Practice Management Systems – Tips for Successful Implementation

You’ve had the beauty parade and been through the procurement process. Now it’s time to make sure your carefully selected practice management system (PMS) can deliver on all that it promises.

Martin Kay, PMS project management specialist at Lights-On Consulting and former in-house project manager at Burges Salmon LLP, explains how law firms can ensure their new PMS adds real value from day one.

Envision (formerly LawSoft), Enterprise, Artiion, and Avenue – if your firm is running on any of these PMS platforms you will no doubt be aware that it is approaching ‘end of life’ – in other words that it will no longer be supported by the software provider at some point in the near future.

Whether your PMS is nearing end of life or your firm has made a strategic decision to change/upgrade, procuring and implementing a new system can require deep breaths as well as deep pockets!

Selecting a new practice management system is of course the first part of the jigsaw and many law firms opt to bring in a specialist legal IT consultancy to help with the process, yet neglect the all-important implementation phase.

Getting value from day one

At Lights-On we are regularly called in to help law firms that are struggling to get value from their new technology. They may not be harnessing anywhere near its full functionality nor getting it to fit with their working practices.

In our experience, law firms can often rely too heavily on the vendor’s project management team, which means they can end up working to an implementation agenda that is not in line with their firm’s commercial or operational objectives. This isn’t a reflection on suppliers, it’s just that many suppliers don’t expect to be managing the client’s activities – only their own.

The tough truth is that implementation will almost inevitably take more time and more resource than you expect. It is also the stage at which buy-in from partners and staff can be won or lost – those early experiences of the PMS are incredibly important. You need to be able to record time, create documents, produce bills, collect cash – and all from day one.

Top tips for successful implementation

So how do you take your PMS from successful selection to successful implementation?

  1. Get the right team in place. You will need representatives from across the firm, including fee earning and secretarial reps, finance, IT, marketing, compliance, training/learning and development, knowledge management and administration. It goes without saying that the team will need to include a sponsor from within your executive team.
  2. Appoint a project manager. You may have someone internally that can fulfil this role, or you may need to bring in a specialist, such as one of the PMS project managers at Lights-On. A good PMS project manager will keep the implementation project on track and on budget. They will manage your people and resources and, importantly, they will hold the vendors to account and have the difficult conversations that are always needed when momentum is flagging. A PMS project manager also has in-depth knowledge of practice management systems, not just how to run a project. Our PMS project managers at Lights-On are more akin to implementation consultants and can help your finance team get it right too.
  3. Invest in training – as much as you can afford and as varied in styles of delivery to capture all learning styles.
  4. Have a go-live dress rehearsal. You need the system to be working from day one and glitch-free. A dress rehearsal allows you to identify and iron out any problems that arise.
  5. Cancel all social commitments! We are only half-joking here but in the run-up to go-live date there can be many late nights with PMS teams fuelled on takeaway pizza in the office (or plant-based foods if that’s your thing!).
  6. Work closely with the PMS supplier but don’t rely on their project manager alone. He or she will be a very useful resource, but it is important to remember that they are naturally and understandably working to their employers’ agenda – and that may on occasion conflict with yours.
  7. Don’t go live with known multiple problems to fix! Fix them before you go live! (This is where the late nights come in…)

The Lights-On Consulting team has a number of specialists in the selection, procurement and implementation of practice management systems; many of our PMS project managers have in-house experience and an innate understanding of law firm cultures and working practices. Clients turn to us to help steer them through the challenging implementation phase, keeping the project and people on track, and cushioning them from the challenging conversations and negotiations.

For a confidential, no-obligation conversation to kickstart your implementation project please do get in touch.

Martin Kay

Martin Kay

Lights-On Consulting
Martin Kay is an APM & Prince II qualified project manager, bringing 25 years’ experience and substantial legal sector expertise. He is a specialist in the implementation of legal practice management systems and associated applications such as time management and workflow solutions. He is also highly experienced across a range of business and IT project change disciplines, particularly in the legal sector.