How to Build a Legal Software
With an increasing volume of legal information and its complexity, which 72% percent of workers in the legal industry believe to be the #1 trend nowadays, Legal Software is quite a game-changer.
It helps to keep track of all documentation flow, handle billing, save necessary information about the clients to access it whenever needed, and automate certain parts of the workflow so you can better focus on more important things.
Such benefits are really noticeable when it comes to law firms’ profitability — 68% of those who use legal software report its increase after implementing one. Additionally, 52% even have an income increase.
So, it allows us to say that the correct and effective implementation of such software can significantly improve your workflow. Yet, there are multiple aspects that you should take into account. For instance:
- Whether you need it to be compatible with the currently used software or systems (e.g. a custom CRM system).
- How to shorten the learning curve — teach your workers to use it without spending too much time.
- Maintenance ensuring & others.
Surely, we can’t help you with certain managerial tasks, but we definitely know how to make it easier for you using modern digital tools and will gladly tell you all the details of legal software development!
💼 Custom Development vs. Legal Software Providers
So, there are quite a lot of out-of-the-box legal software solutions that are accessible by subscription. They have a predetermined set of features, a design, and provide you with a server.
So, basically, you sort of install the software just like you do with apps from app stores, create a profile, set it up, and you’re good to go. However, a lot of law firms choose custom software development for many reasons.
In this section, we’ll review a couple of cases when custom legal software might suit you better.
Case # 1: Excessive Functionality
Since ready-made software is intended to cover the needs of as many law firms as possible, their functionality will include more features than you probably need. Yet, you can’t pay for a limited number of features — you buy a whole set of them.
Additionally, if you’ll have some features you don’t need, the software might be too bulky, which damages the convenience.
With custom legal software, you’ll only have features that you need. It can fit your use case better and be more beneficial in the long run.
Case # 2: Limited Functionality
The situation can be completely opposite — legal software providers don’t offer some features that you need.
Even though such companies try to target a wide audience, they’re not likely to offer a really specific feature like animated desktop notification or special parts of the workflow.
Case # 3: 3rd-Party Integrations
In case you already use third-party integrations for finance management, CRM, emailing, IP telephony, or any other function, pre-packaged software might prohibit integration with such providers or offer a limited set of them.
That is so because implementing a 3rd-party integration isn’t as easy as adding a Google extension, for example. Such companies provide their services through APIs and SDKs, which is a code that needs to be integrated into the code of your product.
Thus, for software providers, it means that they’ll need to either do it on their own or give you access to the code, which isn’t what such companies’ services are about.
Custom legal software is fully personalized, which means that you can add or change anything you want at any time. Such an approach provides greater flexibility and allows you to be more prepared for market changes since you can freely adjust your solution to them.
Case # 4: Security
Legal information, obviously, needs to be as private and protected as possible. However, when using software providers, the number of security features is strictly limited to what a provider finds sufficient.
Moreover, it can happen that they’ll comply with regulations to an extent that’s enough to obtain a certificate, yet, not enough to satisfy your demands.
Plus, the server will most likely be shared with other clients of your providers, which increases the exposure to bugs, data leaks, and breaches in the system.
Surely, we’re not saying that 3rd-party legal software is dangerous to use — of course not. It’s just that security is not under your control. In case you want an extra layer of security, you won’t be able to implement it (unless your subscription implies it initially).
With custom software, however, you can add any security feature you want and ready to allocate a budget for.
⚙️ Top Legal Software Features
Custom legal software’s functionality really depends on your specific use case but surely can be generalized. We decided to divide the workflow into several parts and talk about how the software can be useful in each one of them.
# 1: Case Management Flow 📄
The first flow we selected is case management, which is where you’ll have all information on cases you work on. It can include:
- Data about clients like name, contact details, etc.
- Documentation, recordings, lab results, court results — whatever information that relates to the matter.
- Important dates like trials.
- Notes to save additional information, place links to articles, legal acts.
