7 Tips to Minimize Pain When Changing Practice Management Software

7 Tips to Minimize Pain When Changing Practice Management Software

Changing practice management systems can have a huge long-term benefit if you have done your homework and chosen the system that best fits your requirements. Click here to see our article on how to choose the best system for you.  

The next part is the actual changeover.  Your software vendors will generally get you to do some things BEFORE going live. They will ask a lot of annoying questions and ask you to “clean your data”.

This all sounds really time-consuming, however, the old adage of “Garbage in, Garbage OUT” is still alive and well! 

I have put together seven tips for you to minimize the pain and downtime when changing practice management systems. You might be frustrated at losing some time at time of cutover, but I can assure you that making a priority around go-live data will be way less time-consuming than trying to retro-fix things later. 

Take the time to work out what you really, really want 

Software vendors will give you a checklist and ask that various things are done.  You may well cringe when you see the questionnaire and put it in the too hard basket, HOWEVER, this is YOUR big OPPORTUNITY to get EXACTLY what you WANT! 

I encourage you to complete all system change questionnaires within the recommended time frames.

If you don’t have the resources in-house to manage the things you are asked to do, pay the money to get a consultant in to drive it for you. Ultimately though, Management and the ultimate users’ needs to get involved to some degree to make sure what is being delivered is what the firm really does want. 

Generally, the implementation consultant will give you a big list of questions and ask for documents that represent your ideal letter template, file note, email template, invoice, trust receipt, trust statement.

This is an awesome opportunity. If you need to take someone offline for a time to collate all of this, it will be time well spent. Workshop the proposed solution internally before giving to the implementation consultant – if all this is right on day one of your new system, the go-live and first few months of your new system will run ever so much more smoothly.

Before submitting your data for conversion to your new system……. 

Tips to Minimize Pain When Changing Practice Management Software

Clean up your data

Things to include in the clean-up of your data are:

Duplicate contacts

Many older systems allow duplicated contacts. Newer systems are used for much more than transacting on a single file and so want to identify unique contacts. I have seen way too many law firms with a new contact opened every time they open a file, even if we have acted for them many times before. Often this is done in ignorance as the office junior who is assigned the file opening task doesn’t know any better.

In this day and age, we have learned a lot more in the conflict checking and marketing arena which is all driven by the integrity of our contact database. The time around the system change is a really good time to clean this up. Most current systems will “choke” on duplicate contacts. If you have already identified your current matters, and are only bringing across the current matters, then the process of removing duplicate contacts will be much less intense.

Client addresses

Often firms want to bring in most of the contact database to assist with conflict searching in the future. The whole of your data that you wish to import to the new system needs to have the State (Province), postcode (zip), and country consistently in the same place. If your existing system has all this in separate fields already that is great! Many early computers didn’t separate out address fields and when prior system conversions were done, much of this data became a mismatch of historical errors.

If your old system doesn’t have a State and postcode in the same fields consistently then you might want to export the data from your old system and clean it in Excel. Your software vendor can generally help here – although it might be for a fee. If you have a lot of work to do here, then you might want to hire a temp or a student to come in for a week or two and undertake this arduous task. Yes, it is painful, but it will greatly enhance the experience in your new system.

Current matters

Be clear about what are current matters. Either:

  •  give the conversion consultant a list of current matters OR
  • Close or archive all matters that are not current

Unbilled WIP

There is no point in bringing into the new system unbilled time fees and disbursements that will never be recovered from a client o This could be achieved by only bringing across unbilled WIP relating to current matters (often the quickest way to choose the good data) or manually writing off the old data.

Dinosaur documents

Look for historic documents and templates that are out of date and no longer serve us. Make sure they are NOT carried into our new system.

Consider ALL your processes

Yes! A change of system will disrupt your business for a short time. Why not maximise the value of this change and review ALL your processes during the conversion time? 

Remember, YOU are the master of your business and your processes are servants to help you achieve your end goals. 

Look at each process and ask: 

  • Why was it set up?
  • Is the process still valid? – does this process still serve us?
  • How could it be of better use to us now?

