Posted by Julian Bryan, managing director of Legal Futures Associate Quill 
If, for whatever reason, software change is essential, we’ve compiled five questions to ask yourself and prospective suppliers to help you really assess your options and carefully research the marketplace before you switch over.
The preparatory stage of your software swap project necessitates watching software demonstrations, meeting key personnel, reading contractual documents, asking this series of probing questions, and then evaluating your combined result.
As an evolving profession, it’s easy to see why law firms upgrade their systems from time to time. You may expand or contract in size, adjust your area specialisms, accommodate new legislation and reform, merge or separate, face ever-more-demanding clients or maybe you simply made the wrong technology choice in the first place and support from your existing supplier is poor.
Software purchase isn’t a straightforward decision because there’s an inevitable time investment on your part as you roll out new systems. Your new supplier can, of course, ease this process by assisting you throughout implementation, data transfer and end user training. This is a major contributory factor to any successful conversion.
Selecting the right technology partner, then, is paramount, particularly as this is possibly the beginning of a long-lasting working relationship between your two businesses.
If your legacy IT infrastructure is ill suited to your current and future requirements, it’s time to tackle those tricky software decisions.
When it comes to the all-important questioning phase, here are the five questions:
Are you happy with the system’s legal accounts and compliance capabilities?
Accounting functionality should be easy to use by fee-earners, cashiers and managers alike, in order to simplify logging of expenses, billing, posting of e-chits, monetary transfers, bank reconciliations, supplier payments, financial reporting and other accounts-related tasks.
A single system for client and office accounts is much preferable, otherwise you’ll be constantly toggling between applications and wasting valuable (potentially chargeable) time in the process.
Compliant accounts management is dependent upon accuracy and due diligence. Search for a package that comes with an in-built warning system, automatic anomaly reports, AML scanning, identity verification, conflict checking and other risk management tools, so that compliance with the Solicitors Regulation Authority accounts rules, Council for Licensed Conveyancers accounts code and Scottish accounts rules is assured.
Have you established your exit strategy if your software choice doesn’t work out?
Contracts are occasionally outgrown. Check under what types of circumstances the contract can be terminated, specified notice period and what happens post-termination.
For example, your supplier should act as the custodian, not owner, of your data and documents. Ensure everything’s exportable upon migration, and that formats and names are preserved.
Thereafter, your supplier should delete from their stores, otherwise you’ll fall foul of data protection rules. With the imminent Data Protection Bill and GDPR laws coming into force this May, your duties in this respect are more onerous than ever before.
Heavier too are the fines imposed for non-compliance. Your supplier must follow the right procedures in safeguarding your valuable data.
Does your potential software supplier belong to the Legal Software Suppliers Association (LSSA)?
The LSSA is the UK body for legal systems developers and vendors whose aim is to set and maintain professional standards within the sector and manage areas of mutual interest between solicitors, legislative bodies, government agencies and software houses.
As such, member firms are bound by the LSSA’s strict rules and code of practice. For you, this provides a guarantee of the highest-quality software and highest standards of service.
Can you speak with a real human being on the phone for help and support?
Will you be dealing with an actual person when you become an end user? Sometimes there’s no substitute for being able to pick up the phone and speak with someone who understands what you’re going through and can rectify your dilemma.
Consider time zones, standard support hours and availability of extended out-of-hours support. What promises are made within service-level agreements with regards to system uptime, monitoring, maintenance and service responsiveness? These metrics provide your business continuity and disaster recovery plans.
For those busy periods during which phone interaction just isn’t possible, of course, email, fax and online chat options are important too. It’s highly likely you’ll utilise all these communication methods as time progresses.
What’s in the contract and can you digest at length before signing?
It’s the small print that often causes problems. Look at assigned liabilities, responsibilities and disclaimers.
Don’t be rushed into signing contracts without having been given sufficient time to read and analyse first. If your supplier is forcefully requesting your signature, and you feel pressured to commit against your will, alarm bells should be ringing.
Contracts signed in haste often lead to disappointment and/or surprise, escalating costs. As any lawyer knows, there’s a good reason why contracts are lengthy documents. Insist on having the necessary time to pore over the contents of your contract, and only sign when you feel ready and comfortable doing so.
To conclude, by following this plan, you’ll find out exactly what being a client will feel like, both in terms of software usability and staff interaction, as well as what happens should you later decide to cancel your subscription.
While this is certainly a good starting point to your software swap, it’s by no means an exhaustive list. There are other pressing questions to ask, not least regarding cyber security measures, data centre credibility, industry track record and live reference sites.