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Technology—Probate Editor: Richard Julien, Richard Julien Law Corporation, 404 Bella Vista Avenue, Belvedere, CA 94920, firstname.lastname@example.org. Guest Editor: Jason E. Havens, P.O. Box 5496, Destin, FL 32541, email@example.com.
Technology—Probate provides information on current technology and microcomputer software of interest in the probate and estate planning areas. The editors of Probate & Property welcome information and suggestions from readers.
Remote Practice Management
Continuing with the theme of my last column, lawyers can now manage their law practices remotely in addition to merely accessing information. Of course, remote access allows practice management generally because typically you have access to your practice management system as well. This column will update earlier reviews of more traditional practice management systems and give you a sampling of true "cloud" practice management systems, including one that in my estimate is among the best of breed in that category.
Consistent with previous reviews, I still use and appreciate the long-standing PracticeMaster/Tabs3 (collectively "Tabs") ( www.tabs3.com) practice management system. The Tabs system has not changed significantly in recent years, primarily because it was so well designed (and well loved by scores of users, see, e.g., numerous recent TechnoLawyer awards). As a result, all the substantive comments in my earlier reviews still apply. There are, however, a few updates to highlight.
First, the Tabs system now features credit card processing. My firm does not use this feature because it typically uses PayPal ( www.paypal.com) or Google Checkout ( http://checkout.google.com) to process the few credit card payments it receives. For firms that use credit card payments on a regular basis, though, this is a very useful feature that integrates with the Tabs payment and trust accounting functionality.
Second, the Tabs system now generates reports in multiple formats (HTML, PDF, TXT, AND XLS). In the past, it could generate only printer-based reports, and I used the print driver supplied with the full versions of Adobe Acrobat ( www.adobe.com) called Distiller to do this. That still works well. Nevertheless, exporting data to use in just about any conceivable way, including a spreadsheet application—from simple summary reports to detailed client information including specific, full-blown time entries—is a welcome addition to the Tabs system. This data exporting feature also can be used for general data backup purposes if you want practice management data to appear in a certain way for backup purposes (or if the Tabs system is ever unavailable, which has never happened at my firm in more than five years of relatively intense use).
In terms of remote access, the Tabs system still includes remote applications for the Palm operating system, which I assume still work with the updated system running on modern, advanced Palm models such as the Palm Prix. Based on my earlier use of these applications, the user has relatively good remote access to basic client data and can also log his or her time.
The Tabs system still supports checking out data via its "Briefcase" functionality, which is similar to the historic Microsoft Windows method of checking out data but probably more stable than that. The Tabs system always does a wonderful job of locking files for these purposes and ensuring that file corruption does not occur. Tracking within this part of the Tabs system ensures that only the latest changes to a given client file are used, with prompts that ask if there is a potential conflict.
Of course, there are other third-party remote access applications, such as those mentioned in my last column (November/December 2009). Applications such as LogMeIn ( www.logmein.com) provide remote access as long as you have an Internet connection. I did not mention in my last column—because it was not available yet—that LogMeIn Pro even allows a user to turn a Windows-based computer back on if it is powered off (now available on the new Pro version for the Mac). I should also note that I now use LogMeIn Pro's "File Manager" (which definitely appears to be one of the advanced versions of UnlimitedFTP ( www.utechsoft.com/products/unlimitedftp/) licensed to LogMeIn) to copy, cut/paste, and even synchronize files, particularly between my Windows and Apple/Mac computers. For example, if I need to create a client report in the Tabs system, I can remotely copy or cut/paste that report from my Windows-based server to my Mac laptop. All these features make using your practice management system remotely nearly seamless.
Lawgic Firm Management System
Lawgic ( www.lawgic.com), which has traditionally focused on drafting systems and software, entered the practice management arena a couple of years ago. Its entry, however, was far from a "beginning" in terms of the maturity of the software. Lawgic partnered with a well-known Canadian software vendor that developed its practice management system in 1983 and has installed it in thousands of law firms over its 26-year history.
The Lawgic system resembles the Tabs system in its ease of use and lawyer-friendly layout. Simple icons allow easy navigation throughout the Lawgic system, which is client-centric in its organization (that is, create clients, followed by matters, and with contacts attached to the client file as well). The Lawgic system includes shared calendaring and task management and integrates with e-mail clients such as Microsoft Outlook, which includes filing specific e-mail messages with the appropriate client file (via the addition of QuickFile 4Outlook).
Like the Tabs system, the Lawgic system is based on a strong time-billing engine with an integrated general ledger that easily generates billing invoices. Unlike the Tabs system, however, the Lawgic system produces editable bills in rich text format (RTF), which can then be edited at will. There are obvious risks with this, but sometimes this is a welcome feature (for example, when you want to make specific notes on a client's billing invoice that would not apply to your clients in general).
