Careers in the Legal Industry

Resources for starting and growing your law firm. Guides, articles, software, templates, recommended reading, and more to get your law firm up and running quickly.

Getting Started

So you’ve decided to start your own law firm. Congratulations!

As you ramp up your new practice, you’re likely to realize just how many things there are to set up and manage, things that were simply handled by someone else at your last firm.

Things like technology, billing, document management, and marketing now all fall to you.

We’ve got your back.  In this Starting a Law Firm resource hub, we’ll provide a library of resources to help you start up, manage and grow your law firm.

Essential Software for Starting a Law Firm

So you’ve made the decision to start your own law firm. Maybe you’ve even formed the organization. Now comes the fun part: Setting up the technology infrastructure for your new firm.

At your last firm, all manners of technology and software were just handled for you (for better or for worse). With your new firm, you have both the obligation and the benefit of choosing and implementing the right software for your practice.

Next, we’ll explore 5 technology essentials of starting your law firm:

  1. Billing / Practice Management Software
  2. Document Management Software
  3. Accounting Software
  4. Office & Email
  5. Website

Let’s get started.

1. Practice Management

Whether you plan to build an aggressive firm that does a lot of litigation, or an even-paced, small transactional firm, you’ll need software that you can use to keep track of your clients, contacts, and calendar. This is called Practice Management software, and it serves as the hub of your practice. What is your practice, after all, if not a collection of clients, matters, contacts and appointments. You’ll need some software to track all of that–even if your freshly-minted practice will be just you and your laptop until the end of time.

As you no doubt know, there are tons of choices when it comes to legal practice management software. There are cloud-based solutions, server-based solutions, private clouds, software for big firms, for small firms and everything in between.

In fact, it can be daunting. I frequently advise lawyers that are starting a law firm on how to evaluate, select and implement the right software for their firm all the time. And–I’ve (unfortunately) witnessed law firms waste a lot of time evaluating the wrong solutions. They’ll spend hours poring over one software solution, only to realize later that it doesn’t do accounting, something that was in their must-have list. Or document management. It’s easy to assume that all legal practice management solutions are the same or similar–but you’d be wrong. They vary pretty wildly: Some focus on “front-office” functionality such as calendaring, docketing and managing the particulars of each case. Others focus more on “back-off” functions such as billing, business and trust accounting.

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There are, for argument’s sake, about 10 major Practice Management suites used by law firms today. Or at least–these “big 10” make up 90% or better of the market (the remaining 10 being lesser-known or niche products.) What I do when I advise law firms is to determine, from the list below, which features they need, and which they don’t. Doing this will narrow the list from ten to a short list of one or two. Then–you can closely evaluate these few, and ultimately arrive at which product is the best fit for you when starting a law firm.

When it comes to starting a law firm, the major components of legal practice management software, from which you’ll want to determine what you need, are:

  • Client & Contact Management (all legal practice management solutions include this)
  • Basic Matter Management (all legal practice management solutions include this)
  • Time Tracking
  • Billing
  • Business Accounting
  • Trust Accounting
  • Basic Calendaring (all legal practice management solutions include this)
  • Rules-based Calendaring / Docketing
  • Form Assembly / Document Assembly
  • Document Management*
  • Case Management by Matter Type (For example: A divorce case, a personal injury case)
  • Client Portal

*Note that many legal practice management applications also purport to include Document Management. This usually involves some exceedingly basic functionality where you can attach or link documents to a matter–and nothing more. By most people’s definition, this is not Document Management, which typically has very robust features for managing your documents, like version management, check-out/check-in, index and search–and more.

Take the list above and circle what you know you need–or will need in the first few years of your practice. That will help you significantly narrow down the list of contenders and allow you to focus your time on closely evaluating those few applications.

2. Document Management

Next up when starting a law firm: Document Management. In my asterisk above, I warned that many Practice Management solutions list “Document Management” as a feature but do very little compared to what a full-fledged Legal Document Management System (DMS) does for you. When starting a law firm its important to identify, very early on, whether or not you’ll need a true DMS.

If the extent of your document management needs are nothing more than a place to store files and organize them with folders: you may not need a fully-featured Document Management System. You may be able to live with a simple file server, cloud-based storage like Dropbox, or even the basic document management features of your chosen Practice Management platform.

So, when starting a law firm – how do you know if you need a full-fledged DMS? This is easy to determine: like our list from earlier, evaluate the list of features and functions below and determine which you’ll need within the first few years of your practice.

  • Document Version Management
  • Index and Search
  • Email Management and Outlook Integration
  • Document Tagging and Profiling
  • Document Change Alerts
  • Integrated OCR
  • Document Check-Out / In
  • Document Deadline Management
  • Scan and Fax Integration
  • File and Folder Permissions

If you need more than a few of these, you won’t find them in Drobox, a file server or your Practice Management solution: You’ll need a true Legal Document Management System.

