December-2016/LIV-Practice-Management-Advisory-Group
 Mills, P, Are law firms incapable of delivering a great client experience? LinkedIn January 2016, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/law-firms-listed-customer-service-survey-paul-mills
 Law Society of NSW, March 2017, The Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession - The FLIP Report 2017 , http://www.lawsociety.com.au/cs/groups/public/documents/internetcontent/1272952.pdf
 Law Technology Today, March 2017, Five Steps When Choosing Law Practice Management Software , http://www.lawtechnologytoday.org/2017/03/choosing-law-practice-management-software/