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10 questions to ask when considering legal software
- Can the platform be customized?
Several legacy practice management products allow you to customize the fields on forms to fit your needs. In the cloud space, however, products can range from rigid to highly-customizable. Some products don’t offer any customization, while a handful of products allow for a limited number of custom fields, and only a few give you the power to completely customize all forms.
When evaluating a legal case management solution, it’s important to consider what’s currently offered and whether there is additional information your firm would need to track on your form. To ensure the software package you’re choosing will provide all the customization your firm needs, compare the fields you currently have in your legacy system to the fields offered in a new software solution.
- Does the program include automated workflow?
Workflow Automation is a game-changer in law firms that utilize the technology correctly. If your firm currently uses workflow automation, or has been looking to utilize workflow automation, it’s important that the new software you’re considering offers robust workflow and trigger functionality. Many cloud-based options sell you on workflow, but in reality, they only offer glorified task list generators. Automated workflows are sure to improve your task management.
- How strong are the calendaring features?
If your firm relies heavily on calendaring, it’s important to evaluate what calendaring functionally a new legal software solution offers. Some of the cloud-based systems publish a calendar to OutlookTM or to GSuiteTM, while others offer a native app to access your calendar. Another area to consider is whether your team uses chain calendar events and reminders—which aren’t always included in software packages. Take into account how your team operates and what so ware will easily adapt to their habits, instead of having your team adjust to a new product.
- How does the platform handle document management?
There are two philosophies when it comes to document management with cloud-based products: internal document management or integrated document management with products like DropBoxTM, OneDriveTM, or NetDocumentsTM. If the practice management product offers internal document management features, it’s important to know if you’ll be able to easily access the documents when you need to. Additionally, consider whether the software offers MicrosoftWordTM add-ins and how much storage space is included. Evaluating these features will help you pick the best document assembly solution for your firm.
- How strong are the billing components?
Billing and cashflow are the lifeline of any firm. The ability to get bills out to clients on time is what allows a firm to remain successful and profitable. Billing is an area where firms make the most assumptions about what a program offers, yet it’s one of the weakest areas for cloud-based systems. A good approach to take is to have the vendor walk you through every step of the billing and invoicing process in their system and consider all the different scenarios your firm may encounter. When going through this process, the features I’ve seen missing the most are at fee billing arrangements, split billing, and payment allocations. Don’t take this piece of the product lightly – it’s a very important part of legal software.
- Does the platform include integrated legal accounting?
There are many legacy systems that include integrated accounting. However, the first wave of cloud-based practice management systems integrated with QuickBooks OnlineTM instead of offering accounting features within the product. While this may work for some firms with a lower volume of accounting work, firms that relied on the powerful integrated accounting capabilities of legacy systems need more than just a QuickBooksTM link. To meet these needs, there are now cloud-based practice management options with integrated accounting, allowing your firm full functionality in the cloud.
- What kind of reporting options are included?
Legacy products tend to have strong reporting capabilities. Legacy products also let users go directly to the database, allowing them to pull the data needed to make reports. Since cloud-based products are housed on servers with multiple clients’ data, many firms no longer have the same database access they’re used to.
Make sure your cloud-based case management software either includes the reports you need, or has a powerful report writer included – otherwise your firm may not get the reports needed to make imperative business decisions and to fairly compensate your employees.
- What integrations does the platform have?
One of the best things about cloud-based products is that they’re extremely easy to integrate with other cloud-based software. When you’re evaluating legal practice management software, consider the other applications your firm currently utilizes or might in the future. Some of the most popular integrations are credit card processors, document management software, and calendar rule software. If these are important components of your firm, make sure to choose a cloud-based solution that’ll make integrating these features easy and painless.
- Can my data be imported?
A favorite selling point of many of the practice management products is a free data conversion. Be careful with this type of option – most firms don’t realize this only includes your matters and clients – not any of your billing data. However, there are cloud-based options that will provide a full historical data import. To avoid going back and forth between two different systems, consider these cloud-based options for a seamless data transition.
- Where is your data stored?
Cloud-based systems store your data one of two ways. Either they host your data with their own infrastructure, or they utilize a third-party like AmazonTM or AzureTM.