Most family law attorneys understand the four pillars of practice management – calendar and task tracking, docket management, billing, and trust management – but few appreciate how they must work together for maximum efficiency.
By Dr. Rick Kabra, Technology Specialist
Small law firms often struggle with practice management, and that can sink the business. Your success as a family law attorney has at least as much to do with how well you run your office as it does with your knowledge of the law. Although you may understand the four key areas of practice management, if you fail to appreciate how they interconnect and how they relate to law office management software, then you could face failed cases, lost revenue, and even malpractice charges.
The Four Pillars
1. Calendar and Event Tracking seems straightforward, but without a team calendar application, it is difficult to synchronize individual schedules to find time for collaboration within the firm. In addition, without a centralized, matter-oriented tracking system, trying to locate all appointments and events associated with a case is nearly impossible.
2. Docket Control is more than simply noting a court date on a calendar. Missed deadlines are one of the leading sources of malpractice complaints, which is why malpractice insurance companies want attorneys to have robust docket control tools in place.
3. Billing and Collection is the heart of any business. Managing your billing process through accurate invoices, timely billing, and proactive follow-up on unpaid accounts ensures your law firm has a healthy cash flow. Collection can be especially difficult for family law attorneys when clients are going through the financial challenges of divorce.
4. Trust Management is an issue faced by nearly every law firm. Family law practices depend on fee advances (retainers) to secure cash flow, but those monies don’t technically belong to the firm until earned, so they must be kept in trust accounts rather than operating accounts. Rules regarding trust and IOLTA accounts are much more stringent than those covering operating accounts, and the penalties for mistakes are more severe.
Exponential Increase in Efficiency
It’s not enough to perform each of these crucial tasks individually. Imagine a group of people driving a car. One operates the gas, another the brakes, a third the steering, and a fourth looks out the windshield to see what’s ahead. That sounds ridiculous, and yet that’s how practice management works if you don’t coordinate actions among these four areas.
Each practice-management area might work well, but if the components don’t communicate with each other, you will quickly have an organizational disaster on your hands. In addition, all case information has to be associated with the appropriate matter. If you imagine these four areas as making up a wheel as we’ve shown (left), then matter-based organization is the axle that turns the wheel. When anyone looks at a matter, all information related to that matter – filing dates, tasks, billing and trust transactions – should be easily accessible.
Consider some typical practice-management situations faced by a family law practice:
- Docket Control has to work with Calendaring so you can coordinate dozens of activities across multiple attorneys, paralegals and clerks to meet a court filing deadline.
- Calendaring has to work with Billing so that appointments and events automatically move into the billing workflow, and you can be sure your firm bills for every billable activity associated with a matter.
- Billing has to work with Trust Account Management so that if an invoice is paid from a security retainer, then the money is taken only from the matter’s trust account and not any other client funds. Trust and operating account balances are updated appropriately.
- All of this information is linked to the matter so that if the client files a malpractice action against you – a common occurrence in the emotionally charged area of family law – you can immediately prove your innocence by producing a list of all events, appointments, hours, expenses, invoices, payments and other data associated with a specific matter.
A Unified Approach
A unified approach to practice management that embraces each of the four key areas, enhanced by specialized cloud-based law practice management software, will supercharge your law firm’s operations. You will get the convenience of centralized, matter-based organization, the ease of collaboration across team-focused cloud applications, and improved compliance with Bar Association requirements. Your practice will be in a better position to help your clients, and have a competitive advantage over firms that take a piecemeal approach to organization.
The CEO of CosmoLex, Dr. Rick Kabra has years of experience in the legal software industry, catering to the specialized technology needs of small to mid-sized law firms. www.cosmolex.com