EPMS: A Tool for Estate Planners and Elder Lawyers

I have generally kept this blog free of product promotions and endorsements (not to mention split infinitives).  Basha Systems LLC has recently added a treasure trove of information to its main website (www.bashasys.com) and a new subdomain (http://estateplanning.bashasys.com) and added products to the web store (http://store.bashasys.com).  I encourage you to look at those sites for your edification and our possible remuneration.  But I should let you know that Basha Systems LLC is in the process of transformation from focusing predominantly on technology consulting to a product development company.  Don’t worry … we will continue to provide consulting services. It pays the bills; its fun; and it gives us ideas for product development.

In the past several years, we have helped launch Interactive Legal Systems LLC’s “Lifetime Estate Planning System,” also known as Wealth Transfer Planning (“WTP”).  We have designed and built a commercially available probate system in conjunction with the Nebraska State Bar Association, which is used in over 120 law firms.  We have served as advisor to the Minnesota State Bar Association in the development of a suite of forms that will soon be made available as a member benefit. We built a “Record Room Management System” and “Litigation File Management System” add-ons for Time Matters.  We are currently developing under contract to ILS a comprehensive elder law planning system for elder lawyers.

And yesterday, we officially launched a new product in conjunction with Interactive Legal Systems.  The Basha Systems “Estate Planning Management System” for the software formerly known as Time Matters® is a complete system for estate planners and soon for elder law attorneys that builds on the best features of Time Matters® and HotDocs®.  The original conception was to turn Time Matters into a data source to feed the client interview in WTP.  Based on discussions with numerous attorneys, the client and spouse contact form styles evolved into a complete estate planning management system built as a feature package on top of the software now known as LexisNexis Front Office powered by Time Matters. If this area is of interest to you (or your clients), please take a look at our new subdomain, and in particular (http://estateplanning.bashasys.com/timematters).

The EPMS system represents hundreds of hours of work for three programmers with specialties in HotDocs®, Time Matters® and Javascript/HTML. And yet, the system can be installed in under 30 minutes, with a live web-based training class to follow immediately.  Basha Systems has taken its own Kool-Aid® and invested substantial “non-billable” hours to produce a high-quality product.  Take a look and let us know what you think.  Or contact us, to arrange a live-demo.

The Day Time Matters Died

The old saw goes: “You don’t appreciate me.  All you do is gripe and complain … But you’ll miss me when I am gone.  That will be my revenge.” During a recent server rebuild, combined with fresh rebuilds of several PC’s that saw came true.  You see, once with got Windows Small Business Server and Windows XP Pro up on the machines, the fun began… Nothing would be complete until “Time Matters” or LNFOPBTM was back up.

For you see … without Time Matters, there was no business, no ability to get at my rolodex, my old emails, my client notes and files.  All work came to a crashing halt.  The fact that is was the weekend before Christmas eve helped in that client demands were low.  But it also didn’t help that LN support was on holiday.

We got the server back up … but did not discover, until Ken Kennedy remoted into our server on Christmas Eve (well … really the morning of Christmas Eve).  If you are reading this, Ken Kennedy, thank you.  Ken discovered we had forgotten to open the TCPIP port 1433 on our SQL Server when we reinstalled it, so that the other machine could see the server.  We also needed to run an orphan user script, not one for the faint of heart.  But this blog is not just a thank you to Ken Kennedy … but rather a humorous look at life without Time Matters.

And so… Monday morning rolled around … No Time Matters.  The funny thing, we needed to reload Time Matters on the Server to get at the SQL utilities to do some testing.  However, the Product ID for our Time Matters was stored …. you guessed it, on the

If Santa had a Practice Management System

If Santa had a practice management system … what would he do?  As the population grows, Santa’s elves have been hard-pressed to keep up with “the List” (you know the one …of who is naughty and who is nice) and provide fast and accurate responses.  The elves have been working overtime (they always do) as the big day approaches. But the List is just too long.  Keeping the list current is a gargantuan task.  Just finding all the parchment and ink requires daily shipments for Ink from India and parchment from Sri Lanka (Yes … Santa is part of the global economy). So … what if we gave Santa a practice management system?  As a non-profit, Santa might even be eligible for software discounts or a NFR license to LNFOPBTM.

