As the legacy case management systems get old and high-volume law firms are tasked with the challenge of finding a new home for their data and a better way forward which will meet their demands to adopt all of the new technology, cloud solutions are coming out to try to meet
that demand. The big questions are:
(1) Can they? and 2) Which of the many case management applications really offer state-of-the-art solutions?
Developed especially for litigation law firms by a high volume personal injury litigation law firm
After many years of IT investment, consultant time and tremendous frustration in not being able to find a case management application that adopted the modern technologies, an experienced litigator took a very unusual step for an attorney – he finally had enough and built his own. I was fortunate enough to get a full 90-minute demo from the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer who are great partners in this continued labor of love they call SmartAdvocate®.
What I found to be most interesting is that instead of only thinking about what new features the law firm needed and what technology they wanted to integrate, all of the collective beliefs of what the law firm could do better, or more efficiently, including incorporated solutions to ensure that those new procedures would be followed from initial intake, all the way through to receiving the settlement check, became SmartAdvocate
The SmartAdvocate system is server based, which is normal for law firms of a certain volume or size. IT requirements, including HIPPA compliance and security standards, are covered with the use of SmartAdvocate. Users can access the program locally from their PC via a browser, which is not available with other complex programs such as Needles, Trialworks, or PCLaw. The latter case management applications require the application to be installed on each PC. With SmartAdvocate all you need is a browser as the application resides solely on a server.
Case Management, Layouts and Menus
When you first look at Smart Advocate it may seem overwhelming. There are menus and fields for every detail so everything can be tracked. However, if you are running a law firm with 20,000 cases or more, there’s little room for error.
Also, once you understand how SmartAdvocate is laid out, it quickly comes together and it will all make sense. Of course, it does because, unlike most of case management systems, SmartAdvocate was designed by attorneys and paralegals for attorneys and paralegals. Everything an attorney and paralegal would want is there and in a location, that makes sense. Access to all your data is a click or 2 away. Data that should be displayed together is. You do not have to go to 5 screens to get information that you want to see all the time. That type of data is all in one place. Additionally, the data on most screens is easily exported into .pdf, Word or Excel formats with just one click.
Both top, and left-hand navigation menus are present so data is just a click away. That is a consistent theme with SmartAdvocate – data is always just a click away. Right-click options provide even more actions for each of the case-specific sections of the database.
Record every possible contact, expert witness, insurance provider and victim with full contact details and merge capabilities so you are able to populate documents with that information as needed. You can quickly email or send any contact text (SMS or MMS) message right from the case as well. As to text messages, everyone assigned to a case is notified by email when a reply to the text message is received. The reply even goes directly into the related case file – no need to manually move the text message from a general folder to the case.
Case details include notes (each with its own, unlimited number of note types), staff assignments, documents, letters, records, a full activity timeline of every addition, deletion and edit performed in the SmartAdvocate case file, and anything else you could imagine. You can also filter notes within the case file by type, status, attorney, specific text in the message and/or employee.
With the level of detail collected, it’s normal to see an active case file with thousands of items in each case. As the CEO stated, creating a vivid image, it “Every time someone breathes on a case, the activity is logged and cannot be deleted.” Sometimes this type of data capture comes in hand, especially if you have a situation of a disgruntled employee who attempts to alter the data.
A pop-up text box appears to message a team member before they can add or change anything in a case file. This locked process requires the user to acknowledge the alert instead of clicking into the case. The creator of the alert must then disable or retire the message, which is also stored in an audit trail for reference. In certain situations, for example, when a client cannot be located and you want to get updated contact information the next time the client calls in, the message appears immediately upon accessing the case file. You cannot continue into the case file until you acknowledge the message, minimizing risk.
Want to see the good, bad, and the ugly? Run a report based on the range of settlement, length of time or what seems to be an unlimited number of other case factors to focus on those that need attention.
Tracking and Audit History
When you have 140 employees servicing tens of thousands of cases, it is physically impossible to manually track their activities. Now you can!
Right-click on any contact’s details and get directions to their location, or get the reverse and give or email them directions to your office. When working with an injury client, SmartAdvocate was designed for simplicity and speed. Send the information they need right away, without hassle for you or them.
Text Message Mastery
It was best stated on our call; “If a client doesn’t answer the phone for a loved one, what makes you think they are going to answer the phone for you!” And, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Get onboard with SMS / Text messaging as a communication option for your clients, or a competing law firm will get to them before you can even pick up the phone.
SmartAdvocate’s texting features are one of the most advanced I’ve seen. Send messages back and forth with prospects and clients. Each message simultaneously sends an all staff email, while recording the message(s) back to the case file.
To take it one step further, SmartAdvocate has built in text message templates for the text messages i.e. “Please call me back as soon as you get this message.” Which includes a signature block for the sender with their name and phone number. SmartAdvocate’s text message system also automatically pulls the name and textable phone number of the person you right-clicked on right into the text message window. This feature you can tell was born out of an everyday necessity to serve clients. SmartAdvocate has other ways it uses text messages and I was given a sneak preview of even more ways SmartAdvocate will be using text before this year is out.
