Why Standard Case and Practice Management Systems aren’t the answer for Probate work
The terms ‘Case’ and ‘Practice’ Management tools are widely promoted these days. So, what are they and are they up to the job of managing probate administrations?
A practice management tool should help control a firm’s own internal management, across all its various legal departments. A case management system should also, when necessary, integrate data from various sources and traditionally, but not always, tends to focus on ensuring that certain jobs are done at certain times.
That’s very useful on some levels, but when it comes to probate work, more generic systems can be a blunt and inflexible tool.
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Probate work is unique
Any experienced probate practitioner knows that every estate administration is unique; with information coming at you from different angles and in an unpredictable order. Some case management systems force you to enter information in a prescribed and linear way which just leads to frustration. Furthermore, they are less than satisfactory, and sometimes just plain inaccurate, when it comes to the biggest bottleneck of all – account production and keeping track of cash.
Probate work focuses on accounts
A practitioner’s number one goal is the production of accurate, balanced, clear and professionally formatted set of estate accounts. Only dedicated probate software, which should be the “beating heart” of the estate administration, gives the probate expert (and their firm, through efficiency savings) the tool to do their job properly. It is largely self-contained in its work.
A practice management system isn’t interested in the nitty-gritty of an estate’s financials. It only really cares about the money that it ever has sight of; money which might touch the client account. But it won’t concern itself with monitoring or reconciling the bank accounts of the deceased, or those of third parties who may pay bills on behalf of the estate. A solicitor’s own cashier won’t be interested in balancing or reconciling those external pools of cash, whilst the probate specialist will.
A probate case management system should help with form and document production, and these things will possibly be filed or shared somewhere on the firm’s network, but those administrative activities should again be driven by the need to take control of the estate’s accounts. Some software systems, sold specifically for probate work, put a great emphasis on document production but then fail to generate reports which are detailed or clear enough to be fit for purpose.
Estate administration can’t easily be de-skilled. Professionals need flexible and dedicated software.
Case management software isn’t a magic wand to wave at, and administer, an estate; to be operated by anyone, regardless of training, with a spare five minutes. The reality is that knowledge of the legal obligations of any scenario are best interpreted by someone who is trained and experienced in probate law. As desirable as it may be for software to de-skill and replace practitioners, case management systems are light years away from having the intelligence to fully manage an estate’s myriad of permutations and obligations, without human thought.
Admin support staff can post information into a dedicated probate software package, but it will take a qualified mind to know what information to gather, and which forms and reports will be required, in relation to any particular estate. Their decisions will be based on interpretation of a Will, discussions with a family and beneficiaries and knowledge of current law. Brains still need to be put into gear and a practitioner’s training and knowledge need to be applied. Some systems just aren’t forensic or flexible enough for the job, but some are sold on a misunderstanding that expertise will no longer be needed.
Keep focused on what a probate department really needs
It’s hard to pick through all the jargon to understand what a case management system is going to give you. Your brain may ache from trying to decipher whether it will be worth the, sometimes high, financial investment. Worse still, the decision is often out of your hands and someone in your firm’s higher management is making decisions on behalf of the probate, and other departments. More generic software is often touted to practice managers who lack a full understanding of what probate work involves and what the probate professional really needs.
They’re naturally drawn towards buying software to ‘run the whole practice’ from just one supplier, as they think it will make their lives easier. But it probably won’t be the panacea they hoped for as, in the long run, the probate department will be left dissatisfied by a mediocre or sub-standard product and will be demanding a review and investment in something better.
A team of probate colleagues may want to open and work on each other’s estates, sometimes simultaneously, and that is a collaborative feature of a good probate tool. But that software doesn’t necessarily have to look like a firm’s other systems. It’s naïve to hope that a company which has provided a firm with tools to handle conveyancing, diaries, time management or even Will writing, will also be the right one for probate administration.
No single practice or case management system, which isn’t dedicated to the job of probate, will ever be well received by practitioners working at the coalface. So, it’s important that the right approach is taken when deciding on new software for a probate department.
In conclusion, look for probate software which
- Puts accounts production at the heart of its work.
- Generates detailed and accurate reports.
- Is flexible to allow data to be input in an unrestricted order.
- Assists with document production and form filling but doesn’t view that as its main goal.
- Allows collaboration between a probate team.
- Is cost-effective because you pay for using the system only when you need it.
Coupled with our excellent customer support and training, these are all features offered by our product, Probate Plus.
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