How much will you really spend on practice management software?

You’re in the market for a new legal practice management solution for your firm: You scour the web for options, try to determine how the 347 providers that appear in your search are different, sit in on a few demos, and then narrow down your top picks. And then comes the issue of price…

You inevitably learn there are two types of software companies: those who put their pricing on their websites and those who require you to call for a quote. The former is more transparent and the latter is often, well, more annoying, but both are inherently limited and not exactly what you need to understand whether the software will fit within your budget. After all, the price is different from the total cost of ownership.

In addition to subscription price, you will need to determine the associated (and sometimes hidden) costs that may not be as obvious. Generally speaking, these fall under six categories:

1. Hardware

If you’re considering an on-premise solution, you may need to purchase new servers (or in some cases, upgrade your current ones). Depending on the requirements, this can be a significant investment.

If you’re considering a cloud-based solution, you’ll want to make sure that the platform is compatible with both Macs, PCs, Androids and iPhones, or you’ll likely need to purchase new devices for some of your team members.

What to ask:

  • What hardware is needed to use the software?
  • Will my office need on-premise servers or is it cloud-based?
  • Is the software compatible with both Macs and PCs?
  • Is there an app for the platform? If so, can I access all of the same features that I can access through the desktop version?

2. Personnel

With on-premise servers, you will need ongoing maintenance which will inevitably cost you more, often a lot more. Depending on your firm’s current IT structure, you may need to bring in an external consultant with expertise in this area.

In speaking with providers, it’s important to understand what level of support they offer. Many tout an extensive network of consultants who can provide local support of their software, but these consultants come at an additional cost.

What to ask:

  • Do you perform maintenance to the servers or is my team responsible for that?
  • What kind of support is included in my firm’s subscription?

3. Third Party Applications

In looking at the features of various platforms, you’ll want to determine which tools are native to the platform and which are integrations with third-party applications. If the features are part and parcel of an integration, you will need to understand whether you have to maintain a separate subscription with the third party application for full functionality.

We regularly see this with cloud-based providers who say they have legal accounting when, in fact, they have integrations with separate accounting systems. These platforms require that you have an active subscription with an external accounting service (Quickbooks, for example). The subscription is another monthly expense you’ll need to account for in your budget. All of a sudden, your $99/mo subscription is now $129/mo. Depending on the number of third-party applications in the mix, this can get quite expensive, quite quickly.

What to ask:

  • Do any of the integrations you offer require my firm to have a separate subscription with a third party application? If so, how much do these cost (set-up and ongoing fees)?

4. Upgrades

While cloud providers generally update their servers and software on a regular basis, at no extra cost to your firm, this isn’t usually the case with on-premise providers. Typically, these companies will charge you to upgrade the software when new versions are released. With new versions being released every one to two years, upgrades can add up over five to ten years.

What to ask:

  • How often do you release new versions of the software?
  • Are upgrades to new versions included in your subscription cost or is there a fee?
  • What happens if my firm chooses not to upgrade when a new version is released? (Be careful with this one. Providers will often allow you to continue using outdated versions, but support or enhancements of older versions may be limited or non-existent.)

5. Migration

Odds are your firm is already using a legal practice management system or a hodgepodge of applications. Moving your data to a new provider can be costly and, if it isn’t done correctly, the process can be taxing on any firm’s operations. In some cases, a practice management provider may assist with this process, though others outsource the work to external consultants who will bill for the service on an hourly basis.

Beyond the migration of the data, there will inevitably be some customization that is required. Who will set up your firm’s users? Will custom forms be needed or task templates required? Again, most legal practice management providers offer some level of this service but, in most cases, it isn’t free and should be considered during the purchasing process. With some of the more user-friendly options, a member of your team may be able to configure your firm’s account, saving you money.

What to ask:

  • Do you have a specialized migration team to assist with the data migration, or do I have to work with an external consultant?
  • Do you have experience working with firms who have also moved over from _______ (your current provider)?
  • What data are you able to move?
  • How long does the process take and will it result in any downtime for my firm? Downtime is a major expense!
  • Do you perform any kind of data cleansing?

6. Training

Most firms have team members with varying levels of tech-savviness which can pose a unique challenge when adopting new software (especially a legal practice management software that will be used by everyone from the front to back office). This is why the user interface and training programs offered by any potential practice management provider should be thoroughly vetted. In some cases, training may be free but self-taught, and less than ideal for some learners in your office. With more robust solutions, onsite training may be available at an additional cost.

Take time to learn about the options with each vendor and remember that while training may seem like a secondary hurdle, after purchase and migration, it is one of the greatest factors in determining the successful adoption of a new platform.

What to ask:

  • What kind of training do you provide? How much does it cost?
  • What happens if I have a new hire start in a few months?
  • Do you provide any ongoing training for users?
  • How is your interface designed to lessen the learning curve for users?

As you research the many options out there, keep detailed notes on all of these costs. You’ll likely find that most cloud-based providers are less expensive than their on-premise counterparts in that they don’t require costly hardware or regular updates. But it’s important to keep in mind that all cloud solutions aren’t created equal and integrations, limited migration services and poorly designed interfaces can wind up costing your firm a lot more than you think.

At CARET Legal, we know that firms excel with the right tools, the right processes and the right people. We’ve developed an end-to-end cloud-based legal practice management software that doesn’t rely on third-party integrations or require on-premise servers. We’re committed to helping firms streamline workflow, foster collaboration and increase profitability with the power of one solution, one team committed to your success and one monthly bill. Check out our features, schedule a demo and ask your account executive the above questions — we guarantee you will like what you see, hear and, most importantly, experience working with the CARET Legal team.

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