Ten Most Frequently Asked Legal Technology Questions

Ten Most Frequently Asked Legal Technology Questions

You probably joined TechnoLawyer at least in part because you have legal technology questions. In fact, TechnoLawyer publishes a newsletter called TL Answers entirely devoted to answering questions submitted by TechnoLawyer members.

As a legal technology consultant, I receive many questions from the lawyers and staff at small law firms. While I receive plenty of unique questions, I also receive the same questions. Therefore, in the tradition of the Internet FAQ, this issue of SmallLaw contains the top 10 most frequently asked legal technology questions I receive — and my answers.

1. My Accountant Says I Should Use QuickBooks. Should I?

No. QuickBooks' billing features are not designed for a law firm. These shortcomings will reveal themselves very quickly.

Your accountant wants you to use QuickBooks so that they can use their free accountants' copy to edit your journal entries. If you're using a properly configured integrated accounting package for law firms, your journal will need very few edits.

What your accountant wants is a level of comfort with your books. Put them in touch with your legal technologist. When your accountant learns that your legal accounting software has the functionality of QuickBooks and then some, they'll feel comfortable.

2. If I Implement a Legal-Specific Billing Package Like Tabs3 or PCLaw, Should I Integrate QuickBooks With It?

Still no. If you want to use QuickBooks as your accounting package, you're better off not integrating it with your billing software. The difficulties and challenges far outweigh the benefits. For example, QuickBooks will want to incorporate your trust accounts into your regular books — a big no-no with the ethics rules of virtually all states.

The best choice is to pick a billing product that has integrated accounting. The TL Research Buyer's Guide to Legal Billing Software (free for all TechnoLawyer members) has a chart in Chapter 4 that lists all the products with both billing and accounting.

3. Why Must We Customize Practice Management Software?

Practice management software does not know what you want it to do "out of the box" so to speak. Much like a carpenter uses tools to build a kitchen, legal technologists use practice management software to build infrastructure and workflows for your office. You would not go to a carpenter and expect him to know how you want your kitchen to look and function. Instead, you would meet with the carpenter to hammer out a blueprint. The same is true for how you build infrastructure and workflows for your law firm.

4. What Kind of Servers Should I Put in My Office and How Many?

None and zero. For solo practices and small firms, I have become a proponent of hosting your servers in a secure data facility where dozens of nerds are on call and on-site 24 hours a day. At these facilities, the power never goes out, servers are backed up every minute, and the Internet connection is blazingly fast.

You connect to the servers through thin-client protocols such as Citrix or Remote Desktop Services from any location — your office, your home, a hotel room, the courthouse, a coffee shop, etc. You always operate the same software on the same desktop, interacting with the same people regardless of where you are and regardless of where they are.

5. Will the Software Run on a Mac? Why Not?

I plan to buy a MacBook Air for my next laptop. And I work every day on an iPad. I saw the light and switched to the iPhone three years ago, ditching my Android smartphone that I faithfully stood by for years.

But finding any sort of legal-specific practice management or billing software that runs on OS X is a difficult task. Even Amicus Attorney, which started as a Mac app and which has always had a pretty and intuitive interface as a result, is now available only for Windows.

6. What's the Difference Between Document Management and Practice Management?

Document management is a subset of practice management. Practice management incorporates many aspects of law practice, including calendars, contacts, notes, document assembly, task management, and document management. Most practice management systems have built-in document management capabilities. However, the sophistication varies from product to product.

Law firms that have more intense document management needs or multiple offices should consider a dedicated document management system. These products provide additional functionality such as archiving, automatic document stamping, audit trails and versioning, and more. The TL Research Buyer's Guide to Document Management Systems (also free) lists all the key features of dedicated document management.

7. Why Do I Need to Pay Someone to Help Me Set Up Software or to Train Me?

You don't! And I can get a Last Will and Testament online from Legal Zoom by filling in a few fields. My do-it-yourself Will will be valid. However, I probably won't learn about all my options so it may not serve its intended purpose. On the bright side, at least I'll be dead when all the shortcomings come to life!

By contrast, you'll still be alive and well after you buy legal software, but without the help of an expert it's likely you'll experience buyer's remorse.

8. I'm Leaving a Big Firm and Going Out on My Own. Money Is Tight So What Should I Buy First?

If money is tight, billing software must be your top priority along with email and word processing. Integrated accounting would be my next step, followed closely by practice management/document management.

9. What Is "The Cloud"?

Visible suspended water and other particles in the sky. That is the only definitive answer.

But you're probably asking about the Internet variety. Used in this context, it may refer to accessing all your data from anywhere on any device using a variety of applications. Or it may refer to applications on the web that run in your browser — like ActionStep, Clio, Rocket Matter, and FreshBooks among others. While some prefer these browser- or app-based applications, others prefer to access a remotely hosted desktop of Windows applications (as I discussed in Question 4) such as Tabs3, PracticeMaster, Worldox, etc. (and Microsoft Office) because the latter tend to be more mature and offer a higher level of integration.

Beyond that, if you ask 10 people, you will get 10 answers. Like real clouds, "The Cloud" is a concept that changes daily, if not hourly, making it impossible to pin down.

10. What Is the Difference Between Litigation Support Software and Document Management?

One word: evidence. If the primary use for the documents that you want to organize is evidence in a courtroom, then you want litigation support software to review discovery documents for specific cases.

If instead you want to organize all the documents in your office — pleadings, letters, correspondence, email, outgoing bills, financial statements, etc., then you want a document management either within your practice management system or in dedicated form as discussed above.

Originally appeared in: TechnoLawyer SmallLaw

Published on: October 29, 2013

Paul Purdue

Paul Purdue is what most people would call a nerd and formed Attorney Computer Systems in 1980 with one mission. To help attorneys “Worry Less and Practice More.” Today, Paul and his team do this by selling, implementing, and customizing the technology systems law firms use to run their practice and training the staff on this infrastructure. When Paul is not out saving the world from porous infrastructure, he is tinkering in the recording studio or spending time with his wife, Barb. He also likes playing backgammon on his phone, reading a good book, or otherwise enjoying his empty nest while occasionally inviting his adult children (Katie and Spencer) over to see how quickly they can get on his nerves.