- Assigned attorney & others.
You can also set up email forwarding so that each message that you receive from specific email addresses regarding a case will go directly to the folder with it.
To better navigate through matters, you can create several tabs that will indicate their current status. For example, “Preparation Stage”, “Ongoing”, “Closed”. You can have subtabs in the tabs like “Successful” or “Unsuccessful” for closed matters — whatever is convenient for you.
All these features are parts of other flows that share information with the case management board. Yet, each one of them can have significantly more extended functionality, which we’ll talk about in the next subsections.
# 2: Client Management Flow 😀
Another important flow is client management. Features here are intended to help you store detailed information about each client in one place.
The functionality can include:
- List with customers that can also be divided into groups. Here you can do as you wish and divide them by the status in your law firm, by location, by an assigned attorney, and so on.
- Client profile with detailed personal info (like a photo, full name, age, etc.).
- Contact information (incl. emergency number in case it’s not possible to contact the client).
- Documentation on the client like in case management.
- Chat with the client.
- Client history — their past cases, for example.
It might be a great idea to automate forwarding case updates to a client’s email. Additionally, you can send reminders to clients about important tasks they need to do.
And last but not least, you can add intake forms for clients to fill out all necessary information in detail. Make sure to leave a bar for additional comments so users can write down the information that’s not covered by questions in intake forms.
If you’d like to learn more about managing your client flow, we have an article dedicated to Custom Relationship Management system development:
# 3: Task & Team Management Flow 📅
There are some services that provide APIs for task management functionality, but if you want a custom flow, you might need to add:
- Calendar (shared and private for each customer).
- Task dashboard & task lists that are categorized. The most popular way of doing it is by status, but you do you.
- Group chats and calls for discussions, planning, etc.
- “Add new task” button.
- Feature to assign employees to the task, change their status (like lead counsel, legal assistant, etc.).
- Pre-made reporting forms.
- Attach files and documents to a specific task & others.
Each task can have detailed information like a deadline, people responsible for it, mini-steps to achieve it, a bar for notes, etc.
You can create a tool for generating checklists so that each worker can have all current tasks that are assigned to them on one screen. It can be done by simply placing all tasks that a person is added to their profile.
Additionally, such software is great for organizing teamwork. The functionality can consist out of:
- Employee lists with sufficient information like name, department, contact info.
- Detailed employee profile — personal details, working hours, you can duplicate info from employee lists, etc. If you have remote employees, you can add locations, different time zones, postal codes, and so on.
- Communication tools — video/audio calls, chats, file sharing & others.
# 4: Finance Management Flow 💲
Another important aspect of legal companies’ workflow is finance and billing. Functionality can include:
- Changeable hourly rate and flat fee since different lawyers might have different rates.
- Time tracking. If you charge your clients hourly, it’s important to keep track of the time, which is really easy with an in-built timer.
- Expense tracking. It can include a list of transactions and expenses in cash (separately) with details like date, time, location, amount of money, sender/recipient information, etc.
- Accounting. It can include tax calculation, tax form templates, auto payments, etc.
- Automatic invoicing & customizable invoice templates.
- Different payment options and credit card processing.
- Invoice history.
- Reporting & others.
It might be a good idea to enable various billing options in the legal software. For instance, hourly rate, flat fees, and contingency fee.
You can also enable filtering to easily find whatever you need by date, time, amount of money, and other data. Plus, you can use activity codes that represent different services that your law firm provides to tag the services accordingly.
In case it’s not something that you’re already familiar with, we’d like to tell you that there are two main documents in this sphere that you should pay attention to:
- LEDES (Legal Electronic Data Exchange Standard) provides billing templates for legal companies working with digital invoices.
- And UTBMS codes (Uniform Task-Based Management System Codes), which give each legal activity a code that you need to use when invoicing electronically.
# 5: Document Management Flow 📚
Legal software can be helpful in managing the document flow in many ways — centralized document storing, easy access to it at any time and place, convenient filtering system, and so on. When organized properly, it can significantly reduce the time spent on such activities.