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There are only a handful of reputable Legal Document Management Systems to look at when starting a law firm. Use our Cloud Storage and Legal Document Management Comparison charts (below) to compare your requirements and against the features offered by each solution.

3. Accounting Software

I list Accounting as its own category here even though I listed it as a potential feature of a Practice Management solution above. Why? Because most Practice Management applications don’t include accounting. Its important to know this fact when starting a law firm, one way or another your new practice will need some form of accounting software.

Most Legal Practice Management suites, cloud-based and server-based, focus on client and matter management, calendaring, time tracking, billing–and stop there. Many integrate with popular accounting software packages (such as QuickBooks) and force you to separate your practice management and finances.

And many lawyers and legal technology professionals like this separation. I don’t. At least not for most law firms. Why?

Because the finances of a business are the business. And your law firm is a business. The economics of your clients and your cases are intrinsically related to the working of that case: from the profitability of any given matter, to the total revenue from any given client, to the remaining trust balance for any given party: your cases and your finances are tied at the hip. To keep them separate is, in my opinion, a bad move.

Add to that: generic accounting software doesn’t do trust/IOLTA accounting, and using QuickBooks or Quicken to manage trust accounts is a huge no-no, according to most state bars. When starting a law firm it’s crucial to know if you’ll be managing trust accounts right away or in the foreseeable future.

For that reason, I council most of my clients to get a Legal Practice Management and Accounting solution in one: A single piece of software that does both. Using the carts I provided above–you’ll be able to quickly identify which include accounting and which don’t.

To be fair, there are probably certain cases where it’s not as vital to have practice management and accounting in the same system. If you plan only to bill flat-fee or contingency, never bill by the hour, and never, ever plan to do any trust accounting, you may be able to get away with separate accounting in its own software. (But even then: Why would you want another piece of software to manage?)

4. Office & Email

Of course, as you’re starting a law firm, you’ll need technology staples like productivity software and email. You have a few options here. Gone are the days of buying Microsoft office in a box at a store and getting email from your local Internet provider.

Today the best (almost only) way to get productivity software and services for documents, spreadsheets, email and the like is via cloud-based and/or subscription-based services. Google G Suite, for instance, includes their Google Drive, Google Docs and Gmail for email. This suite often attracts startups with limited budgets… but avoid the temptation. Google Docs lacks the features and depth of full-blow Microsoft Office (love or hate Microsoft). Add to that: data you store on Google drive may not remain your exclusive property (be sure to read the fine print of the user agreement).

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For most law firms starting out, we recommend Microsoft 365 (formerly known as Office 365). The 365 suite includes:

  • The Microsoft Office suite
  • Exchange Email
  • Microsoft Teams
  • SharePoint
  • OneDrive

You can sign up for an Office 365 account directly with Microsoft, or as part of a broader law firm productivity platform such as Practice Next.

5. Law Firm Website

Last but not least: your shiny new law firm will need a website!

When starting a law firm, it’s important to remember: Your law firm’s website is more than just an online brochure. Yes, its first purpose is to help current and potential clients find you, and to build credibility for your new practice.

But your firm’s website should also be another place where you do business with your clients. Being that your website is an extension of your office (or–all of your office if yours is a virtual office), it should have meaningful ways your clients can interact with you, including:

  • Client Intake: Your website should have an intake page or form where they can contact you and share a little bit about what they need help with.

Practice Management Integration: Ideally, your website’s contact and intake forms will integrate with your Practice Management software. For instance, our own JurisPage web hosting platform integrates with Clio and Rocket Matter; when someone fills out a contact or intake form on your website: A new contact record will be created within your Practice Management software.

  • Client Portal: Many Practice Management solutions include a client portal: A place to share documents, provide case updates, etc. Your website should link to your client portal, making it easy for clients to log in, use it and conduct business with you.
  • Payment Processing: Ideally, your website should also include an easy method to pay their bill. For instance, JurisPage integrates with LawPay, a popular legal payment processor.

And, of course, your website should have the professionalism and polish that you do. Fair or not, potential clients will judge you and your capability based on the look and feel of your website. If you’re a small startup firm: this is a great equalizer: You can exert the same level of prestige and capability as a law firm 100 times your size.

Beyond that, your website should be mobile-friendly and easy to navigate and find what you’re looking for. It should also have a blog or news feed where you can share legal thoughts and insight with your potential clients and your recent announcements.

Closing the Loop

There you have it–the essential software and services you’ll need when starting a law firm. You have many choices for each, but with careful research and understanding exactly what you’ll need (and what you won’t), you’re on the right track to selecting and implementing the right systems for your law firm. Systems that will work for your fledgling firm today and far into the future.

Need Help Starting Your Law Firm?

Give us a call. We’ve helped hundreds of law firms start and grow their law firm. We provide cloud services, legal software, and marketing services to hundreds of small law firms just like yours.

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