Long before text messaging came along, SmartAdvocate built a template library for every functional area of case management, document preparation and mailings. Notes, documents, emails, even branded envelopes are ready to be merged and printed. Document merging is simple. A plugin for Microsoft Word makes creating document templates a snap. An Outlook plugin permits you to easily add emails and attachments to the case file they belong to and even add document management coding to the email and/or attachments, in whole or individually!
Document Barcoding and Scanning
Create a Case/Document Specific Bar Code and Cover Sheet for mountainous stacks of paper i.e. incoming mail. Place the cover sheet on top of the incoming item and watch the files scan seamlessly into the corresponding matter file. In some cases, like medical records, link directly to the specific medical provider – all without human intervention. Saving hours of time, creates organization and makes it easy for even the largest law firm to go paperless.
Dashboards and Reporting
An impressive area for SmartAdvocate is the built-in Dashboards and Reporting. Whether you have a staff of one or over a hundred staff, letting cases fall thru the cracks or dropping the ball could mean hundreds of thousands if not millions in lost revenue.
SmartAdvocate has over 50 Dashboards allowing you to get great insight into your cases and into your staff performance on many different metrics. Just a few examples.
The Intake Performance Dashboard allows you to see how many cases your office received during a given period of time, which staff member took those intakes, how many of those intakes you wanted to retain, how many you did retain, how many did you keep open for more than 90 days (i.e. quality of the decision-making process to sign the case up in the 1st place) and more. It also breaks down the intakes into case types so you could see if different staff members perform differently for different case types. This is only 1 of 50 or more incredible Dashboards.
An Intake Performance Report by Staff Member provides up to date stats on received, qualified, on hold, processes and more. Find out right away if a team member is falling behind, or needs to be reassigned to a different area of the law firm.
Individual employee reports can be automatically sent via email, daily to give department heads, and managing partners an overview of workload and employees deserving of recognition.
The Dashboards and Reporting I reviewed were for Personal Injury, Medical Malpractice, Nursing Homes, Auto Accident, Mass Tort and other single event cases. As SmartAdvocate is a legal case management software, Dashboards and Reports can be configured for any type of legal practice including defense and insurance practices.
Adoption and Management’s Responsibility
One of my favorite parts of our conversation was discussing product adoption and how to enforce usage as a policy. It was explained that for it to work “It has to be part of the law firm’s culture.” And further explains that it’s up to management to set the right example.
There’s no point in making the investment in a solution like SmartAdvocate unless you are going to go all in. That goes for you, and your staff. A system so powerful can bring tremendous benefits to your business, but it’s up to you to enforce adoption.
Updates and Releases
SmartAdvocate updates happen about three times per year. Each update historically has included between 200-400 and more additions and enhancements. The current update being released this month has over 500 enhancements, most of which are a result of client suggestions. In fact, SmartAdvocate has a button in the SmartAdvocate toolbar where users can make a suggestion and the suggestion goes immediately to the SmartAdvocate development team!! The SmartAdvocate platform is nothing short of enormous in its capabilities, and with clients managing tens of thousands of cases, they are always looking for ways to optimize the system.
So are the folks at SmartAdvocate.
SmartAdvocate has a iPhone, iPad and android app as well as a brand new Client Portal. The Client Portal is configured to update the client on only those types of items the law firm decides. As to those items, the Client Portal will automatically update the clients of those significant matters. This greatly reduces the clients fears that their case is forgotten. It might even greatly increase client referrals from those happy clients!!
Looks Aren’t Everything
I see a lot of “beautiful software” which is fine until that pretty report can’t give you the answers you need. Most case management systems cannot drill down to the granular data you need to effectively run a law firm. SmartAdvocate is a powerhouse, built to work and delivers functionality that it’s users rave about. Similar to software seen in hospitals, the look and feel are functional, not frilly. Get in, get to work and get onto the next case. Because there are thousands that need to be served.
In the end, buying software isn’t just about solving a problem. It’s about building insurance to safeguard and protect the law firm from problems happening. It’s about law firm productivity. It’s about having software that is keeping up with fast-changing technologies. It’s about a software company that listens to its clients and implements their good suggestions – in a timely manner. It’s about software that gets better every year. SmartAdvocate offers all of that and more. SmartAdvocate continues to adapt to meet the challenges of legal consumer demand. It’s no wonder why SmartAdvocate has been adopted by some of the largest law firms in the United States, Canada and Australia.
SmartAdvocate supports all legal practices including plaintiff, defendant, insurance, municipalities.
For more information, and to schedule a demonstration
*Smart Advocate is a supporter of Lex Tech Review, and the annual Legal Technology Buyer’s Guide.