By: Aaron Anderson
What a year!
Thinking back to January of 2020, I would be amazed if anyone would have imagined how different things are in just 12 months. I probably do not even need to reiterate the ways our private, familial, and public lives have been altered for the long term. Along with the other ways our lives have changed, business dynamics have changed dramatically. What does that mean in regards to the practice of law?
COVID has accelerated and forced a large amount of law firms to adopt technological behaviors that have already been steadily growing in the legal landscape.
From adopting Cloud-based (SaaS) solutions for firm management, developing a focus on social media as an avenue for marketing and outreach, to creating remote work solutions for employees, the method and business of law firms is changing from earlier adopters to standard solutions for a majority that practice.
The one facet I would like to discuss today is how firms are adopting case management software as a solution.
WHAT IS CASE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE?
Case Management Software (CMS) are systems that focus on the everyday storing and managing of virtually all client data in a centralized location. This data includes items such as case contact information (from not just clients, but also experts, opposing counsel, and adjusters as an example), case notes, case documents, calendars, emails, and disbursements to name a few. Also, a CMS allows for firms to run reporting and automation (or should) of the overall system and case files.
A CMS platform allows for collaboration from all employees attached to a particular matter, and is an effective method to administer a case through its respective lifecycle. A proficient CMS solution should also allow for creation of documents and case communication from within the software. This information should then be automatically stored in each respective case.
All Case Management Software, however, is not created equally, especially in the field of law. Let’s take a look at one I know very well, SmartAdvocate.
WHAT IS SmartAdvocate Case Management Software?
SmartAdvocate is a dynamic, browser-based Case Management System that is available in both a Server and Cloud version. Both versions function exactly the same, have all the same features, and can be accessed anywhere with an internet connection. Both versions are also accessible via the mobile app, SmartAdvocate Client, compatible for both iOS and Android devices.
SmartAdvocate also functions exactly the same whether you are using a PC or a Mac.
SmartAdvocate is fully integratable, meaning you can “marry” it to other services you may or may not be using (texting, digital signature, medical records retrieval, internet marketing, and intake to name just a few). Integrations are a great way to enhance your system, as they can be added over time and at any time. This allows you to budget around your procurement of these services, or to add these features as they become relevant to your practice.
KEY FEATURES of SmartAdvocate
There are just too many attributes in SmartAdvocate to cover. That being said, I will focus on a few, namely document creation, automation, and reporting, as these are integral to running your practice from a remote perspective.
Generally speaking, documents (whether records, forms, contracts, or correspondence, or countless iterations of these) are the lifeblood of law. Creating these types of documents can be quite time consuming. While some documents need a custom approach, a vast majority are very redundant in nature.
For documents that can be “boilerplated” (i.e. Agreements, Medical Records Requests, Contracts, etc.) SmartAdvocate allows for templates to be generated from the originally created document. How is this done? It’s an efficient and painless process that can be accomplished in just a few steps.
Upon completion of an original document (which is the most inefficient and painful process in this exercise), you first need to add Merge Codes into areas of language that may be case specific. A basic example of a Merge Code would be a client’s name and address.
By highlighting this information, you can then go to the SmartAdvocate Word plugin and select the appropriate merge code.
You repeat this process throughout the respective document and then save. That’s it.
SmartAdvocate literally has thousands of Merge Codes, so there is little to no limitation on how you can structure and customize your document.
Also, in regards to Document Creation, SmartAdvocate allows you to open your Microsoft Office Suite and Adobe Acrobat directly within the system. This is tremendously advantageous as you can create any and all documents from within SmartAdvocate, as opposed to having to create them on your desktop, open your CMS, and save them to the appropriate case.
A basic definition of automation is the introduction of processes to facilitate creation. While a good majority of people think of the manufacturing of goods when they hear the word “automation”, it is also a critical component of technology. That includes software.
Within case management systems, automation functionality varies widely. Some platforms incorporate limited automated features, while others have none at all. SmartAdvocate has a wide array of powerful automated functions and procedures within the system. An example of this is WorkPlans.
WorkPlans automate some of the routine processes of a case, and is best understood as a checklist on steroids, which outlines the order of operations of each case, by case type. No matter where a case stands, your staff will be able to check in and know exactly what the next steps are, ensuring each case is handled in an appropriate and consistent way. When working remotely, this automation of operations helps keep everyone on the same page.
These WorkPlans can be case-type specific (for instance one developed for Automobile Accident cases) as well as process specific (for instance a WorkPlan for Discovery). They can also be used interchangeably (adding a specific Discovery WorkPlan to a specific Automobile Accident Workplan).
Each respective WorkPlan triggers actions, such as generation of documents, tasks, or events-- among a plethora of other features-- as steps are completed through the lifecycle of a particular case.
Another example of automation within a CMS is mass generation. Mass generation allows a user to create templated documents, emails, or texts to as many people as you wish. For instance, let’s say you wanted to send a notice to all of your clients that have Medical Malpractice cases that there is a new paralegal working on their respective matters.
By creating or using an existing template, you could generate a personalized notification to everyone announcing this. You just select the case type (Medical Malpractice), the cases (whether there are just specific ones or all), and hit “Generate”.
Now a personalized document, email, or text is ready to be sent to everyone.
The ability to run reports within a software platform is a commonly overlooked highlight of any good CMS. Reports allow you to crunch data and visualize information from bird’s eye view. Reporting functionality should be robust enough to drill down to the case-specific level as well as all the way up a firm’s entire case load, whether current, historical, or both.
Looking at SmartAdvocate, there are over 60 reports in the system. These reports run the gamut, from Critical Deadline Reports and Client Contact Overdue Reports, to Medical Records Request Reports and Case Statistics Reports.
However, beyond just reports detailing case data, SmartAdvocate also has reports within the system that are aligned with firm and business management. Examples of these types of reports include Advertising/Campaign Spend and ROI, Staff Activity Reports, and Expense Analysis Reports to name just a few.
Plus, SmartAdvocate allows you to subscribe to reports, meaning you can receive any report, via email, on a schedule and frequency you decide.
While business and the world change constantly, there has generally been a natural flow and order to things. That flow has been turned upside down now and in to the foreseeable future.
In my 20+ years of legal technology experience, where I have worked with thousands of firm and attorneys, there is a common “pushback” on technology in general. There are always lighthouse adopters (think of those that line up at the Apple Store the night before a new iPhone is released), but many in legal like things the way they are, and in some respects, the way they always have been. But the paradigm has shifted. To stay competitive, we all need to adapt. SmartAdvocate is the bridge to easily building a stronger foundation for your firm.