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Case, Matter and Practice Management SystemsThe Lawyer's Guide to Practice Management System Software

"Case and matter management systems can help the law firm become more productive. It will change the way lawyers work." - Andrew Z. Adkins III

"You can't automate CHAOS." - Andrew Z. Adkins III

"There is no Holy Grail in case management." - Andrew Z. Adkins III

Case and matter management systems are complex software applications that are intended to help the law firm or legal department become more productive. There are dozens of commecially available off-the-shelf systems. Some of these systems are "generic" and intended to work in most law firms and legal departments while others are more specific to a type of law practice, such as Immigration, Bankruptcy, Real Estate, or IP.

Most case and matter management systems are configurable (or "customizable"), meaning you can modify data fields and input screens, calendar functions, reports, and workflow. The idea is that you can modify the system tow ork with different practice groups within the same firm or department. You don't necessarily have to be a computer programmer to make these changes, but you do need to know what you're doing.

Whatever case or matter management system you select, you need to make sure it will work for your law firm and your lawyers. It needs to work in your existing technology environment (Outlook or GroupWise; iManage, OpenText, or Worldox; Blackberry, Palm, iPhone, or Windows Mobile Devices) and it needs to be accessible from a variety of locations.

This is where the Legal Technology Institute can help your law firm or legal department. We've been working with case and matter management systems for more than 20 years and our experience is second to none. We wrote the first book on case management: "Computerized Case Management Systems: Choosing and Implementing the Right Software for You," first published by the ABA Law Practice Management Section in 1999. We also wrote "The Lawyer's Guide to Practice Management System Software," published by the ABA Law Practice Management Section in April 2009.

We have written dozens of articles about computerized case and matter management systems (CMSs). We've also worked with many developers, providing ideas and suggestions to improve the "flow" of information in their systems, as well as the design of the software systems. We offer our expertise online as well as through consultation.

This web site is designed to help law firms and legal departments better understand case, matter, and practice management systems as well as provide them with tools to make the right decision. We've provided several worksheets to help you through this evaluation and selection process. Included are Sample Worksheets such as CMS Request for Proposals and CMS Comparison charts. We've also provided links to CMS articles to help you know and understand not only the CMS functions, but also reviews of CMS software.

If you find any data or information that may be incorrect, please notify us and we will make every effort to correct the errors.


What is the "best" case management system?
I get asked this question a lot. First of all, "There is no Holy Grail in case management." What works well for one firm may not work well for another. You've got to do your homework and "shop" for a case or matter management system, one that works for your firm. Most case and matter management systems do the same basic things (Rolodex/Address Book, Case/Matter Database, Calendaring, Case Diary/Notes, Document Generation, and Reporting). The differences between the systems are in how they handle these various functions and how they interface with your existing technology environment.

The worksheets on this CMS Web site will help you determine what your needs are and what to look for in a case or matter management system. Look at several different systems, compare the "flow" of information between the different CMS functions and how they'll work within your firm or law department. Compare pricing, but don't buy the least expensive just because it is the cheapest.

Whatever system you buy, you'll be able to do some customization - count on it. Whether you do it internally or whether you hire the CMS developer to do it for you will drive the cost. What you want in the long run is a CMS system that works the way your law firm or legal department does.


What is the difference between case management, matter management, and practice management system software?
Good question, another one that I'm often asked. There is definitely confusion in the industry - let me help you understand the differences. First of all, case management system software is typically geared toward litigators, who work on "cases." Matter management system software is typically geared toward law department and/or transactional attorneys; that is, non litigators. The differences between case and matter management systems are usually in how it is marketed toward the profession. Both types of systems can be customized to work in both types of practices; the difference is in how much customization is needed for your law firm or legal department.

Practice management system software combines either case or matter management system software (the "Front Office") with the financial management, or "Back Office" functions. This gives the law firm (law departments rarely bill clients) a total "all-in-one" system from a single developer.


Who installs the case management system?
Depending on the system you purchase, you may have the capability to install the system yourself or utilize your internal IT department staff. Every system is different. Most firms choose to have the CMS developer (or their sales consultant) handle the installation, implementation, customization, and training. The sales consultant usually works with the firm for scheduling the implementation. If you do choose to use a sales consultant, make sure you check references and experience of that particular person.


Who will maintain the case management system?
Depending on the complexity of the system, you may be able to maintain the CMS system internally. If the system is SQL driven, many firms already have other SQL server systems in place and utilize the same person(s) to maintain the CMS system. CMS developers usually release updates several times a year.

By all means, make sure you purchase a maintenance and support agreement from the CMS developer; this is typically 18% - 20% of the software cost. This helps ensure you get the latest updates and receive technical support directly from the developer.


Is there a long learning curve with a case management system?
It depends on the system you purchase and the computer literacy level of those using the system. Computer savvy users may not need any training at all and can use the system "out of the box." However, those users are few and far between. It is worth the investment to have training conducted by the CMS developer or the sales consultant. Everyone receives the same training, which helps in the long run educate all users on how the system works.

Most new users to CMS have a hard time grasping the concept of a "matter centric" desktop as opposed to the "word processing centric" desktop that they are used to. Even though law firms typically do most CMS functions already using different systems, putting it all into one package can, at times, be intimidating. Having a grand overview of the system and comparing to how the firm currently works will play well in the implementation.