The Lawgic system also produces multiple law firm management reports, such as productivity per lawyer and staff member. A collection report can be generated to illustrate not merely the billing but also the collection rate. Client activity can be tracked as well via the Lawgic system's reporting functions. The 2010 update significantly expands the reporting options of the Lawgic system with "drilldown" reporting for each client balance and even "major client" reporting that focuses on the most valuable clients financially.
One of the Lawgic system's handiest features is an integrated backup and recovery tool. Most systems claim to offer this, but this one works well and easily. The Lawgic system's updating tool is tightly integrated as well, which is not the case in many systems.
The Lawgic system also features contextual "Follow Me Help" similar to its drafting system. Consequently, users can resolve typical questions and issues on their own, although unlimited support is included if a particular explanation does not resolve the issue. Lawgic also can convert data from another practice management system (which, of course, is not included in the pricing unless the migration involves simple importing of data).
Lawgic's remote access features resemble those of the Tabs system and includes a remote time tracking feature. You can use your own third-party system if you prefer, which is discussed above under the Tabs system review.
I have been testing a hybrid approach to on-line practice management: the use of an excellent, affordable on-line billing system (also based in Canada) called FreshBooks ( www.freshbooks.com) combined with Google Apps and an affordable customer relationship management (CRM) system called BatchBook ( www.batchbook.com). I want to focus primarily on FreshBooks because it can be used as a simplified practice management system, if desired.
FreshBooks is a well-known time-billing system that operates on-line or in the "cloud." Like other systems, FreshBooks operates around the client. The user can create contacts under each client and then "projects" (how FreshBooks refers to matters) under the client file as well. Billing is incredibly easy and defined as hourly or fixed/flat rates.
Sending billing invoices to clients is free if the lawyer uses e-mail. If the client and lawyer prefer, FreshBooks can mail the hard copy by adding funds to the user's "stamps" fund within his or her FreshBooks account. The system is excellent and very sophisticated in that each client can securely log into the user's part of the FreshBooks system/web site (for example, https://yourlawfirmname.freshbooks.com) and view and even pay his or her invoice. Then the user can see when the client has viewed and/or paid a particular invoice!
FreshBooks offers a robust application programming interface (API), which is a fancy term for "connector." FreshBooks can connect to BatchBook, which is a relatively strong CRM for the value, or even to the user's contacts in Google Apps (see http://community.freshbooks.com/addons/). The user does this via the "My Account" portion of FreshBooks under the "FreshBooks API" tab, which includes a security key/token to link other applications (that is, grant access) to FreshBooks. If the user prefers, he or she can connect FreshBooks to SalesForce, which is discussed below, via a premium application developed by a third party; this might be a more affordable option because I understand that it even works with the basic or group edition of SalesForce, but I have not tested this.
A few other tidbits regarding FreshBooks deserve to be mentioned. FreshBooks gives the user multiple ways to run reports that track invoices, revenues, and the like. Also, a secure document sharing feature affords clients access to their documents, but I have not tested that feature, either. Lastly, the user can export data (under the "My Account" >"Import & Export" tab) in comma separated value (CSV) files or in QuickBooks or Simply Accounting formats.
If your firm uses flat fee billing, especially consider FreshBooks. The FreshBooks system handles more sophisticated billing/client relationships as well, but in my view it is most attractive to solo lawyers and small firms that have simpler billing and practice management needs. FreshBooks offers a free trial, as do most of these systems.
Last but certainly not least, there is now a legal-specific practice management system built on the ultra-powerful SalesForce.com Inc. (NASDAQ: CRM) engine called AdvologixPM. Advologix affords pure remote access in that the user actually manages his or her practice in the cloud on-line. This review will not discuss thoroughly the advantages and disadvantages of cloud computing, which were mentioned in my previous (remote access) column and are discussed at length in other ABA publications. One of the main advantages is obviously the potential elimination of the user's own networking woes in conjunction with a practice management system that is updated for the user.
My primary criteria in reviewing on-line practice management systems include (1) a strong reputation (which necessarily requires security measures when discussing cloud computing), (2) tight integration with Google Apps (discussed in the previous column), and (3) ease of use. Because Advologix built its system on SalesForce, the first and third criteria were immediately satisfied. As many of you know, SalesForce is one of the strongest CRM systems in the world. Please do not take my word for that; simply search the Internet for "CRM" (no quotation marks necessary) and review the first several results. Many of the world's leading companies use SalesForce, which now offers a legal-specific management solution with Advologix.
