The do's and dont's of managing matter
Matter management software can streamline and revolutionise your corporate law department. But it needs careful thought and planning before implementation. Penny J Simpson guides you through the process
Matter management (MM) software has evolved significantly during the past few years. Developing from basic databases, they are multifunctional comprehensive management tools that empower the user with information in ways previously not thought possible. As new technologies abound, the industry’s leading software developers add enhanced capabilities that allow law departments to accomplish even more with less effort. Following is a guide to the primary features any given MM software package may offer. It is upon these that you will base much of your selection decision, and the right decision comes down to picking the right combination that works the way you do.The foundation of any MM system, the information captured regarding matters, including matter descriptions, people, organisations and firms involved, budgeting and financial information, establishes the basis for tracking and managing the information. A typical MM system will allow you to relate matters to their various players, and events can be created and managed based on a set of rules that you develop.Usually tied to specific matters, docketing and calendaring allows you to schedule important dates and deadlines relating to your cases. This includes court dates, filing deadlines and event scheduling, such as contract renewal/notification, depositions and discovery.The various software products handle this feature differently, but the basic premise is to allow you to track and manage your outside firms, third-party vendors, and clients based either on individual criteria or as they exist in business relationships with other firms, vendors, clients, matters or events.An important function of a law department involves managing budgets, incoming invoices and routing them through the appropriate approval process for payment. MM software can automate and guide this process. The software can also place the invoice information within quick and easy access for future reference.Most of the products on the market today can link documents directly to a matter, event, invoice or specific entity. Many also feature integration with document management systems such as PC Docs.The true strength of an MM system lies in its capability to allow you to extract more information from the system than you put into it. In the last few years many products have abandoned developing report writers within their systems, instead creating links with third party report writers as the sole source for extracting data from the system. Some systems do provide the ability to develop less complex reports within the system by allowing the user to filter records included in a list and then print the list without having to access a third party report writer.About 50% of the MM systems available today have a timekeeping module included. A recent Altman Weil study (1998 Law Department Performance Measures Survey) showed that in all companies surveyed, less than 15% of corporate law departments track time.By undergoing an MM system selection, you are making important decisions that will have very direct and important impacts on the future of your law department. While execution of this type of project involves many responsibilities and steadfast dedication to the tasks involved, in the end, the rewards will far outweigh the efforts you undertake now. By selecting a new MM system through a clearly defined, objective and systematic approach, your law department will benefit from progressive and advanced technology that will positively affect every aspect of your legal, administrative and financial operations.The system selection process is straightforward, and can be segmented into three phases:
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