What Facts Should I Keep? What Facts Do I Need?

One of the most common discussion points during the definition of a practice management program’s setup is the use of custom fields (those fields that don’t come included in the default setup, but users think they want to have easy access to)? How many does the firm need (versus think I need)? Who decides what needs to be kept? How do they decide?

The answers to the above questions can be resolved in a fairly objective process. Here’s how to determine the answers. First, for every practice management program that I’ve worked with over the last twenty-plus years, there are three important uses for data stored in custom fields. Understanding the use for the data will help decide whether a custom field is the best place to house the data.

Definition: A field is a single fact – so fields and facts are interchangeable in this discussion.

Warning: A memo field (note field – any field capable of storing multiple lines of text) is often a bad place to store individual facts, especially if you see the same type of fact appearing in the memo field for different matters; e.g., in the memo field for each matter a user always enters the Statute of Limitations date or the amount of expected revenue from a settled matter.


First Use: Day-to-Day Need

Is this fact important enough to warrant a custom field? When any staff member looks at the details of the matter, do they need/want to see this piece of information? This is by far the most subjective of the three uses. For example, if an attorney hasn’t looked at a matter for whatever reason for two-three weeks, would this fact be something that would need to be looked for in a document? If so, chances are it should be entered into a custom field. Is the fact something that a user who looks at the file frequently would want to be able to see/find as they work with the clients or others involved in the matter? If so, add it as a custom field.

Second Use: Reports

Is the fact something that will be needed for any type of report – whether it is a day-to-day report of the status of the matter, or a list of matters of a certain practice area at a specific stage, or a workload report that the firm management uses to allocate new case? If the fact can be used as either a field included in the report or a criterion to generate any report, it needs to be a custom field.

Third Use: Documents

Remember that from both an efficiency and accuracy perspective data should only be entered once. This means that when evaluating if a fact should be stored as a custom field, the question can always be asked: “Will I ever need to type this a second time – like in a document I will need to create?” if the answer is yes, then it belongs in a custom field.

Once the above three questions are asked, it is often clear whether the field should be included as a custom field. The only caveat that I would add to this process is the data entry requirements for all data that should be kept – is the data entry burden such that it simply won’t get done? When looked at in total, are the data entry requirements necessary to input the data indicated by positive responses above so great that users simply won’t do them? If so, then a re-evaluation of the answers needs to take place.

If you have questions about whether a custom field is warranted or need assistance with your practice management solution set up, let us know. We’re here to help. Just reach out to us at Affinity Consulting by calling 877-676-5492, or simply request a consultation.


Jeff Stouse

Written by Jeff Stouse

Jeff helps our potential clients evaluate various practice management software programs. In addition, he serves as a consultant involved in implementing software programs like Centerbase, Actionstep, PracticeMaster, and Time Matters. Jeff also provides support. A long time ago (and, it seems, in a far away galaxy) Jeff was a high-school English teach and coach, who then started his own consulting business, specializing in Paradox database development. After that, he became a partner in a network support firm for non-profits (and the legal vertical market.) Jeff left that firm to start his own consulting business focusing on legal practice management software, and continued that for 12 years before joining Affinity Consulting in 2018. Jeff’s superpower is his ability to quickly evaluate how to best help a wide variety of clients. His favorite part of his job is helping our clients build efficient and easy-to-use software environments.

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