Related Link:

So … Let’s look at the situation from a practice management consultant’s eye.  We need status records on 2 billion children.  We need to generate instant reports on who is naughty and who is nice.  With the rise of litigation, some naughty children have been appealing the determination of naughtiness (they don’t particularly like coal). And so, we have needed to open an audit file on each child to keep track of communications regarding each child’s activities.  These notes, of course, are discoverable, so we need some document retention policy.  And given the time it takes to do appeals, the typical 1 month retention policy for emails is too short.

Personally, I think these “coal appeals” are frivilous on two grounds.  First, there is no harm from the determination.  There is no claim on a contingent expectation of generous gifts, particularly where the determination is entirely discretionary; under the arbitration review standard, the one which is applied to coal appeals, no claim should survive (unless the judge has been bribed) on preliminary motions.  Second, it is frivolous, as the supplied coal is far more valuable than any gift that would be supplied by Santa.  With the current price of oil, any kid could take his lump of coal to the nearest savings and loan, and trade it in for cold hard cash.  Coal assets these days are far more value than real estate …. at least the price is appreciating.

So back to Santa’s workshop.  Everyone knows that even frivolous appeals do get litigated, and therefore the data needs to be managed.  And so, Santa and his elves would be better served by a Practice Management system or Case Management System.  My company has produced an Estate Planning Management System for estate attorneys (see link).  We could undertake the Workshop as a client.

We would start them on Time Matters Enterprise. SQL server would be required and some fairly powerful Quad Core Xeon processors. The complexity of the determination of naughty and nice would work with a stripped down basic contact form … in essence a Client Record, since we really have only one Client (Santa). For each appeal, we would open a Matter to track the status and proceedings in the litigation. Each communication and note regarding the “Client kid” would be tracked in the system, whether a note, an email, or a phone call.  We would keep a history of determinations on the second tab, showing the determination for each age up to majority (common … will ya … After ya hit 18 Santa stops keeping tabs).

Then we need to redirect the elves to a proper assessment process.  Let’s have none of these off-the-cuff determinations!  With a Case management system, our process is discoverable.  And the more open the process, the more transparent the method of determination, the less likely appeals will be overturned … hell even get into court.  And so, with the 2008 Santa’s Workshop Management System (“SWMS”), there will be a new regime.  The SWMS includes customized Contact Powerviews that let you review with one click.  Just after Thanksgiving, all notes, calls, events and tasks of each kid as recorded by the busy elves.

This report is printed out; reviewed separately by three elves to make an independent determination.  In the case of any dissenting votes, the report is passed up to a committee of 12 reindeer who decide by simple majority.  In the case of a tie, Santa is called in as the tie-breaker.  All proceedings are recorded in the SWMS.  Once a determination is final, the contact is flagged for the appropriate Santa’s list, and the gift determinations are also recorded and sent to the warehouse of Santa’s Workshop.  With just-in-time inventory processing, these warehouse order are then passed on to the production floor of Santa’s Workshop and then onto the fulfillment provision to get ready for shipment.

We anticipate that with the Santa’s Workshop, the Workshop should easily be able to meet the rising tide of litigation over “Coal Appeals”, and even shut down completely for the January and February mid-winter break from all the efficiency savings.  If you find elves wind-surfing in St. Barts this January … you will know that the Santa’s Workshop Management System is in place and doing its job for happy children around the work.

Launch of EPMS Tips Archive

Basha Systems has recently launched an Estate Planning Feature Package for Time Matters. With the launch of EPMS, Estate Planning Management System for Time Matter (aka LexisNexis Front Office powered by Time Matters), we will be using this space as a support forum. Many of the techniques and approaches used for EPMS apply generally to Time Matters. So add this to your newsreader in Time Matters and you will be able to keep abreast on new developments.

