Going Paperless – The Legal Stuff

Have you ever considered going truly “PAPERLESS”?  If you do, did you plan on telling your clients?  And what do you do with all their STUFF? The answer may lie in your client engagement letter.  So long as you disclose to your client what you are going to do with the documents in his/her case, and so long as you keep originals of those documents you are legally and ethically required to keep, you should be in a position to go paperless without increasing your risk of malpractice.  Wells Anderson and I have developed some model language that you can you in your engagement letter.  We give it with the caveat that while we are lawyers, we are likely not admitted to practice in your jurisdiction, and second we are not offering this language as legal advice.  We are asking you to consider this language and review it in light of your firm’s document retention procedures and your state’s legal and ethical requirements regarding document retention.

Read moreGoing Paperless – The Legal Stuff

What should the price be for ONLINE document assembly

If you are reading this blog/blawg/weblog, you get “document assembly”.  You understand its power as a productivity multiplier.  You know how it transforms the practice of law and business.  You see the tangible results in improved work product and faster turnaround.  THAT IS GOOD.  But have you factored in the cost of deployment.  You can have “cheap” desktop software which allows you to make the system available to a limited group at very low cost.  But what happens to that cost when you wish to extend the benefits of automation to a wider group, say 20 to 50 users, maybe 100 to 500 users. It is then that the economies of scale weigh in favor of buying a ROBUST web-server based document assembly system.  There is a middle step of deploying the desktop software through Citrix or Terminal Services, but even such approach requires configuration costs, maintaining profiles and updates and the other consequent costs of an individual deployment and support.

The current price ratio of single desktop client to a server client, factoring software cost only is 100 to 1, assuming a $30,000 server vs. a $300 desktop.  However, one should consider a number of other factors.  (1) Cost of installing software and configuring it on EACH desktop times the number of deployments vs. cost of installing on and configuring a single web/application server. (2) Cost of applying updates and patches to EACH desktop times the number of deployments vs. cost of applying patches to a SINGLE web-server.  (3) Cost of maintaining each workstation with sufficient hardware and memory to run “full client” applications vs. cost of maintaining each workstation with sufficient hardware to run a basic “web-browser”.  (4) Cost of maintaining land updating libraries of templates on each workstation and/or central file server vs. cost of uploading “updated” templates to a single Web Server. (5) Inability to “invite” outsiders who do not have the “fat client” software to use the system vs. ability to invite clients and others to enter their data through a secure web connection.

Once you start factoring in all of these costs into your equation, and once you start looking at deployments of more than 20 users, the case for ONLINE document assembly becomes less a matter of “price” and more a matter of preference.  If you are interested in ONLINE document assembly, please give us a call.  We offer development services in Exari, DealBuilder and HotDocs.

Three-Click Solution with Basha Office Management System (OMS)

Have you ever wished to unlock the power of Time Matters so that any item of data you enter on a case can be retrieved in Three-Clicks of a Mouse.  For you, we have developed OMS – The Basha Systems Office Management System for Time Matters.  It takes just a few minutes to install, and will save you at least 30 minutes a day hunting for information that you have already entered.  It will make Time Matters eminently more user friendly.  Here is the basics.  Step 1: Choose your record, whether it be a matter, contact, event, todo, or UDR.  Step 2: Choose your Powerview.  There are over 80 customized Power Views in the package. Step 3: Click on PRINT or on EXPAND ALL.  It’s that easy.

The Office Management System comes with a full suite of Power Views. One of the most significant are power views that give you ALL fields on the underlying record in a single printable view.  These fields are grouped by area, with the ability to customize the label for the area, just as you can do on the record’s form style.  Moreover, the system also is dynamic.  As you change the prompts on the underlying record, the prompts on the Power View adjust.

But, there is more.  The current OMS system ships with several basic best-practices form style. These include a new INDIVIDUAL contact form style and a new CORPORATE contact form style that you can use as a base and are closely tied to the Power Views.  It also ships with a system for managing your file room and a mini litigation documents management system, previously shipped separately.  What better way to jump start your existing Time Matters installation or to use for a new installation.  We have invested hundreds of hours in developing this system which you can have in just a few minutes.  Installation and training on the system is included in the purchase price of $1500 for the first user and assistant and $200 for each additional user.  Give us a call.

