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by Eileen O'Loughlin,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: August 3, 2016

Law firms receive and process an incredible amount of sensitive case and client data through various mediums, such as phone calls, emails and documents. Firms must maintain organization and professionalism when handling this information, or risk losing valuable time and money. Case management software helps law firms handle case and client data more effectively and with less manual effort.

According to our research, over 75 percent of legal professionals say using legal management software has positively impacted organization and workflows, and has increased the firm’s billable hours, as well. However, firms have several variables to consider before purchasing a system, such as breadth of functionality, integrations and deployment options.

We’ve created this guide to help buyers understand case management systems and how they factor into the larger legal software market. In it, we’ll cover:

What Is Legal Case Management Software?
Common Functionality of Case Management Software
Key Purchase Considerations
Market Trends

What Is Legal Case Management Software?

Legal case management software can help law firms automate their daily workflows, such as viewing tasks, tracking billable time and calendaring. This helps firms increase efficiency and maximize revenue, thus growing their business.

Firms can purchase case management software as a stand-alone or “best-of-breed” solution, or as part of a larger practice management platform (whereby case management functionality would be bundled with others, such as legal billing applications or legal document management applications). Typically, practice management solutions handle the entirety of the firm’s business functions—including accounting, reporting and even marketing. Case management systems, on the other hand, focus on the firm’s internal needs regarding the processing and storing of case and client data. The complexity of these systems can vary, as we’ll cover in the section below.

Buyers who purchase stand-alone case management software should ensure the product integrates with other software solutions the firm uses, such as its legal accounting platform or document management system.

Common Functionality of Case Management Software

Legal case management software may include some or all of the following capabilities:

Centralized database Complete with search functionality, access controls and data import/export, legal professionals can easily store and retrieve information on cases—including client contact information, file attachments and email correspondence. They can also share case information with other users who have approved access.
Conflict checking With these systems, users can more easily check for conflicts of interest and statutes of limitations. Users run a search through the database, and the software can automatically scan client/case data and flag potential issues. This helps save time and reduce errors associated with manual methods of checking.
Calendar Users can schedule tasks and appointments, set reminders and view upcoming deadlines and meetings. They can also sync calendars with common email tools, such as Microsoft Outlook.
Time tracking Allows users to easily track and record billable time. Many systems include customization options to accommodate alternative fee arrangements, allowing users to record billable hours based on an hourly, a transactional or a user-defined fee basis.
Task tracking Users can manage to-do lists, assign staff to cases and specific roles and monitor the time spent on tasks to improve workflow efficiency.
Client portal Some systems include a client portal, which more easily allows for and accommodates the secure transfer of case files and client data.
Access to online legal research databases Some platforms connect with legal research services such as Westlaw or LexisNexis. This provides users access to legal materials and services (including primary law, litigation resources and public records).

Key Purchase Considerations

With the expanse of legal solutions on the market, it’s important to keep the following considerations in mind when selecting a system that fits the needs of your firm:

Integration challenges: Integration with other systems was cited as a “major challenge” by 27 percent of users in our 2015 study (linked to above). To combat this issue, firms are encouraged to vet case management systems prior to purchase to determine whether they’re compatible with current accounting and document management programs. Many vendors offer free trial periods, and firms can demo products before buying to ensure the platform supports current business needs and can scale appropriately.

Security concerns: Security is a top priority for both law firms and their clients. Before purchasing a system, consider checking with high-priority clients to see if adding capabilities, such as a client portal, would make them feel more at ease about the security of their data. Client concerns over information safety may also play a role in your firm’s decision between on-premise and cloud-based software (see below).

Deployment considerations: Many cloud-based systems offer enhanced, bank-grade security and encryption services and run daily backups to ensure the safety of client data. However, despite these safety measures, some clients may simply be opposed to having their data stored in the cloud. On-premise solutions allow data to be stored on your firm’s own servers, but also come with higher upfront costs, ongoing maintenance and support fees and typically necessitate on-site IT staff. It’s important to carefully weigh client concerns with firm budgets and needs when choosing a deployment option.

Market Trends

Firms should be aware of the following market trends as they evaluate different case management products:

  • Alternative fee arrangements: As opposed to charging based on a billable hour, some lawyers and/or firms may charge clients based on a collar or fixed fee. As alternative billing models become more commonplace, firms should consider investing in case management software with reporting functionality. This will allow them to track costs associated with tasks, people, etc., more closely.
  • Legal process outsourcing: Outsourcing work to a third-party provider, for example legal research, data collection and other labor-intensive tasks, can help firms decrease costs to clients.
  • Social media used for marketing: Research has shown that reviews sites, such as Yelp, are popular ways of evaluating an attorney prior to meeting. Important information for prospective clients include how many years of experience the attorney has and how past clients have rated the lawyer for quality of service. Specifically, how well the attorney explained their legal options to them.

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