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How to (Responsibly) Replace Broken Legal Billing Software

Anna Ni Chiaruain Anna Ni Chiaruain 18/11/2019
How to (Responsibly) Replace Broken Legal Billing Software
Anna Ni Chiaruain Anna Ni Chiaruain 18/11/2019

Diagnosing broken legal billing software is easy. 

You can hear it in the complaints from your law firms.
You can see it in the faces of your finance department.
You can feel it in the morale that’s fading from your team.

So why do suffering companies find it so hard to make a switch?

Sometimes their reluctance stems from practical considerations like:

  • Lack of awareness around alternative solutions
  • Limited budget for software investment
  • Limited resources for managing implementation
  • Limited time for user training 

Just as often, though, the obstacles are personal considerations like:

  • Sunk costs (ex. Training time, consulting services, etc.)
  • Loss of reputation for the original software purchaser(s)
  • Loss of trust in software vendors generally
  • Fear of accidentally exacerbating current problems 

Whatever’s keeping you tied to a subpar system, this primer on safely replacing legal billing software can only help.
 

Part I: Preparing for a Successful Switch

Before we even discuss the attributes and actions you should expect from your new software provider, there are several items to address internally. Any legal department that proceeds without first satisfying the following criteria will immediately put their project at risk.

Universal commitment to change

Every person on your team — from every level of your team — must be on board with a decision to replace your legal billing software. Lingering doubts and disagreements left unaddressed at the beginning will ultimately sink the project in the end. 

So if you do sense resistance, spend more time building the case for how everyone will benefit from change. Even if consensus takes weeks or months to achieve, it could spare you months or years of regret.

Appointed project owner

Once you have group alignment you’ll need to pair it with individual accountability. Placing a single person in this leadership role immediately inspires ownership, eliminates confusion, and raises the standard of performance.  

It’s also a critical first step toward simplifying vendor collaboration. The project owner will be responsible for coordinating internal resources, including obtaining approval on requirements documents and implementation plans.

Clear, complete requirements

Even the best software providers can’t be expected to anticipate every intricacy of your operations. But to prepare an effective implementation plan, that’s exactly the level of knowledge they’ll need upfront. 

From integration requirements to approval workflows, document the traits of your ideal legal billing solution in as much detail as you can. Revising plans mid-project will cost you time, money, and energy you’ll be reluctant to spend.  

Access to SMEs

Replacing legal billing software will require resources that sit well beyond the legal department. You certainly don’t want your attorneys guessing at the compliance considerations of your finance team or access management rules of your IT team. So make sure you have a supporting cast that’s aware of your plans and ready to spring into action when called upon.
 

Part II: Executing a Successful Switch 

With clarity and consensus now achieved, you can start sharing the responsibilities of replacing legal billing software with your chosen vendor. And as you do, make sure your plan passes through each of these key checkpoints. 

Confirming configuration details

This is where product features and customer requirements finally collide. And in most cases, both parties will modify their expectations slightly in the end. A vendor might adapt their roadmap to suit your unexpected use case, for example, while you might remove a certain template from your list of launch-day essentials.  

Once you agree on necessities and priorities, your vendor should translate this consensus into a corresponding statement of work. This should outline how exactly the solution will be tailored to fit your requirements, including the sequence of implementation tasks that will make it a reality. 

It’s also worth noting that you may not immediately have an opinion on every point raised by the vendor — especially if your only experience was with broken legal billing software. So don’t be afraid to ask them for best-practice recommendations. 

Migrating historical data

Perhaps the most frustrating part of broken legal billing software is your knowledge of all the valuable resources now trapped inside it. But while you can’t recoup all the time and money you spent trying to make the technology work for your team, you likely can transfer the data it contains.

Your incoming vendor should help confirm the most practical data export process. Your IT team may already be able to assist with extraction, in which case the vendor can reformat the resulting files as needed. Alternatively, your incoming vendor may have to share its preferred export format along with instructions for your team.

In either case, it’s important to remember that migration is a continuous process. A series of subtle iterations may need to be made before your current and future providers become technically compatible. And migration may need to be repeated throughout the implementation process if your original vendor is still managing active legal matters in the interim.

Integrating everyday systems

One of the primary appeals of a dedicated legal billing platform is its ability to simplify and centralize work. But it still operates within the context of a larger business toolkit.

From the authentication tools that confirm user identities to the accounts payable platforms that transfer funds to your law firms, there are likely several systems you’d like your legal billing software to connect with. It’s important to remember, though, that functional connections can often be forged in several ways. 

Take AP systems, for example. Building a simple email alert capability may be all you need to notify your finance team and issue payments in a timely fashion. At the other end of the spectrum, you may prefer API integrations that allow for instantaneous syncing between your legal billing software in AP system.

Which is the right solution? That will depend on the technical resources at your disposal and the implementation timeline you are committed to. Oftentimes teams elect to launch their new legal billing platform with the simplest integrations enabled and progress to more sophisticated connections over time.

Training (all) users

Success isn’t assured at installation. Both internal administrators and external partners will need proactive education on how to efficiently and effectively use your new legal billing software. 

Comprehensive training should start several weeks before completing the switch, with ongoing sessions scheduled as needed. Internally, key workflows to cover will include matter management, invoice review, and basic reporting. (In-depth analytics training can be deferred since it will be more valuable once several weeks of live data have accrued.)

Law firm user training will typically be less intense considering the narrower range of required workflows. Also, certain firms may already be active and experienced users of the new legal billing platform you’ve selected. Nevertheless, you should start with a standardized memo notifying all your suppliers of the impending switch. 

Depending on how large your panel of law firms is, it may make sense to host online training workshops over the first few months. But to address individual needs on an ongoing basis, your vendor will hopefully step in to offer on-demand support services.