Therefore, the remaining criterion to be met was Google Apps integration. SalesForce partially resolved this issue in 2008 when it began offering integration with Google Apps. The integration focuses on e-mail (domain-based Gmail within your Google Apps system), allowing the user to send messages directly to his or her contacts from within SalesForce and also save messages to client files thanks to Advologix. The Google Apps integration includes Google Docs, though as mentioned earlier my firm does not use that functionality at this point because of security concerns.
I have requested native Google Apps integration between SalesForce and Google Contacts and Google Calendar (including Tasks). These ideas were suggested long ago in the "Ideas" portion of the SalesForce web site (search https://sites.secure.force.com/ideaexchange/). There are third-party applications from Appirio, but having a native SalesForce integration would be preferable in my view and the views of many others. SalesForce Mobile, to which you can subscribe via Advologix, and as of 2009 the new SalesForce Mobile Lite (free, scaled-down version of the full Mobile application) provide remote access via your Smartphone, but direct, ultra-efficient access to Google's mobile edition of Google Apps is arguably easier to use and also more robust in terms of calendaring features. You can also use a Microsoft Office toolbar, which includes potential synchronization between Outlook and SalesForce (and perhaps even Google Apps via this approach), but the toolbar works only with Microsoft Office 2007 and later versions.
These Google Apps topics are not required for a review of Advologix, but I suspect many of you are interested in these issues, particularly if you are committed to and/or considering cloud computing. Incidentally, I should also note that SalesForce integrates with Packet8 (now known as 8x8, Inc. (NASDAQ: EGHT), www.8x8.com), which also was reviewed in my previous column on remote access. Thousands of additional applications are available to do just about anything a user can imagine via the SalesForce platform.
Returning to Advologix itself, the Advologix system functions much like SalesForce would for any other service professional. The difference is that Advologix has customized SalesForce for lawyers and law firms, such as renaming "Customers" to "Accounts," retaining "Contacts," and renaming "Contracts" or "Cases" to "Matters." Advologix can be used in much the same way as the Tabs or Lawgic systems or any other more advanced practice management system, including for a matter-centric approach. I would distinguish Advologix from the other systems, however, in that its data can be sliced in many ways with the mere click of a mouse. The tabs or "views" within Advologix/SalesForce can sort a user's data in just about any way desired, by account, by contact, by matter, and so on.
Using Advologix, a client file can be opened in any way that the user chooses, but the typical approach would be to open an account first. Specific contacts would be attached to that account. Then a matter or sub-matter would be opened under the account.
All kinds of "activities" or tasks can be defined. These records can be connected to accounts, contacts, or matters. These data include calendar entries, such as meetings or telephone calls. Then these items all appear on the user's "Home" tab, displayed under the user's calendar, tasks, and items to approve.
Billing functions much like other practice management systems. Advologix/SalesForce features a full-time billing system with integrated trust accounting for retainers. Advologix boasts a "StopLoss" billing view that makes it one of the most unique systems I have ever used. The system searches all records to ensure everything is billed for a given billing period. This feature alone could more than pay for the system, which is offered at a flat monthly rate (identical to SalesForce).
The pricing is actually better because you receive an Enterprise subscription to SalesForce via your Advologix subscription, which would cost substantially more if you subscribed directly to SalesForce. As mentioned above, you must pay for the full mobile application. You might opt for the free Mobile Lite version, although I have not tested that yet.
As with any SalesForce-built application, data can be backed up in a variety of ways. There is also an offline version of SalesForce that presumably works with Advologix. I have not tested that either.
The power of SalesForce allows the user to customize nearly any aspect of Advologix. Other applications can be added via the SalesForce/Force.com offering of thousands of applications. This can be a little daunting when a lawyer begins using Advologix, but it is relatively simple: the user merely selects the application that he or she wants to add, and it magically appears as part of his or her Advologix-based login to SalesForce.
Well-known attorney and technology consultant Seth Rowland recently reviewed Advologix in his December 15, 2009, TechnoFeature article published by TechnoLawyer.com. Seth offered relevant commentary on the advantages and disadvantages of cloud computing, along with factors to consider. In Seth's and my view, Advologix is worth your time at least to test drive, which you should do for any of these systems.
The practice management world is changing as rapidly as the rest of a lawyer's life, especially for the levels of technology available. Cloud computing is now a reality if you desire to manage your law practice on-line. Indeed, you can eliminate your own server literally if you desire to implement a true on-line approach, although local and multiple backup options are always wise. If you do not use a practice management system or if you have been considering adopting a different one, you should consider these systems.Return to Probate & Property Magazine