Most Lawyers, and certainly most practice managers, have now accepted the utility of a software-based case management system, but there have traditionally been two methods for adopting such a system and in this area the debate remains open.

The conventional arguments set the rigidity of a predefined CMS against the opportunity with bespoke development to match your exact working and management procedures and achieve the highest levels of efficiency and quality control.

Should you implement one of the available predefined products or collaborate with developers to design a system according to your own work processes?

The negatives with a bespoke CMS are considered to be its potentially high cost and the length of the development time. There is also the issue that existing products have been tested and used exhaustively whereas with bespoke systems you have to be involved in the testing and bug eradication yourselves, along with the inevitable requirement for ongoing development.

As with most things in the progression of information technology the arguments have been superseded by events. Firstly expectations of CMS functionality continue to grow. As a minimum the CMS should automate the production of forms and these must be mapped to the CMS database. But additionally, and increasingly, automated integration through API’s with third party portals in the cloud provides some of the best time and cost savings. Of course these things can be achieved with bespoke development but this inevitably results in a requirement for an ongoing and considerable development resource. The best of the CMS suppliers have helped to address the limitation of rigidly defined processes by following the trend of designing “Framework” products where changes to the database, the workflows, and the precedents are within your own control.

You may still feel that only your own bespoke CMS can give you the required level of automation or accurately reflect your working processes, but getting the real benefits of IT as it continues to impact on working and business practices in the near and medium term future, will require new skills and more consistent ongoing improvements. Also, regulatory changes and data protection requirements make ever increasing demands on development resources.

In the short term you will probably want to time record or use your CMS through an app on your smartphone or tablet in real time in any location. Effective online marketing and interaction with your clients is now the front line of competition with other Law Firms. Your website needs to integrate with your CMS to encourage and collect new client instructions when they visit the site, including the use of the ubiquitous chatbot. You need to be able to market to potential clients through social media, to include receiving instructions, and subsequent interaction. You will need to provide a client facing portal and a client facing app to improve communication, interaction, and your client’s perception of your firm.

Before too long we will be working and living in an environment where whichever device you are using, phone, tablet, or computer it will be permanently connected and interacting with the cloud as your smartphone does now, this is on the Microsoft roadmap, and the rollout of 5G will help to accelerate this process. An effective CMS can and will use that real time connection across devices and locations to support and manage your work and client communications. Either your own firm or your competitors will leverage AI support to further increase efficiency and provide 24/7 visibility. AI may not currently have the capability to provide legal services, but it will increasingly take over routine functions and processing. It will make your working life easier, provide effective compliance, and keep your clients informed.

The modern and developed CMS can and should avoid being a procedural straight jacket and allow you to work smarter.

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