In this space we will be putting tips, tricks and other thoughts on best use of Time Matters for your estate planning business.

Risk Management and Document Automation

Lawyers deal with risk every day.  Whether responding to a summons and complaint, drafting an estate plan, or structuring a limited partnership, lawyers are called on to identify the areas of risk and resolve them.  Because most lawyers lack formal actuarial training, few lawyers can quantify the actual level of risk in a given situation, or the exact degree to which their actions and advice reduce that level of risk.  And yet, “risk reduction” is the main reason businesses and individuals hire lawyers. This articles explores the nature of risk, how lawyers assess risk, and how they can profit from doing a proper risk assessment.

Value Added Proposition

In determining the “value added” proposition of going to a lawyer, there are few clear guidelines for the client to use in determining the “ROI” or Return on Investment.  If you purchase an insurance policy, you have a fixed cost, a known return (up to the coverage limits), and a “risk of loss”.  These factors can be used to determine whether one insurance policy is better suited to your needs than another.

Lawyers can and do play a major role in the business world, similar to that of an insurance policy.  A lawyer can charge his or her clients “higher legal fees” only by “quantifying the reduction in risk” that comes with hiring his or her firm, and demonstrating a clear (and more certain) return on the investment than that offered by the firm’s competitors.  By focusing on the “value proposition” and not the “fee schedule” the lawyer can have “happy clients” and “larger fees”.

Risk/Reward Ratio

This article does not hope to explain all the actuarial principles of assessing risk.  Like you the reader, I am legally trained (a recovered lawyer turned technologist), but I do have some clients who are actuaries.  Businessmen look at risk/reward ratios.  A potential million dollar loss with a 10% risk is worth $100,000.  A businessman may spend up to $50,000 to avoid that risk (or roll the dice).  Anything more is money poorly spent.  By contrast, take a potential $400,000 loss, with a 50% risk, and a businessman will gladly pay $100,000 to $200,000 to avoid that risk.  And if your legal advice and/or action can only reduce the risk of loss from 50% to 10%, you have still increased the value proposition of your services and can charge a fee commensurate with the value you gave to your client.

Reducing the Level of Risk

One of the key ways a lawyer can “reduce the risk” to his or her clients is to increase the quality and consistency of the firm’s work product.  The typical way to do this is to (1) spend more time on each transaction – increasing billable hours, or (2) hire more talented junior attorney, thereby increasing leverage.  A minority of law firms, with some success, have developed standard procedures, protocols, and forms for producing the actual work product.  The development and refinement of standard forms has the affect of increasing the “baseline” work product, and allowing more time for “crafting and counseling”.  It also allows for more junior attorneys and paralegals to do much of the work, increasing leverage.

While forms and procedures can be effective, the protocols must be reviewed periodically and the forms must be regularly updated to reflect the current state of the law and best practices.  If you don’t, the value proposition of your legal work product will decline over time.  Such work is typically viewed as a “non-billable cost.” In reality, such work is a capital investment in your business, an investment of “time” rather than money, but one that has clear and quantifiable returns.

The Next Step – Automation

Standard forms and protocols are a good start.  But the ongoing maintenance costs can be quite taxing on a firm. Changes in procedures often require expensive retraining of the staff.  Changes in standard forms require ongoing vigilance.  It is often easier to leave the form as it is, and let each attorney modify it, than to put variations and alternate text into the form.

Enter stage right, automation.  Switch to a case management system where the protocols are electronic, where the process is governed by easily modified business rules, and where users can refine the protocols easily.  Switch also to a document assembly system which represents an amalgamation of the standard forms and the attorney specific modifications into a decision-tree of choices which result in a first draft document which more closely resembles a final draft document.

The result of automation is a substantial “reduction of risk”.  The automation increases the quality and the consistency of your work product, not to mention leveraging the attorney’s time from efficiency gains.  Moreover, such systems are flexible.  Protocols can be changed on the fly.  A new trigger can be created that adds a newly required step to the process that first automatically.  New provisions of the tax code can be incorporated into the document template so that they are included in all generated documents.

