You may be surprised to learn that PracticePanther serves a variety of clients that aren’t law firms. It makes sense if you think about it — all types of businesses require the proper technology to onboard prospects, maintain contact with clients, and properly track and bill for time. One such customer of ours is Introtech Accident Reconstruction and Forensics, a firm that works alongside many legal professionals every day. Account executive Andy Stimmel recently sat down with Dan Lipian, the CFO of Introtech Accident Reconstruction and Forensics to learn more about their day-to-day business, why they chose to adopt PracticePanther to run their business, and how they helped employees learn the tool.
Tell us a little about your business, I know you’re not exactly a law firm so tell us a bit about what you all do?
Dan: Our accident reconstruction and forensics firm is comprised of expert witnesses and technical investigators. We get hired to reconstruct how automobile crashes happen. That has been our bread and butter for the past 31 years. However, we are growing as a company – having just opened a new office in Florida – and we now offer additional services such as forensic toxicology, videography, ballistics analysis, mechanical analysis, etc. Once a client contacts us, we investigate their specific matter to ascertain the likely cause of the accident, and then, if the case were to progress, we might have to testify in a deposition and/or trial.
In this type of industry, which mimics the legal profession, what kind of systems did you previously have to organize all your information before using PracticePanther?
Dan: It was pretty basic, a lot of notes were pen and paper, all the documents were printed. They were using excel to keep track of case management. There was no long-term record-keeping or digital records of any kind really, and it all had to be transcribed digitally from pen and paper. Honest to goodness it was a 10 to 15-year-old system that would have been cutting edge a decade or two ago but was in bad need of updating.
In fairness, a lot of the work that is done in the legal industry and in our industry is comprised of documents that need to be reviewed, and a lot of times you do get paper documents sent. It’s really only been in the last few years that we’ve been able to change that. Despite the horrific circumstances of the pandemic, one positive that has emerged is that it has allowed everyone to get creative and adopt new technology for their businesses by necessity.
That’s so true what you said about COVID being a catalyst, I think the industry was ready for this and it took something like that to really get people to make that change. Was there anything specific that made you say “Ok, now’s enough, it’s time to get a new system?”
Dan: It started with me digging through the financial records and old case records and I’m looking at everything and saying “I want to do an analysis to see what our profitability may be for the services that we provide.”
Obviously, that entails looking at your rates, the type of work you’ve done, what you charge for it, and the time element involved. It also involves looking at employees and their billable hours and their expenses and what they are doing and not doing. It involves keeping records of all your cases, it involves contracts, it can get very complicated very quickly.
What I came to understand was there was no aggregation of data that would allow me to do this type of analysis and we were leaving a lot of pennies on the table. When you can’t keep track of what you are doing in real-time, you aren’t able to correct mistakes. We would have situations where people were putting their billable hours in an excel spreadsheet, they would turn it in on a Monday, and we would have no insight until those were filed. Oftentimes those files would get discarded. I just couldn’t possibly manage our time and billing that way.
In a world where there is more remote work, it becomes more important than ever to be able to track those things so that your business is maximizing its profitability and efficiency with its employees. PracticePanther was a solution that I had not come up with yet. By necessity in a way, we’ve been transitioning to a business model with more flexibility, more people working remotely, and really a way to get information at your fingertips that didn’t exist just a few years ago.
Now that you’ve figured out that you needed some sort of software to help you make informed business decisions, what made you choose PracticePanther?
Dan: I’ll be fair, the first software I looked at was Clio, I had heard of them of course mostly because I had searched and they were one of the first that came up aside from PracticePanther. Clio had similar capabilities but there were just a few things we didn’t like about it. There’s Clio Grow which is more of a database of clients and a way to be able to market to clients and future clients and Clio Manage, where you log your time entries and expenses. I asked them “why isn’t that all available in one bundle?” We would have had to close one program, open another, and they weren’t integrated. It seemed very sloppy to me and so that’s why we did not go with them.
One of the other issues we had — there are a lot of law firms who do this — is when you’re creating an invoice, we try to create them with an exact chronology of events from the start of the case to the end— that’s ideal. You can review the invoice and see each billable item, which serves as a chronology of the billable work we completed from start to finish. Sometimes specific time entries aren’t in the proper order, so you need to click and drag entries around to reflect the proper chronology of events in a way that your customers can understand. Clio would not allow us to click and drag and make changes to the invoices. When we asked if they could make a customized version for us they said no.
So we had some issues with the customer service and it just wasn’t as flexible as PracticePanther. When I got in touch with you, you all tried to make all our requests come true and you had the functions we needed from the start. You also kept the interface very simple and I’m sure a ton of businesses are in the transition phase where you’ve got the younger guys who come up understanding technology, but you also have some of the more experienced individuals who have been around several decades who are more comfortable with the old way of doing things.
You onboarded a few years ago, and we’ve added a ton of bells and whistles including eSignature, but at the end of the day, the number one reason why firms love us is that it’s adoptable and user friendly. Given that we’re constantly adding to the software, what is your favorite or most effective feature in your day-to-day?
