As life continues to return to something-like-normal, business owners are forced to reckon with what business is going to look like in a post-COVID world. While there will still be a place for in-person interaction, many Americans have come to expect the businesses they engage with to provide services that meet them where they are, and according to PwC’s 2021 Remote Work Survey, over 50% of employees would like to continue working remotely at least three days per week.
For many attorneys, these changes in client and employee expectations are the catalyst they’ve needed to make the transition to more modern systems and cloud-based legal practice management solutions, with 61% of respondents to Clio’s 2021 Legal Trends Report saying that they planned to invest more resources in legal practice management solutions.
However, if your firm is still on the fence about making the switch or you are overwhelmed by the prospect of learning new tools, migrating to a new system at the beginning of the year is the best way to ensure a smooth and effective transition.
Following is some of the guidance and considerations we share with attorneys that approach us ready to take the next steps in modernizing their legal practice:
Q. What are advantages to cloud-based tools? A. Cloud-based practice management tools have numerous advantages over their locally-hosted counterparts:
- Enable your team to work from disparate locations in real-time: On local tools, whoever is using it, needs to make sure they are using the most up-to-date version to avoid losing previously-completed work.
- Make it easier for you and your team to stay organized and compliant: When you and your team are working in real-time and always seeing current information, you are able to develop internal processes that help you run a more efficient and effective practice, all while keeping accurate data and staying compliant. Additionally, many of these tools integrate deeply with other cloud-based applications, such as QuickBooks Online, to provide a more seamless back-office workflow.
- Enable better client experiences: One of the common features of most modern legal practice management tools is the focus on client experience. Apps like Clio have features like client-facing portals, integrated scheduling tools, and built-in payment collection, that streamline efficiency for you and make for a better experience for your clients.
- Better data security: You may feel like your office is secure, but the odds of a company like Clio or Intuit losing all of your company data (which is redundantly backed up across multiple physical locations) are much lower than someone stealing your computer or even your office burning down.
- Access the latest features available: While it’s true that nearly all cloud-based tools use a subscription model, the benefit of this is that you always have the latest and greatest features without needing to purchase the newer version and go through time-consuming upgrades.
Q: When is the best time to switch to a new system(s)? A. Technically you can migrate your cloud-based practice management application at any time; however, since your practice manager and accounting system are dependant on each other, there are several reasons the beginning of the year is the best time to change over:
- Most cost-effective: When you switch at the new (fiscal) year, you don’t need to incur the expense of migrating the current year’s data into the new system. For most law firms, their fiscal year coincides with the calendar year. It’s far simpler to merely pull in the necessary data from the prior year (such as closing balances and/or only open client balances) than all of the transaction data from the current year.
- More effective continuity of your data: Not only does closing out a whole year in one system enable you to more easily catch errors and discrepancies, but you don’t need to worry about incorrectly migrating data from one system to another (or migrating incorrect data).
- Easier to manage from an administrative standpoint: From training and prepping your team and clients to actually purchasing and setting up the new tools, being able to plan for a January 1st start allows you to coordinate the transition strategically and effectively.
Q: What can I do to prepare for a smooth transition? A. There are a number of things you can do to prepare for a smooth transition to your new system(s):
- Get buy-in from your team: The most important thing you can do to ensure a pain-free transition is to get buy-in from and manage expectations with your team. We’ve seen the best-intentioned software transitions get derailed because team-members weren’t willing to commit to overcoming the learning curve. Whether you’re trying to get buy-in from a Sr. Partner or a paralegal, I believe there are three things you can do to help things go smoothly:
- Explain why - give your team insight into why you are switching tools, explain the benefits, and help them understand how it will make their life easier and/or better
- Set expectations - clearly outline the what you expect from your team members and make sure they are aware of the timeline you’re working on
- Provide education and support - start providing training on the new system several weeks before you are looking to transition, even considering using the new and old tools concurrently for a short period of time; make sure your team has access someone who is able to provide ongoing support and education after the switch
- Manage expectations with clients: Similarly, you should manage expectations with your clients if the transition will impact them. For example, if you introduce a tool such as Clio for Clients, you may want to have a member of your firm reach out to them via phone or email to make them aware of the change and explain the new process.
- Engage the right partners to help: By bringing in an expert to help your firm navigate the switch to your new system, you can mitigate a lot of the pain-points that can be felt during software transitions. (🚨Shameless Plug Alert!🚨 As Clio Certified Consultants and Intuit Elite ProAdvisors, we’re utilize our expertise in both accounting and legal practice management to provide training, help our customers develop internal processes, and facilitate the actual data migration.)
- Identify the internal team member who will be spearheading the transition: You need to make sure a person in your firm is identified as the point-person and that they understand what the switch will entail, the timeline, and what your processes will look like on your new system. Your teammates will look to this person for help and guidance, so they should feel comfortable either answering your team’s questions or directing them to someone who can.
- Back up your data from the system you're replacing: You should export as comprehensive of a backup as you can from the tool you’re replacing. Alternatively, if exporting a whole backup file isn’t an option, you should be certain to save all of the relevant information as reports and/or .csv files.
- Plan to keep your current software licences for at least a few months post-switch: It’s very possible that as you start in your new system, you will need to reference the previous tool and/or realize there’s some additional data you want to pull in.
- Start planning early: Set your go-live date at least four weeks out (six to eight is ideal), and work backwards from there with your onboarding partner to build your implementation timeline. There are many steps you can take in advance of the transition, such as setting up the initial configurations, training users, and notifying clients, and if you plan ahead, the transition process doesn’t need to be overwhelming.
As a firm that’s been on the forefront of tech advances in both the accounting and legal technology space, we’ve long been advocates of utilizing technology to run more efficient and effective businesses. We’ve seen the positive impact that the right tools and consistent processes can have on a business, and we hope these suggestions will help empower you and your firm to take the next steps in modernizing your legal practice!
Mark Khazanovich is Director of Operations for KORE Accounting Solutions, a future-focused management accounting firm specializing in providing legal professionals and business owners with the data and insights they need to stay compliant and run more profitable businesses.