Basically, document management isn’t that complex in terms of functionality. 2 most important things are: \
- Well-structured storage. You can create various tabs and folders, subtabs and subfolders, have your own tagging system, implement your current way of keeping the documents into the software, etc.
- An extended filtering system. It can include filters by a client, attorney, case, date, location, etc.
# 6: Analytics 📊
Legal software can also include analytical features. A deep understanding of your business’s performance is really useful when it comes to increasing sales and reducing costs. It also helps to define strong and weak points and analyze client behavior for marketing purposes.
The main function here is generating analytical reports, which implies data collection, its analysis, and then providing a report. To maximize efficiency, you could customize reporting for different departments.
For instance, if it’s a report for the sales and marketing department, such numbers as sales dynamics, the structure of service types (X number — contract review, Y number — legal defense) matter. But for the accounting department, stats like income and expenses over a certain period are more important.
Plus, one of the most useful aspects of analytics is generating infographics like different kinds of graphs & charts, tables, and so on. With a visual representation of the data, it’s easier to track the dynamics, spot repetitive patterns, and make predictions.
# 7: Third-Party Integrations 🤖
The market is full of various 3rd-party SDKs and APIs that enable a specific feature or a set of them in your digital solution. Let’s take a look at what you can use for your legal software:
- Chats and messages: Twilio, WhatsApp.
- Calendar: Google Calendar API, Cronofy.
- Emailing: Sendgrid, Mailchimp.
- Payments: Braintree, Stripe, SolarisBank. If you’d like to learn more about integrating payment systems, we have an article on this topic.
Keep in mind, most of the flows aren’t separated. For instance, case management flow can have essential information from every other flow. Moreover, you can structure their cooperation in any convenient way. The easiest one is changing the information in all flows where it’s displayed once it’s changed in at least 1 of them.
✅ Remote Access & Integration with a Current Solution
In this section, we’re going to share some information that’s important to take into account if you decide to start using or build legal software.
Remote Access through Cloud Storage or Legal App Development
Since there’s a good chance that you’ll need to access your legal software outside the office (while working remotely, having a meeting with a client, on a business trip, etc.), it’s essential to think out how you’ll log in in such cases.
Plus, the process of trial itself is getting more digitized — no less than 80% of lawyers use smartphones in court. Laptops are used for quite a long time to present evidence, conduct quick online research, show presentations, etc.
So, the most popular ways of enabling remote access are a cloud server and a dedicated mobile app. If the software is cloud-based, you can access it from anywhere by using a device with an internet connection.
A dedicated app can either have the same functionality as the main software but be installed on a phone to be able to log in at any time. Or it can cover only a specific part of the workflow — for example, have features for case and task management.
If you’re sure that you and your employees would be able to have constant access to their PC or laptop, then a cloud server might suit you better. However, if you want to allow mobile access as well, consider having a dedicated app.
Surely, these are the 2 most common cases. If you’d like to have a more detailed review of your specific use case, you should talk to your development team so they help you find the most optimal way.
Integration with a Current Solution
It can happen that you already have some sort of custom product that you might not want to leave unused. In such situations, there are 3 options for how it can happen.
The first one is writing the whole code from scratch. There might be too many changes so it’s easier to write it anew than trying to fix it since it’s more time-efficient.
The second one is redesigning the current software to be more suitable for your legal business. That is, add new features, delete some of the old ones, change the design, etc. For instance, if you have a well-developed CRM, you can leave task & team management as it was, change the client management flow, and add the rest.
And the third one is practically the same as the second but here you reuse the code of your current product and implement it into your new software’s code. The concept is similar, yet, it can change the way your development team will perform the integration.
If you’d like to have a more specific review of your use case, you should talk to the development team you work with about it. Or feel free to contact us.
🔐 Legal Software Security
If you work with a legal software provider, make sure to check if they store data on their private server or use shared storage.
