Law firms rarely change their PMS, doing so on average about every 15 to 20 years, and rightly so as the cost and effort involved is substantial. Furthermore, a firm can expect such a project to distract from the day-to-day operation of the firm and there will be disruption to the business as staff learn the new system and while enhancements and bespoke developments are undertaken.

The infrequency of such projects also means that firms are likely to be unfamiliar with changes in the PMS marketplace and may not have staff with the skillsets required to undertake such a project.

The impetus for change

Because of the above it is easy to see why many firms will resist the process of reviewing their current PMS solution and selecting and implementing a new solution. But many firms will soon be in a position where they have little choice as an estimated 60% of the top 200 law firms are on PMS’s which have been end-of-life’d, meaning they will soon receive no further development and/or support from their suppliers. There are no figures available for smaller firms, but it is thought this 60% is indicative of the entire market. Additionally, many firms using systems that are receiving continued support may feel that their PMS is outdated or no longer meets their requirements.

So where to start?

It is always advisable to have a re-look at your current PMS. This is often counter to the usual thinking as it is too easy to blame your current systems for all your problems and to assume a new solution will be a ‘silver bullet’ to a better, more productive and profitable firm. But your current PMS may be a better solution than you think. It is not uncommon for that initial implementation all those years ago to have put in place the basics without ever having moved on to the ‘bells and whistles’. In addition, your current system will undoubtedly have been subject to many upgrades and enhancements, some of which may not have been adopted by your firm. As such, upgrading, adding modules or more training may allow you to get much more out of your current system.

Out with the old, in with the new

Having reviewed your current system, you may decide a change is still required. In this case it is important to understand that the PMS market has changed over the years. A PMS used to be primarily a finance system covering accounts and time recording, with a few other features included such as reporting to a greater or lesser extent. Such ‘best of breed’ or ‘finance only’ systems are still available and may be right for your firm, but they will require the need to use, and possibly integrate with, extra solutions to meet the needs of other business functions. However, many systems these days encompass a comprehensive range of functions such as case management, document management, CRM and marketing, client collaboration tools, etc. These are referred to as ‘single solution’ systems.

Doing the groundwork

Determining whether to undertake a best of breed or single solution strategy will require a detailed analysis of your current requirements – not what you use and do now but what features you require and how you wish to operate in the future. Such analysis will need to include all the functional areas that might be included in a typical single solution system. While not an all-inclusive list this should include finance, risk and compliance, CRM / marketing, matter management, case management, document management, email management, reporting and client collaboration. There will be many other considerations as well such as user interface, IT infrastructure requirements, the migration from your current system and whether you wish to develop the product yourself or rely on the supplier or other resource to do so.

Reap the rewards

Like any major business project, selecting and implementing a PMS system is indeed a daunting task but one which will have been worth doing upon the completion of a well thought out and well-run project. The sooner you start the sooner you can reap the benefits.