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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    March 01, 2002

    Technology: Practical Tips for Successful Implementation, Part I: Benefits of Case Management Systems

    In this first of a two-part series on successfully implementing case management systems, learn how educating everyone in your firm about the benefits of such systems - what they are, what they do, how they change workflow and work practices - will help build critical consensus and buy-in from the participants.

    Ross Kodner

    Wisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 75, No. 3, March 2002

    Practical Tips for Successful Implementation, Part I
    Benefits of Case Management Systems

    In this first of a two-part series on successfully implementing case management systems, learn how educating everyone in your firm about the benefits of such systems - what they are, what they do, how they change workflow and work practices - will help build critical consensus and buy-in from the participants.

    Ross KodnerRoss L. Kodner, rkodner@microlaw.com, is a lawyer and founder of Milwaukee's MicroLaw Inc., a legal technology consultancy and systems integrator. He chairs the ABA Law Practice Management Section's Computer & Technology Division and was a member of the ABA Techshow Executive Board from 1997-2001. He is chair of the 2002 Wisconsin Law & Technology Show.

    by Ross L. Kodner

    There is no question that case management systems can literally transform the most disorganized law practices into super-efficient legal services delivery engines. Firms that effectively implement case management software systems consistently report: 1) higher profitability due in part to a reduction of previously wasted nonbillable time spent looking for case information; 2) increased client satisfaction with firm response time to case status-related inquiries; and 3) reduced "aggravation factor" and a related increase in perceived quality of law practice life. Firms that haven't so effectively deployed case management products loudly proclaim them as the bane of their existences, not to mention the culprit responsible for far less money in the firm's coffers. So what are the differences between these two widely varying experience sets? It's all in how you roll it out and integrate it into the firm's workflow.

    The factors that contribute to successful case management rollouts in firms of all sizes include: 1) achieving consensus and buy-in from everyone in the firm; 2) deciding on a case management system; 3) building a planning team; 4) training; 5) documenting your practice flow; and 6) customizing your system to your needs. This first article in a two-part series provides tips on building consensus.

    Get Consensus and "Buy-In" from Each Participant

    Before you ever begin the process of selecting case management software, you need to educate everyone in the firm about exactly what it is, what it does, and how it will change the workflow and work practices. Anticipate the following questions:

    What is a case manager? That is perhaps the easiest issue to address, since the answer is almost literally "a piece of software that does everything." Case management programs can track all sorts of law firm information, including:

    • Case information about each of your matters - everything from party contact info, to counsel, to courts, experts and witnesses, to tracking fact patterns and issues, and case strategies
    • Calendaring, docketing, and tickler systems, as well as to-do list managers
    • Conflict of interest searches -; light years ahead of the time-tested but terrifying method of shouting down the hall, "Yoohoo! Has anyone ever heard of so-and-so?"
    • Case notes, logged as you work your files - instead of endlessly proliferating sticky notes
    • Emails and documents related to your cases - a central source for all work product coming into the firm or flowing out
    • Firm administrative information - as important as tracking client-related matters, since every firm's single most important client is itself
    • Custom information for document assembly - the vast array of information tracked and stored by a case manager can be extracted and flowed into documents
    • Portability of case information - whether via laptop or Palm or Pocket PC, or between main office and branch office or a lawyer's home computer, all the information stored and tracked by the case management system can be accessible to everyone in the firm, from anywhere at any time - fulfilling finally the core idea of the "virtual law practice"

    Why would our firm want a case manager? The answer is found in the responses to the first question about what a case manager is and does. Who wouldn't want those kinds of capabilities in their practices? Who wouldn't want to cut their nonbillable time wasted every day looking for case-related information or documents? Who wouldn't want to answer clients' questions when they call instead of having to return their calls? Who wouldn't want to rapidly generate more routinized documents like client correspondence, releases, motions, pleadings, and settlement agreements with better consistency and quality control? Who wouldn't want to virtually eliminate the stressful situations when one of the lawyers turns the office upside down scrambling to find a paper file?

    Aren't our current programs good enough? Be prepared to address the inevitable question: "We have Outlook/GroupWise/Notes already - aren't those good enough case management programs?" That's like asking, "We have a 40-year-old Radio Flyer wagon with three wheels and a broken handle. Can't we use that as our company car?" It is that dramatic a comparison.

    Generic Versus Modern Case Managers

    The functional chasm between the two classes of software - a "generic" personal information management system like Microsoft Outlook or Novell GroupWise versus a modern case manager like TimeMatters, CaseMaster, or Amicus Attorney - is vast:

    A key issue: case calendaring versus people calendaring. Outlook and most PIMlike (Personal Information Manager) systems can easily only calendar dates by individual people. They simply are not oriented to tracking multiple people who may be working together and who want to see a "case calendar." This lack can waste huge amounts of time. For example, on a major medical malpractice file, you might have one partner in charge, an associate, a paralegal, and the firm's investigator/medical researcher. By associating these four people together in a scheduling group in a program like TimeMatters, Amicus Attorney, or CaseMaster, you can quickly get a case calendar view at any time and see what all four people are doing on the file. This is much faster than comparing four separate calendars.

