5 Challenges Law Firms Face When Upgrading Their Financial Software (and How to Overcome Them) 

Do you recognize yourself in the following story? 

Frustration is building at your firm. Your financial software system just isn’t enough anymore. Reporting is the biggest problem—you can’t get the data sets you need. Without them, you’re locked out of the deeper financial insights that the firm needs at this stage of growth. Something’s got to give. 

If those problems sound familiar, you’re not alone. Even if your firm isn’t ready to make a change just yet, the time to start exploring solutions is now. In this guide, we’ll walk you through five challenges of upgrading law firm financial management software and strategies for addressing each one.  

Challenge #1: Assessing potential platforms is difficult and time-consuming 

Before you start scheduling discovery calls with potential vendors, you’ll have to narrow down the field. Google “best legal practice management software,” however, and you’ll see that G2 (a prominent software review site) lists 161 different platforms. Scouring software websites can be helpful, but it can also be difficult to ascertain what features each platform actually offers.  

Assessing all your options can be overwhelming. At the same time, you need to be thorough when researching a decision that impacts your firm, and its financial health, so profoundly.  

Strategy: Ask your colleagues and network about their real-world experiences. 

Your professional network can be an incredible resource for in-the-trenches advice about which financialt software is right for you. Their experiences are a great supplement to independent research. Ways to reach out include: 

  • Attending bar section meetings and bar events. 
  • Going to professional association events and conferences. 
  • Talking to peers at other law firms that are similar to yours. 
  • Connecting with colleagues inside the firm who have been with other firms. 

You can use this strategy throughout your search. For instance, as you get further along in the process, you can ask potential vendors for examples of how other firms have used their software successfully. Reliable vendors will also be happy to connect you with current customers who can share their views on the software. 

Challenge #2: The process of selecting software diverts resources from revenue-generating activities 

There’s no way around it: changing financial management software means investing time and resources in the process. If your firm doesn’t already have a software committee, you’ll likely need to form one. The hours spent in discovery calls and product demonstrations can add up, and onboarding to a new product also takes time.  

There’s no easy fix for this problem, and the struggle to overcome it leaves many firms stuck with the devil they know. 

Strategy: Quantify the value of the switch so you can compare costs thoughtfully.  

Start by quantifying the costs, as best you can, of staying with your current software. How much work time are you losing to interfaces that are difficult to navigate? Are you missing business opportunities because you lack real-time insights into work allocation and capacity? If your financial controls are insufficient, what risks are being created? Understanding the cost of doing nothing will help you make informed decisions about changes. 

Then, as you evaluate vendors, measure their costs against the value they provide. Is a done-for-you implementation a money-saver compared to the need for extensive in-house IT resources? What level of in-house resources will you need for onboarding? Finally, how robust is the ongoing support—will you receive lots of attention, or be restricted to online DIY resources? Insist that vendors provide enough detail that you can compare apples to apples.  

Challenge #3: Losing historical data during conversion could be devastating 

Your historical data is gold. Some must be retained to meet ethical obligations, for legal reasons, and for operational needs. It’s also a treasure trove for analytics, even if your current software is unable to make full use of it. But firms sometimes struggle to get data out of older systems, and migrating data to the new system can be a tricky (and risky) process. 

Strategy: Start planning for data migration early in the process. 

System vendors may support the firm with data conversion, but it’s important to understand the basics, like where your data is currently stored, which data will be converted, and how far back you’ll need to go to comply with ethical and legal obligations.  

Other issues to work through with potential vendors include: 

  • Prior experience with similar conversions. 
  • How to time the process to avoid interfering with accounting cycles. 
  • How the conversion will be tested and what access you’ll have to the test environment.  
  • Whether you’ll need to run two systems simultaneously for a time and how that process will be managed. 
  • The vendor’s privacy and security measures. 

Challenge #4: The firm could get stuck in a long-term contract that doesn’t meet its changing needs 

It’s common to worry about being tied up in a multi-year contract with a software vendor that’s not right for the firm—especially if you’re in that situation right now with your existing vendor. Given the investment that goes into legal financial management software migration, it’s no surprise that most firms switch products once in a decade, if not less frequently. Technology needs, however, sometimes evolve at a faster rate.  

Strategy: Understand the consequences of early termination (or avoid long-term commitments). 

When you choose a vendor, make sure you understand the length of the commitment, the consequences for early termination (both fees and potential indirect costs to the firm), and how much access you will have to testing environments before you commit. Some vendors offer month-to-month agreements, allowing you to avoid the early-termination problem altogether.  

Challenge #5: People at the firm may be resistant to change 

Software upgrade projects aren’t just technical endeavors: they’re human undertakings. You’ll likely encounter a variety of reactions to the idea of changing your platform. Some people are fearful of any change; some are served well by the current system and see no need for change. Others will embrace the idea enthusiastically. To succeed, you’ll need a critical mass of people who buy into the value of the software and are open to the change. 

Strategy: Manage the change proactively and intentionally  

Change management is necessary for success with any significant shift in law firm processes, culture, or leadership. The same is true for technology transitions. Important elements of change management include: 

  • Communication: Talk about the process early and often. Transparency and a predictable communication cadence can help you build trust with everyone at the firm. 
  • Champions: Most firms use a software committee during procurement, and this group can be a source of change champions who can influence others. 
  • Inclusivity: Change processes should engage both attorneys and professional staff, and reach across practice areas, geographic areas, and personal characteristics. 
  • Involvement: Create opportunities for attorneys and professional staff to participate in the process and experience the value of the new platform for themselves. 
  • Listening: Build in a feedback loop that brings concerns and kudos back to the software committee or other process leaders, and engage openly with issues that arise. 

You’re closer than ever to a better financial software system 

Making the change to a new platform is a major undertaking. The potential benefits of a system that elevates the firm to its next stage of growth, however, can hardly be overstated. With this guide in hand, you’re better prepared to shepherd a successful change.  

Want to learn more? Discover how Orion manages project planning for a seamless transition

Ready to hear how Orion could help your firm? Schedule a product tour with our experts.