The reason to adopt automation is to “reduce the risk” of inconsistent work product.  The reason to bring consistency to your work product is to allow you to more accurately quantify the reduction of risk to your clients.  And once you can quantify that reduction of risk, you can increase the perceived value of your services.  And this will mean the ability to effectively charge higher fees.


This tip covered the expression models: ANSWERED(VAR) and ANSWERED(DIALOG).  Most often these are used in templates, but they are also used in computations to test whether a variable or a dialog has been answered.  Hotdocs scripts will be interrupted if the value of any required variable is not known.  For this reason, the use of the”answered” function gives a value where no value is known.

What are the elements?

  • ANSWERED: The function
  • VAR: Any variable.  All variables will have an “answered” or “unanswered” status.  Note, that you can force an answered status on a variable under two conditions: (1) if the variable has a “default” and the dialog on which the variable appears has been asked, or (2) the variable is a True/False variable on a dialog with an Ask All setting and that dialog has been asked.
  • DIALOG: Any dialog.  This tests whether the dialog has been “asked” in an interview.

Usage of ANSWERED expression:

  • Usage is disparaged by the software developers as “unnecessary”.  A properly designed template should have sufficient nesting of logic such that you need not test whether a particular variable has been answered.  This is particularly true when you use variable in IF EXPRESSIONS.


  • It is also disparaged because the way HotDocs does (or rather does NOT) clear data.  If a variable is “hidden” based on a dialog scripting rule, the hidden variable still retains its value.  For this reason, you should not depend on the answered status of a variable to determine whether a phrase should be included if there are parent conditions not expressed in the template.


  • Usage is recommended if you want something special to happen, other than the ordinary, if a variable has not been answered.  While you can use “tokens” in the advanced properties of a variable, you may want to put the rules into a computation.

CLIENT Address 1 TE
“ + CLIENT Address 2 TE

Expression Model: AGE(DATE)

This tip covers the instruction model: AGE(DATE).  Use this expression if you want to know the age in terms of years as of the current date.  If you want to know the age as of a specific date, other than today, then you will need to use YEARS FROM( DATE , DATE )

What are the elements?

  • AGE: The function 
  • DATE: The start date for measuring the age.  It can be a birth date or the date a debt was incurred.

How do you use it?

AGE(CLIENT Date of Birth DA)

Expression Model: ABSOLUTE VALUE(NUM)

This tip covers the instruction model: ABSOLUTE VALUE(NUM). This model returns the positive (or absolute) value of a number variable.  In some accounting formulas, the result of the formula will be a negative number.  You may want to not the value as a negative, but still be able to treat and format the number based on its positive value

What are the elements?

  • ABSOLUTE VALUE: The function


  • NUM: A number value, positive or negative

How do you use it?

Use it in a fillpoint or computation for a variable entered in the system


Use it to test the result of a calculation

ABSOLUTE VALUE(Gross Revenue NUExpenses NU)

Expression Model: ZERO(NUM)

This tip covers the use of the instruction model: ZERO(NUM).  When is a number not a number?  When it has no value.  That doesn’t present an issue unless you start running calculations based on an unanswered number.  The solution is ZERO(NUM).

What ZERO expression does is return the number value (if there is a number) or zero.

Use for a sum of different number variables

SET Fruit Total NU TO ZERO(Apples CNT) + ZERO(Oranges CNT) + ZERO(Tangerines CNT)

Use to provide a Total off a Repeat

REPEAT Inventory RPT

October Conference Schedule

This October finds me on the road.

Today I was in Lincoln Nebraska.  We ran a seminar on our Nebraska Probate System V (powered by GhostFill).  Over 3 hours we went in detail how to use the system and how to customize the forms.  We are now off to Atlanta for the LexisNexis CIC conference.  Lexis management has invited me to speak on a panel of document assembly specialists on how to make the most out of practice automation.  I have a little surprise … a preview of a real “sexy client”.  Attend the session and find out.