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Conflicts of interest can be a major roadblock in your legal practice. Sure, they limit the amount of clients you can represent (a generally good idea), but they also can create major ethics headaches. Which is, of course, why you have screening procedures -- and screening software.
But not all conflicts screening programs are a fit for every firm. Whether you use legal management software or a simple spreadsheet depends on a host of factors, from the size of your practice to the types of clients you handle. With a little work, though, you can find the perfect Goldilocks software -- one that's not too complicated, not too cheap, but just right for your firm.
What Is Conflicts Software?
Conflicts software is simply an automated program that records client information and looks for potential conflicts of interest. Generally, the software doesn't decide conflicts for you. It just stores information and spots any potential conflicts, generating reports that allow you to resolve conflict of interest questions.
There's a wide range of conflicts software available. Some have a wide scope; some are capable of handling complex conflict issues; some cost a ton of money. Some are simple, even DIY, but may fall short if you have a complicated issue or quick growth.
What to Look for in Your Conflicts Software
Pay Attention to Ease of Use: A conflicts program is only valuable if you can use it successfully. When you're evaluating programs, look at how intuitive the software is. Can you understand it? Does it seem learnable? Or will you spend hours flipping through manuals and on the phone with tech support?
Do You Need Something All-Inclusive? Software for legal management will almost always include conflicts of interest applications. Those conflicts features come alongside programs focused on time keeping, billing, calendaring, client contacts, document management and more. Legal management software is the full package deal -- and it comes with a price tag to match. Solo and boutique practices in particular might not need all those bells and whistles.
Are Conflicts Your Main Concern? If so, there are stand-alone programs. Those look only at conflicts of interest. Because they're not integrated with the rest of your firm software, they can result in some redundancies in entering client information, but they can also save your practice a fair amount of money while not sacrificing conflicts review.
Can You Do It Yourself? Before you hung your own shingle, did you chop down the tree and whittle the sign? If you like managing your own business and are good at Excel (or another spreadsheet program), you can create your own conflicts check. The benefit here is the ability to fine tune a spreadsheet to the exact needs of your firm, putting in as much or as little client info as you need.
Factors to Consider When Choosing: Before settling on conflicts software, you should check out several different options. Consider factors such as your firm's size, budget, practice type and the skill level of your support staff.
Of course, conflict software is just the start of managing potential conflicts of interest. Thankfully, there's a whole world of helpful practice information out there, including "Creating Conflicts of Interest Procedures to Protect You and Your Firm From Malpractice," by Sandra Roberts. (Disclaimer: Roberts' book is published by Thomson Reuters, FindLaw's parent company.) This practice aid doesn't just help you pick the right conflicts software, it provides a comprehensive guide to creating an effective database, screening for conflicts from support staff, and crafting conflict waiver letters.
When it comes to client conflicts, you don't want to be too hot or too cold. With a little research, you can easily find a conflicts program that is just right for your practice.