It happens every few weeks: someone asks, comments, complains, begs, suggests, or muses about simple law office software. Yes, we know simplicity is good, and yes, we know our own software could be simpler. When looking for simplicity in software, though, don’t expect the software to perform miracles. If you want your software to perform a simple function, then you should expect simple software; on the other hand, if you want your software to perform complex functions with a great deal of intuitiveness and power, then you might have to lower your “simplicity expectations”.
You’ve probably faced the “Rapid Results Ralph” client who has met you at your office and requested a quick resolution to a medical malpractice claim. He wants his day in court, and he expects to have that day within a week. “Don’t worry about all that paperwork. I know what I want to say. Just get that doctor into court next Wednesday, and I’ll let the judge really know what happened.”
We sometimes hear from prospective users (and users) who say similar things about law office management software. Here are some of the kinds of things we’ve heard:
- “I don’t want to bother recording my time.”
- “There should be no need for file numbers.”
- “If a client doesn’t pay the amount invoiced, I just change the amount shown on the bill, to match the amount of the payment.”
- “I don’t care about a receivable amount: just show me what’s in the bank account, and nothing else.”
Life isn’t that simple, in law or in software development. Our own LawStream software has been in continual development for more than fifteen years (longer than most medical malpractice claims), with more than tens thousand hours of development, documentation, testing, debugging, and enhancements. Basic functions are simple (press command-shift-T, key your time code, add some details, and press Enter, if you want to record your time). When added features come into play (multiple rates for timekeeping, specific time values, links to reminders and notes, entry of time for others, edits on date ranges, suggestions for calculated fees, statistics for productivity reports, active timers, and more), the process becomes more complex.
One of the key areas where simplicity is expected, is accounting. You have to appreciate that accounting can be complex, but it doesn’t have to be so complicated that it should be avoided. It might not be on the same level as rocket science or brain surgery, but many attorneys have not developed a healthy respect for the importance of keeping their books in balance. Some are aware of the importance of concepts like “a minus here if there’s a plus there” (a.k.a. debits and credits), but others seem content with a general rough estimate of their finances. We think lawyers should be as careful with their own finances, as they should be with their clients’ finances: you owe it to yourself and your family (and, perhaps, to your bank, auditors and bar association or law society) to keep your books in order. If that means hiring a bookkeeper, or spending some time learning the basics of accounting, then it will be a well-spent investment.