Dan: The first thing that comes to mind are the automations. If you can set up your automations correctly, then they can really make your company’s processes more streamlined and efficient. I’ll give a broad overview of how we use it.
When we get a new matter, we take all of the relevant information from the client and enter it into Panther. The system first runs a conflict check to ensure we can continue with the work, and once we’ve done that, we’re ready to go. The system then creates an invoice, adds the retainer, and automatically creates tasks for other people at the company that will tell them “hey, a new case was created, here are the things that need to be done.” The system creates those tasks for us and I don’t have to pick up the phone and physically walk through the task list with my staff. That is such a time saver.
It also automatically creates an eSignature with all of the hourly rates and what we charge customized to that attorney, and it sends it right to the client’s email. When the contract gets signed, PracticePanther will then put that signed file right in the Matter precisely where it’s supposed to go. So right when I create a new case and generate a workflow, all those events in that chain happen automatically. I can be working on a report and my phone will start buzzing notifying me that signatures are coming in or retainers are being paid by credit card. I can even see when a client looks at a contract. That can help too, if someone is looking at the contract too frequently, I might ask them if there was something confusing or an issue that we need to resolve. It’s very intuitive and I don’t think anyone has to do things manually every single time. I think most people don’t enjoy the administrative tasks, the red tape, PracticePanther just automates it and clears up our day.
The other features I love are the reports. I can go into the “reports” section of PracticePanther anytime I want and review all of the billable hours for each employee at whatever time interval I wish. It will generate these reports pretty much for anything I want it to, and even better it can export them to excel or as a PDF which is really nice. You can really keep track of productivity, and every single billable entry that’s coming in. I can look at someone, get a notification and see “oh boy this person forgot to bill out for several things.” I can then rectify that pretty quickly. In the old days, there would be a stack of timesheets, and you would have to call each person individually if they did not bill something properly. Invariably things that were not billed would simply fall through the cracks and not get billed at all. You start adding that up over time and it becomes a big number. Being able to complete those checks in real time – a process that, in the old days, would normally take a lot of phone or face-to-face time to work out – means I save a considerable amount of time. And that makes my job so much easier.
How do you encourage tech adoption to people who aren’t tech-savvy? What did you do to encourage people to change the way they do things?
Dan: Change is hard, especially for long-term employees who are comfortable doing things a certain way. The “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality is a normal thing in many businesses. For a younger guy like me, these changes are easy to accept. But for some people, it is very difficult, which is totally understandable. We did a few things to combat this: First, in the early days of software implementation, we had weekly staff meetings on Zoom, during which I would conduct mini-tutorials for the employees, so that our employees would understand how to use the software better. That was very helpful. The other thing was, PracticePanther has an amazing video tutorial repository of everything within the system. Most of the time, staff would watch the “how to” videos, and then they understood the software more clearly.
When I was trying to research what software I wanted to adopt, I found those training videos online and started binge-watching them on my TV. As I watched the videos, I realized that PracticePanther would solve a lot of our issues. Just being able to watch those videos before I called PracticePanther to set up our systems was great and it piqued my interest for sure.
What advice would you give to your clients who may be afraid to switch their current systems up or don’t think they need to?
Dan: Pick up the phone and call PracticePanther and tell them what your needs are. PracticePanther can figure it out for you, and if it’s not part of the software they try to make it custom fit so it works for each firm. As you pointed out, we’re a forensics firm, we’re not a law firm, a lot of our procedures are similar but we have our own unique way of doing things too.
The second step would be to take a lot of time setting up your PracticePanther account.
You want to do it right and make sure you’ve got all of your historical data in there, all of your procedures. Nail down all your customizable functions. It’s going to take a while, maybe you won’t be like us and you won’t need to take pen and paper and digitize it, but you want to make sure you do it correctly. PracticePanthers engineers spent quite some time guiding me along the process because the most stressful part for us was getting all the data into the system in a format that would work. Once it’s in there and rolling, it cuts down on so much work. There’s a little pain upfront, but you’ll find that with any software like this, that it takes a bit of time to get it right, once it’s in there you really do wonder how you lived without it.
What separates Introtech from similar firms?
Dan: We’ve been around for 32 years, we’ve been doing this a very long time. But we never want to get complacent and only consider one point of view. I would say one of the things that separates us is that we have a very interesting mix of experts, including forensic engineers, crash reconstructionists, forensic toxicologists, videographers, yes, but also former police officers. When you are investigating a crash there are a ton of components to consider, and it can sometimes be very beneficial if an expert has hands-on experience with these events. So, in order to give the most thorough analysis, we have former police officers oftentimes working side by side with our forensic engineers and toxicologists. I think there is a lot of validity in having engineers look at things from an academic and scientific point of view and police officers that have been at the scene of these crashes considering things from a real-world experiential point of view. They know the procedures, they have done field sobriety testing and they have written police reports. Because legal matters can be extremely complex, our team likes to consider every angle, so that our clients are getting the best possible analysis, and that means having a diversity of experts with different backgrounds and experiences. We are all equal and we check our egos at the door. I think it is that very diversity that makes our company unique.
You can learn more about Introtech Accident Reconstruction and Forensics on their website or even speak with them about how they implemented PracticePanther.
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