All-in-One Solution or Best of Breed: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
For law firms that want to be competitive, having technology solutions in place is no longer optional. However, firms do have a variety of options when it comes to choosing which type of system they implement.
Weighing those options though can involve a lot of time and more than a few phone calls. To help, we’re going to explore the pros and cons of “all-in-one” legal management products or “single software” (also known as “best-of-breed”) legal management solutions.
All-in-one legal management systems are just what they sound like: a software for both a law firm’s front office and back office provided under a single umbrella.
While products differ from provider to provider, all-in-one legal management solutions typically include functionality for a full range of needs, including:
- client management
- time tracking
- billing and invoicing
- accounts payable
- general ledger
- financial management
- conflict management
- trust accounting
- calendar / docket management
- case management
- client portal
- contact management
- document management
- email management
- records management
For a small firm with limited needs in functionality, an all-in-one solution can provide a one-stop shopping experience. Implementing an all-in-one product is relatively easy and fast. If you go this route, you’re potentially getting more of a “plug and play” solution.
All–in-one solutions are typically designed with a single user interface, which provides consistency across many modules for the user. This can expedite the learning curve and the amount of training required for the users when implementing an all-in-one solution.
Most all-in-one solutions will have tightly maintained integration points throughout the product. Switching between modules, client, contacts, documents can appear more seamless to a user.
Another benefit is when issues or questions arise, there is a single product vendor who can answer questions or resolve issues regarding any part of the legal management software. This can simplify life for law firm administrators who use those tools.
So far, all-in-one solutions sound pretty good, right? Well, there are some potential downsides to putting all of your technology eggs in one basket so to speak.
First, although all-in-one tools can do everything listed above, that doesn’t mean they can do all of them well. While there will be management areas a software excels at, there will be capabilities and functionality that is often limited to the basics. All-in-one tools may be great at case management, but it may not have in-depth financial management feature functionality you need to make a difference in improving your firm’s bottom line. There is very little ability to customize each management system to your firm’s needs because the all-in-one tools tend to be more rigid in the functionality.
Implementing an all-in-one product can be challenging as it touches all aspects of the firm’s technology in one solution. Additionally, some all-in-one solutions may have limited options for customization or limited feature sets because the vendor is trying to address all of the technology needs of the firm with a single solution.
All-in-one software solutions today are not cloud-based and are strictly Windows based solutions. This will create additional upgrade costs for the firm with constant upgrades of both hardware and software. This also will increase the complexity for the vendor of being able to provide updates to the software since these types of solutions will need to be rolled out as an entire suite, touching all aspects of the firm’s technology at one time. In most cases, any customization the firm has paid for has to be redone for any upgrades prior to installing each new version of the software.
All-in-one solutions typically make disaster or business continuance solutions for the firm very costly, and most firms bypass setting up truly sufficient plans to cover for a disaster. Flexibility so users can interact with the files and data they have stored on the firm’s network are not easily accessible with Windows based all-in-one solutions from outside the office, and remote connectivity will most likely require expensive VPN or remote software services (Citrix) to accomplish remote access. Also, these Windows based solutions are not easily accessible from Apple devices or tablets.
If you already have existing technology solutions that are working well for time tracking, billing, or other firm management function, it may not make sense to implement an all-in-one tool because all-in-one tools don’t generally “play well with others.” You get a lot with an all-in-one tool. What you don’t get, in most cases, is the ability for the technology platform to integrate well with other IT solutions your firm is already using. That’s by design, since the all-in-one tool is intended to provide all of your firm’s services under one platform.
Single Software or Best-of-Breed Solutions
Where all-in-one tools provide firms with technology solutions for both front- and back-office needs, best-of-breed solutions tend to focus on specific areas or groupings.
Rather than having the exact same experience as every other firm using the tool, as can be the case with all-in-one products, best-of-breed solutions provide more flexibility and customization to firms. Using a single legal management software can allow firms to implement a tool designed to work for their firm and practice areas, not a off-the-shelf tool that offers only limited flexibility.
Single software tools on the market today have another big benefit over all-in-one options: they are typically designed to interact seamlessly with, and communicate with, other technology solutions a firm may already be using.
What this means in practical terms is that if your firm is already happy with your contact management system, calendar solution, document management system or any other tool already in place, you don’t need to change it. A best-of-breed product can help your systems work together smoothly. This can be an important point in “selling” the new tool to partners, associates and staff who likely are not excited about having to learn to use all-new functionality.
As with all-in-one solutions, best-of-breed tools also generally offer cloud solutions, which help your firm realize cost and resource efficiencies, improve security, keep your firm competitive with technology and serve more clients.
Best-of-breed solutions don’t do everything an all-in-one tool does. What they do is provide your firm with a deeper level of functionality for that specific area of management. Although the name suggests that single software options only do one thing, the reality is that best-of-breed systems can be customized to truly meet a firm’s needs, providing exactly what the law firm needs without paying for extras it doesn’t need or want.
Although firms can also choose to implement a best-of-breed tool using a “plug and play” approach, taking the time to setup or customize the software can help position the firm for greater efficiencies in the future. Because of this, choosing a best-of-breed legal management system may require more of an initial resource commitment than is required when choosing an all-in-one product. There could also be more time spent upfront training everyone in the firm to use the new software. This time doesn’t have to be painful, and it shouldn’t, but it can be time-consuming. You want to ensure that what you’re buying and implementing will truly work for your firm, so it’s important to do it right the first time.
Another aspect to consider is integration points with other software the firm is already utilizing. Best of breed software tends to have a higher cost of integration because it is customizable and can be built to work with your firm’s unique needs. While many consider this to be a long-term investment and worth the one-time cost, that up-front cost can appear intimidating. Remember, the additional cost is offset by the return on your investment since your firm is now able to create and overall technology solution that exceeds any solution an all-in-one system can provide.
And the Winner is…
You already know you need a technology solution that will help your firm be more efficient and competitive. Choosing the right product for your firm will depend on a number of factors. Identify what you need your legal management system to do, and prioritize that list. This will give you a helpful starting point.
An all-in-one product may be a good option for a law firm with just one practice area, or limited needs. For example, a small, solo firm focusing exclusively on estate planning might not have a need for the type of functionality they could get from a best-in-breed product. However, larger firms or firms with multiple practice areas may be better served by choosing a single software or best-of-breed solution. We believe that implementing a best-of-breed legal management system will offer most firms more flexibility and room to grow in the future.
Whatever you ultimately choose, do your research on the front end so you can make an informed decision, and avoid having to change systems because you need more functionality.