Be sure to clearly identify those redundant processes that are being done simply because “that is how we have always done it” and modify them in a way that will serve you better. 

Look at all your manual processes: 

  • Am I typing in data that will be stored in my new system (and become a merge field)
  •  Can this be streamlined/automated?

You have the full attention of your go-live consultant – ask as many questions as possible – make full use of them to maximise the benefit of the change you are embarking on. 

Many lawyers have a dozen or three favourite letters or paragraphs they use repeatedly. You have refined these words as you have honed your craft – why not template them – you know them well and you don’t need to type them multiple times every week or month! Your implementation consultant can do this for you or show you how to. 

Balance Financial data

Balance the financial data

When you change systems, you MUST balance the financial data and run all the reports from the old system to substantiate the take-up figures in the new system. Don’t leave this to year-end. 

Doing it as part of the cutover will lessen the pain and drastically reduce the time to balance the two sets of figures. 

As an accountant I could write war and peace on the importance of this step, but I will save you the pain!

Review your skills

You have used Microsoft Word since …………………. Perhaps it is since university days, perhaps it is for the last 10 years. How much of Microsoft Word and Microsoft Outlook do you really know? 

In Microsoft Word do you know about:

  • How to use and modify Styles
  • Headings and table of contents?
  • View document properties? 

  • Change the document author?

  • Use of paragraph markers to troubleshoot issues?

  • Use of tables

  • How to add up in Microsoft Word?

In Microsoft Outlook, do you know how to:

  • Use email templates
  • Set up an out-of-office message
  • How to change your email signature?
  • How to use multiple signatures (eg on for internal email and one for external email)

All attend the intro training

Your software vendor will generally run some intro training – either live or provide videos. Take the time to participate in the timeframe recommended. In this day and age there is a lot more training recorded for you to watch in your own time. This content is valuable – remember the content developers developed this content with your ultimate success in mind, not just because they were bored or had an afternoon to fill! 

You might not feel you have the time to devote the recommended time to learning the new system, but believe me, you will save massive amounts of time in the long run. If you put the requested time aside up front say for a busy lawyer it is 4 hours, I guarantee you will save that time four-fold in the first month of using the new system because you will be so much more efficient in the use of your new system. 

Not only will you give yourself the tools to navigate the new environment, but you will also save yourself from the frustrating experience of not being able to get to the info you need right now for the client on the other end of the phone. 

Get up to speed quickly

Once you have adopted a new system, have a weekly review of learnings. An hour each week for the first month of sharing tips within the team is a good way to keep advancing the efficiency of your use of the new system. 

Remember, every hour you save by using technology better is another hour you can use to produce billable work!


About me

Hi, My name is Karen McDonald, I am a business analyst and accountant with a passion and strong focus on efficient business systems to empower business owners to focus more delivering great value to their clients.

In 2011, I founded Wise Owl Legal Practice Management as a response to seeing so many lawyers caught up with the struggle of old out of date inefficient software. I believe software should lighten your load and empower you to focus on your core mission. As a qualified accountant and tax agent, many of you will know me from my consulting business commenced in 1997, Cascade Consulting Services Pty Ltd (Cascade).

Cascade has helped many businesses, including many law firms, over the last 20+ years, some in the software applications consulting space, others in the accounting and tax practice space as well. Fundamentally in our accounting business, we aim to empower our clients to better run their administration more efficiently; eliminate redundant processes, and understand their finances and lighten the load of compliance.

If you would like to learn more about how I could help your law firm become more efficient, please book a discovery call with me at https://wiseowllegal.com.au/contact/ or contact me at [email protected] or contact me by cell phone / mobile phone at +61 40 999 2317.

Mostly I am in GMT +10 time zone.

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Hello!  I am Karen McDonald, founder of Cascade Accounting & Tax and Wise Owl Legal Practice Management Software.  I have also been referred to as “The Wise Owl” Today I had a law firm client phone up my accounting practice.  Her trust account was out of balance....