    Case information tracking. Outlook doesn't track much, but legal case managers track enormous amounts of information, ranging the spectrum of:

    • Related party contact information
    • Court/administrative body info
    • Opposing counsel info
    • Facts of the case
    • A chronology of caserelated events and the case "flow" once the suit is filed
    • A case todo list with a system of sophisticated and impossible-to-ignore "alerts"
    • "Date chaining" capabilities that permit a series of related events to be tied together and automatically counted and posted (for example, using a statute of limitations date as a key date and automatically counting back and posting 1, 7, 30, 60, 90, 180, and 365 day ticklers; or a trial date and counting back all the dates on a typical trial court scheduling order and three ticklers for each). Date chaining can save hours of posting time and reduce manual date miscounting errors. It also has the ability to move the entire "chain" if a trial gets bumped.
    • Conflicts-related items for conflicts searching

    All of this information is easily searchable, printable, Palmable, and so on.

    Document management. While I tend to believe most firms are still better off with separate document management products, there are some helpful capabilities for attaching documents to cases and being able to launch them while looking at, and thinking about, the case being worked on. Such capability doesn't exist with generic personal information managers.

    Conflicts checking. How many small firms have a system for checking for conflicts of interest when a new case is opened that is about as sophisticated as standing out in the hall and yelling, "Anyone ever heard of ABC Corporation?" If there's no answer, the case is accepted because the "conflicts check" is done. In legal case managers, conflicts checking is an incredibly powerful text search system, scouring every scrap of case information in your system, down to the level of individual time slip entries. Generic personal information managers cannot perform the same function.

    Integration with billing systems. Case management systems can integrate with billing systems like TABS, PCLaw Jr., Timeslips, QuickBooks Pro, and so on, for passing client/matter information back and forth and for passing time entries from the case manager to the billing system. Typically, a couple of months of captured time that otherwise would be lost should pay for the entire case management implementation. You also gain efficiencies by reducing duplicative information entry. There is no such functionality with generic personal information managers.

    Easy integration of contact info with your word processor. With case managers, there is relatively easy integration of address/contact info into WordPerfect or Word documents. As an example, my company has long used a set of WP macros. While customized for each firm, the essential core macros are the same - the "Smart Correspondence" macro can pull addresses right from TimeMatters, for example, into Word as part of a process of inserting inside or cc/bcc addresses on correspondence. We haven't been able to accomplish that in any simple way with the Outlook/WordPerfect combination.

    Document assembly - building "smart documents." By using a legal case manager as the perfect repository for assembling routine documents and tracking the mass of information stored, you can integrate with Word or WordPerfect, with or without HotDocs, for comprehensive document assembly. To not do this is utterly illogical for routine documents where little content changes other than the client names, counsel names, captions, and the like.

    Timeline/chronology function. In TimeMatters, for example, this function shows the progress of work on a case and lets you see a pattern or chain of case events, which is incredibly useful. And CaseSoft's new TimeMap is specifically designed for this purpose. For that matter, firms should look at CaseMap also as a more freeform approach to overall knowledge management, of which case management is a subset.

    Synchronizing with laptop/remote systems. The ability in TimeMatters and Amicus Attorney, for example, to send a remote update file to a branch office PC, a mobile lawyer's laptop, or a partner's home PC system via email is nothing short of ingenious.

    It is clear that generic personal information managers like Microsoft Outlook, Novell GroupWise and their genre are not the functional equivalent, or even a suitable replacement for, legal case management systems.

    Get Consensus from Each Team

    The next step is to get consensus on the "team reasons" for implementing the case management software. Smart firm technology committee heads and managing partners anticipate and answer the most important question for everyone in the firm: "What's in it for me?" You must clearly demonstrate the personal benefits of case management software to every class of employee in the firm. Failure to do so will mean that roadblocks will appear, which sometimes may be insurmountable. At best, these obstacles can undermine the success of the project; at worst, they can derail the project and turn it into an expensive disaster. Instead, focus on what makes different people tick and the right "buttons" to push to get the buy-in you seek. Examples include:

    • Partners - bill more time during the same-length workday and make more money
    • Managing Partners - making more money is a good thing, but staying out of trouble is equally important; case managers help lawyers avoid malpractice by making it difficult to miss deadlines and making it easier to keep clients apprised of their case status
    • Associates - respond to clients' and partners' requests faster, which makes you look good
    • Paralegals - respond to clients' and partners' requests faster, which makes you look good and reduces stress
    • Legal Assistants - find everything seemingly instantaneously, which cuts personal stress and increases time available for productive work
    • Firm Administrators - a godsend for tracking otherwise disparate information such as equipment leases and depreciation schedules, tracking lawyer CLE attendance, logging staff vacation time and other human resource information, monitoring legal research subscriptions, tracking equipment maintenance, and so on

    These examples tie into primary concerns of each group of participants in the case management process. Case management satisfies very basic and very motivating needs for everyone in the firm. But typical lawyers or legal assistants will not arrive at this conclusion on their own - they need to be educated and led to see these expected results. Once the revelations occur, you'll be hard-pressed to rein in the enthusiasm everyone will demonstrate.

    NEXT MONTH: The second article in this two-part series will discuss how to choose, train staff for, and use a case management system.




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