PRODUCT REVIEW 
Credenza

Reviewed by Jared D. Correia

Credenza has meant many things over the course of history. The word originates in the Latin, meaning belief. The word evolved to stand for one who tasted food for an important person, just in case that food happened to be poisoned. The more recent credenza is an ornate cupboard with side pieces, popular as a piece of furniture in the late nineteenth century. So, if you believe that a tiny man is hiding in your furniture and poisoning your food, and so desire someone to try your dinner before you do, you’re hitting every sense of the word “credenza” . . . save one:

The modern Credenza is a law practice management software program ( www.credenzasoft.com). It is not a free-standing system; instead, it is an add-on for Microsoft Outlook. (See the company’s tagline: “Improve Your Outlook.”) As a concept, this combination works. Think about it: Where do most businesspersons, including lawyers, spend most of their time at work? On e-mail. What e-mail system do most of them use? Microsoft Outlook. Credenza turns Microsoft Outlook, with its friendly and familiar interface, into a practice management program. Credenza works by adding some new functionality to Outlook and extending some of the functionality that Outlook already possesses.

The Three Tabs

The most obvious of the changes Credenza makes to Outlook is the addition of three new tabs that appear at the bottom left-hand corner of the Outlook Home view: Matters, Time Sheets, and Phone Calls.

Matters.

The Matters (or “Files”) tab is at the heart of Credenza. Credenza functions by leveraging associations within Outlook. In the Credenza-Outlook world, you can create matter names using your own file naming convention. From there, it’s a tagging system; each time you tag an activity to a matter, it is associated with that matter and discoverable under the Matter view. Insofar as Credenza tries to make Outlook look more like a practice management program, this is where it succeeds most directly. The Matter view allows you to see all Outlook activities—past events and future events, both traditional Outlook activities and new Credenza elements—associated with a particular matter. The list can be arranged chronologically and is filterable for date ranges and other criteria. In  Credenza, the Matter view is the tie that binds.

Time Sheets.

Clicking on the Time Sheets tab will open a view of processed and unprocessed (or billed/unbilled) Time Entries. As with the Matters feature, you can tag any Outlook activity as a Time Entry, and the resulting list can be filtered as desired. Credenza’s Time Entry system also includes a few additional, neat features: It disables exporting for previously billed matters, so that you won’t double-bill; it provides a Time Entry Assistant for easy automation; and it allows you to bill for increments (e.g., each six minutes). Although Credenza can legitimately be described as a time-capture system, it cannot truly be called a billing program. Credenza doesn’t generate its own invoices; instead, it exports data to third-party billing programs. To that end, Credenza provides ready-made templates for exporting (“posting”) to Timeslips, PCLaw, and QuickBooks. There is also a wizard to help you create new export templates for other billing programs.

Phone Calls.

The Phone Calls tab is the closest Credenza kin to original Outlook activities such as Calendar events and Tasks. When you pick up the phone, open a new Phone Call activity and start the timer. When you end your call, stop the timer. Your phone call was just recorded. Phone Call activities are also viewable in the Credenza-Outlook world by the Matter tab and are exportable for billing. You can even dial out through Outlook using existing program functionality.

Other Credenza Features

Beyond the three new tabs, Credenza improves your Outlook with a number of additional features. The program helps you generate reports. A date calculator can count by calendar or business days and will account for statutory holidays. A conflict checker searches globally across Outlook contacts. Credenza also allows the formation of teams of unlimited numbers of persons; teams may be further divided into password-protected subgroups. Teams and subgroups may share calendars with drag-and-drop capability. Tasks, taskmasters, and timekeepers can be assigned within teams or subgroups. Additional views for teams and subgroups include assignment information for Calendar events, Tasks, and Notes. Credenza even offers document management capability, whereby you can archive documents, locally or to the web, and share documents among team members. Associated documents are included in the Matter listing of case activities. Mobile sync is available for Credenza through Outlook via the inclusion of a Matter name in the Notes field of a newly created activity. Many of these additional Credenza features are customizable.

Credenza Extensions to Outlook

Credenza also does much to improve the existing functionality within Outlook. Credenza adds two new columns to your Inbox, showing Matter association and Time Entry status for associated Tasks and Notes. You also can establish Outlook-style rules for automatic Matter association, Time entry, and Phone Call archiving or tagging. In addition to the added ability to associate contacts to a Matter, you’ll be able to assign roles, or categories, to contacts. This last-described feature can be extremely useful for conflict checking. In September, Credenza applied a large number of useful program updates. You can find more information on these updates at www.credenzasoft.com/updates.html.

Thumbs Up and Down

Credenza sports a number of specific advantages. Primarily, it piggybacks on the familiar features of Outlook, so it’s easy to use, right from the jump. It’s also an excellent time tracker, especially when you consider that most of your day is probably spent working with e-mail. It provides on-the-fly tagging and tight integration of all your activities. It’s remarkably robust for a new program (perhaps because it’s been in long-term development and is the brainchild of Gavel & Gown Software Inc., the company behind Amicus Attorney) and offers responsive and timely e-mail support. Plus—and this is the best part, so I have been saving it for last—Credenza will run you only $9.95/month/user. (Access to team features is available in the enterprise version, priced at $19.95/month/user.) A two-week free trial is also available.

True, the path to the Credenza-Outlook world is not all sweet dandelions and rose petals. Credenza does have certain limitations. It is not a time and billing program. There are limited administrative controls for document sharing and collaboration among subgroup members. Most importantly, its tight connection to Outlook is both Credenza’s greatest strength and its most vexing bogeyman. If Credenza crashes Outlook or degrades Outlook performance, it threatens the lifeblood of your business communications. I did experience some issues with Credenza during my trial usage, including a degradation of Outlook performance speed; the Credenza support team proved helpful, however, and the loss of speed, even had it continued, would not have been enough to cause me to remove the add-on product from Outlook.

Ultimately, Credenza is the only way to go if you’ve always wished, or now have the desire, to convert Outlook into a practice management machine.

 
  • Jared D. Correia, Esq., is law practice management advisor for the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program; he may be reached at jared@masslomap.org. Copyright 2010

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