At yesterday’s 5th Annual Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (FACL) Conference, Avvy Go and Julian Falconer spoke about mentorship and noted that large firms presumptively have resources that small and solo firms do not.
The future of legal practice management will invariably lie in technological solutions to strategic problems, especially for those with limited resources. I had a private tour earlier this week of the new LexisNexis product launched in Ontario, PCLaw Practice Suite, intended primarily for firms with 1 to 5 lawyers. The platform was developed after years of research and communication with small practitioners to assess and determine their needs.
The interface is clean, simple, customizable, and largely intuitive, and is set up under four tabs:
- My Practice — Daily schedule and deadlines, email administration, and key tasks.
- My Clients — Fast access to client matter details and status, as well as the ability to search and review client matters, related documents, and receivables and trust balances.
- My Business — Complete ability to automate time and fee billing and tracking, personal and firm key performance indicators, current budget, revenue to date, and accounts receivable and payable.
- Practice Guidance — Real-time access to legal and business information across general practice areas, including commentary, checklists and forms, case law, legislation, and professional news.
The practice tab provides an overview of dates and deadlines, and has an interface allowing interoperability with Microsoft Outlook calendars. This tab also has a “current awareness” module that imports RSS feeds. Our readers will find it interesting that one of the default RSS feeds already set up in the system is Slaw. The calendar incorporates a tickler, and will automatically update timelines for projects that require adjustment in an earlier stage of a matter.
The client tab has the ability to import documents in relation to a file, essentially providing an important tool for creating a paperless office. It also allows users to easily docket time for meetings, phone calls, and research, reducing the administrative burden of docketing considerably. This information can then be imported into invoices and updates to keep clients informed of the status of their file.
Client invoices aren’t the only financial documents the system provides. The business tab assists in financial planning and budgeting, including breakdowns for different lawyers. Given the sensitivity of this type of information, it can be protected and provided on a restricted access basis to support staff or individuals who do not need this data.
But the most interesting part of this platform for me is the practice guidance tab. Small firms are often generalist in nature, especially when situated in smaller communities, and need to have competence in very different areas of law. In addition to practice management guidance and support, there is detailed information on business corporation, civil litigation, criminal law, employment law, family law, real estate, sale of a business, and wills and estates. The guidelines in these areas of law also link directly to QuickLaw, and to numerous forms within the practice suite that can be downloaded and completed with relative ease.
Go and Falconer’s comments at FACL were pertinent because they claimed that minority lawyers are disproprtionately represented in discipline proceedings, largely due to lack of support within the bar. We are brilliant at funding the status quo, but not so good at creating the solutions needed to resolve the problem of proper supports for small and solo practitioners.
A commercial product like PCLaw Practice Suite might provide part of the technological solution to the lack of proper mentorship in the profession, and could go a long way to helping small and solo practitioners save time on administrative and research functions, allowing them to be more profitable. It’s certainly worth looking into. And for those practitioners already accustomed with the old PClaw interface, there is an interface option to help with the transition.
LexisNexis is hosting 2-hour sessions discussing how PCLaw Practice Suite can support practice management on December 1, 2011 at 10am and at 2pm. The sessions have been approved for the Substantive Hours of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) required by the Law Society of Upper Canada, but is not accredited for Professionalism hours or for the New Member Requirement.