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Today, it is common for large law firms to use integrated suites of software that share one database and distribute financial information to attorney and support staff desktops via Web-based technology. Firms require very sophisticated financial systems to accomplish billing, create financial statements, generate reports and perform the cost accounting that can help its professionals analyze financial performance. If you are evaluating financial suites, here are some factors to consider: 1. Integration with practice management software. The average firm’s I.T. department supports more than 100 desktop programs. Firms report that 80 percent of the work product they deliver is produced in just 20 percent of these programs. As such, financial systems must integrate with other key software, such as those addressing new business, case management, timekeeping, expenses, and billing and relationship management. These programs should work together and share a single database from which data can be gathered and used for effective reporting. 2. Web-based technology. Web-based software tools are an invaluable option – they help users access and use vital information from a financial system without an extensive understanding of the software. Web technology also helps users access these functions without having the actual software running on the desktop, which, among other benefits, eliminates a burden for the firm’s I.T. departments. 3. Customization. No two law firms handle new matter intake, routing, approvals and billing exactly alike. Firms want to customize the workflow, appearance and output of their financial systems, and they also want to protect the value of this customization from version to version of the software. The ability to own portable customization � in software that can grow and develop as their businesses grow � is very important to most firms. 4. Scalability. Do you expect rapid growth? Expansion of new practice areas, geographic expansion, and mergers and acquisitions are increasingly common. One indicator of a software’s scalability is the size and nature of the vendor’s client base. Firms expecting rapid growth should choose vendors that have clients with multiple offices, many concurrent users and technology architecture that helps the technology grow as the firm grows. 5. Global capabilities. In a global economy, operating internationally is more the norm than the exception for many large firms. It takes sophisticated software to support global practices and help firms operate efficiently internationally. Look for programs that include support for multiple currencies, multilanguage support and multiple entities. � Matthew DeVoll Eight Questions Finding the right financial management system can be a very stressful experience, especially considering that your firm will most likely have to live with the chosen system for as long as a decade. As you begin your search to find the system that fits your firm’s needs, there are some issues to consider: 1. Have you done a needs assessment? Examine your current procedures and identify any holes or inefficiencies you’d like to see resolved with a new system. Consider overall goals and objectives and list the new system requirements that may arise as a result. For example, will we want secretaries to assist with bill editing? 2. What database? A product built on Microsoft SQL Server 2000 technology is the industry standard and will be a safe bet and affordable for all but very small firms. Avoid systems built on nonstandard technology because there is little guarantee they will be supported in future versions of Microsoft Windows. 3. What size? Look at vendors that specialize in firms of your size. The one-size-fits-all philosophy seldom does. If you are a midsize firm, you may not need the complexity and cost of a large firm system and may pay for bells and whistles that you’ll never use � while adding complexity that could impede productivity. Don’t fall into the trap of buying a system to “keep up with the Joneses” – overkill can be just as ineffective as under-buying. Ask vendors to provide a complete cost estimate over the phone. You’ll avoid sticker shock. 4. Can it customize? Which reports and custom bill formats do you want, and how much are you willing to pay for them? Be sure your software offers graphic bill design tools and integrated “business intelligence” features to help your novice users produce reports and custom billing formats on-the-fly, without custom programming. 5. How will it improve the bottom line? Get concrete answers. Specifically, how will the new system improve your profitability and cash flow? Don’t settle for vague, generic answers. Today’s systems have tools that help your firm analyze profitability at the client, matter and attorney level. Check out collections features: Will they help your firm produce results, not just activity? 6. Have you checked references? Get references from the vendor � and call them. Ask how systems have actually contributed to the bottom line. Get real-life examples, and ask how they measured their return on investment. 7. What add-on features are available? You may not need that conflicts module today – but when you do, will it be readily available in the standard system? Be wary of vendors who require third-party integration for common features, such as docketing or collections. Using multiple vendors increases costs and requires additional training. An integrated product from a single vendor is a safer bet that can extend the longevity of your system. 8. How is service and support? Ask specific questions to your proposed vendor as to how they provide services and support. Are you comfortable with a vendor who will be a “general contractor” with a group of other parties providing conversion services, onsite training and project management? Or do you prefer a vendor that performs all services in-house, providing a single point of contact? What is the typical turn-around time for issue resolution? Again, do your homework. Call the vendor’s references and ask how happy they are with the support staff manning the lines. No matter which system you choose, you’ll need to form a close working relationship with the vendor. Be sure you’ll be happy with the actual people involved. Instead of selecting a vendor, view the process as choosing a partner. � James Hammond DeVoll is vice president, marketing, at Thomson Elite of Los Angeles, and Hammond is president of RainMaker Software Inc., of Blue Bell, Pa.

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