In case of shared storage, consider asking for your own server since, with shared ones, the data is more exposed to breaches, leaks, and other cybersecurity risks. In case of rejection, think about what other provider options there are.
So, back to the point. Even though you’re likely aware of how to secure the data from the legislative perspective, we’d like to give you a couple of tips on how to enable high-level security digitally.
Database security implies a lot of features. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that each feature’s end goal is to protect the data. Yet, there are some of them that you can apply directly to your database.
First of all, there should be a limited number of people who have access to it. Plus, permissions of those who have access should be restricted to the minimum that’s needed to perform their duties successfully.
You can also create various levels of access instead of defining such for each employee. For instance, junior attorneys can access A set of info, Chief Legal Officer — full access to legal documents, etc.
Additionally, it might be a good idea to encrypt the data. One of the best ways of enabling such is currently considered Advanced Encryption Protocol (AES). It’s quite fast and has 3 block ciphers — each one of them encrypts and decrypts the data 1 time. However, in this model, a sender and a recipient have the same key for encryption and decryption.
To encrypt your messages while communicating with a client, for example, you can use end-to-end encryption (E2EE). If you’d like to learn more about it, you can watch this video:
It can also happen that hackers won’t be able to read the data, yet, will block your access to it, and threaten to delete it to demand ransom. For such cases, you should also remember to always have backups, copies — something to restore the data from.
You can enable device fingerprinting as well. It’s the process of analyzing the device used for, in our case, database accessing. If the IP address, device type, operating system, screen size, location, time, etc., differ from regular ones, you’ll get an alert via notification, phone call — whatever you choose.
To make sure that access to the software itself is strongly protected, you can use a multi-factor authentication system. It implies several layers of authentication.
Multi-factor authentication can include:
- A complex password.
- Biometric verification (face ID, fingerprints, voice recognition, retina scans, and so on). It’s not that easy to enable for laptops and PCs, however, if you’d like to, you should talk about it to your development team to find a solution.
- One-time password generation.
- Phone call/email verification.
- Personal security questions & others.
Auditing & Monitoring
It’s also important to register all log-ins to the system — both from new and existing accounts. Additionally, you can keep track of each action performed on sensitive data.
In this way, if some sort of data leak occurs, you can easily track the most recent users and what actions might be the reason for the leak. Thus, you’ll be able to spot the weak points and prevent the same situation in the future.
Moreover, it might be a bright idea to regularly conduct security standards auditing to see whether your software protection is up-to-date and complies with all new regulation standards.
And last but not least, you should regularly perform security tests to spot breaches that are really tempting for frauds or any other defects in your security system (or make sure that it’s perfectly fine).
Such can be enabled with help of CI/CD (Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery) tools. In this way, you can conduct bug and breach scanning automatically as often as you want by using CI. All of that is performed in a simulation and not the actual code.
It’s also helpful in a way that fixing fresh breaches is cheaper and safer than stale ones.
After the problem is spotted, CI tools change the code and then CD is used to apply changes to the actual code. Such a system is normally used when updating the solution, however, the concept of security scans is practically the same.
💰 What Affects Custom Legal Software Development Costs
Unfortunately, it’s quite a challenge to predict what the development will cost. However, there are aspects that you surely need to take into account when performing budgetary planning:
- Features’ number and complexity of features.
- Whether you want third-party integrations.
- An hourly rate of your development team & others.
To sum up, we’d like to point out once again that legal software can optimize a lot of processes in your law firm — team communication, client management, accounting and invoicing, document management, business analysis, etc.
Both custom development and legal software providers have pros and cons. Thus, it’s up to you what option suits your use case the most. From our side, we tried to give you as much input data as we could so you’ll be able to meet the right decision.
We, from our side, would gladly help you build a sustainable legal software that'll fully meet your business needs. If you need any help with the development, have questions left, or want to share your thoughts with us, feel free to reach out!