Client Facing Data Entry

Have you ever wished that your CLIENTS could enter their own data.  Sure, you wouldn’t want them to “do their own documents”.  But isn’t it a pain taking hand-written questionnaires filled out by clients, and then having to re-enter that data into your HotDocs template system.  There has to be an easier way.  Why not have a secure “data entry form” on your own website where you can direct your clients to answer the questions.  Such system would notify you when a questionnaire was completed.  You could then “download” their information as a HotDocs answer file and use it for your templates. Such a system is in the “Skunk works” phase at Basha Systems.  If you are interested, please give Rose a call at (914) 827-9173.

The world of web forms has advanced dramatically in the past few years.  Basha Systems will be creating for its clients private portals which can either be part of a custom website or a subdomain. These portals will include, in addition to the client intake forms, custom built to feed your own HotDocs system, areas for firm articles and announcements in a stylish website.  We are looking for early volunteers who understand the value of productivity and want to take their workflow to the next level.

Please give us a call.

Still Using GhostFill

Are you still using GhostFill?  Have you invested a lot of time in building templates?  Are you using Amicus Assembly?  It has been over two years since GhostFill officially stopped supporting the product in the retail software market.  There are still published systems using GhostFill (one of which we support).  So if you wanted to know, what is NEXT after GhostFill …give our office a call at (914) 827-9173 and ask for Rose. We know GhostFill inside and out.  We also know all of the leading document assembly systems, both client-server and web-server based systems.  We are also soon to add Amicus Attorney to our list of practice management software certfications.

We can give you your options and present you the alternative for conversion. Because we know GhostFill so well, we can recycle the code and logic, building equivalents in the alternative document assembly markup languages.

Give us a ring.  Don’t wait for your computers to die of old age before you make the switch.  OR, if you just need a refresher, we can help you extend the life of your existing system.

Potatoes and Peas

Back in April, when the first breath of spring was in the air, my son and I went out to the garden plot, shovel in hand.  We applied manure, peat moss and other natural fertilizers and turned over the soil We then chopped up a number of spuds (with eyes) and stuck them deep in the soil (six inches under).  We also planted two rows of peas (snap peas and sugar peas). And then we sat back and waited, and waited.  The nights were still cold, and some of the days were cold.

The first to pop up were the peas.  Being planted only an inch underground, they had less distance to travel.  They stuck out their green necks into the cold spring air.  Slowly, they mounted to the sky, sending out runners to connect with neighboring plants and up to the trellis beside them. Some went off along the ground in the wrong direction and had to be reigned in.  Now, six weeks later they are a foot high mass of green leaves, runners and stalks.  We can see the first nascent flowers.

The potatoes (Yukon gold and Fingerlings) took longer.  After a five weeks of no-show, I was concerned the entire patch of potatoes had rotted in the ground with nothing to show.  There is a change that rot sets in before the plant can grow.  And so, it is with anticipation that we caught the first grows above the ground.  By then, the weeds had invaded, including some Hosta roots that had been left in the soil and were now springing up where the potatoe patch should have been.  My son and I pruned the weeds, carefully distinguishing friend from foe.  I am glad to report that the potatoes quickly made up for lost time.  In fact they are now a sea of green covering the entire patch of soil, and nearly a foot talk.  The few extra spuds that I dumped in a shaded area of the front yard have also materialized.

The peas should be ready to harvest in another four to six weeks and keep sprouting throughout the summer.  By contrast, the potatoes will sit in the ground all summer and into the fall, storing up solar energy from the leaves in the roots and tubers that we find so tasty.  I let you know when they are ready to eat.

For now … Happy Planting.

Website Relaunch Party – Click your Refresh

If you have visited Bashasys.com in the past, you might come back and take a look.  Be sure to click the REFRESH button (Control-F5) to clear your browser cache.  Today we are launching a totally rebuilt website.  Bear with us as we iron out the kinks.  Over the past month, we have ported several hundred pages of contact from coded-HTML pages into Joomla Content Management System.  With Joomla, there is improved navigation, system-wide search, and the ability to print any article you see to PDF.  More important for us, with its ease of editing, you will find the site more regularly updated with new and revised content to keep pace with the ever changing technology market.

To begin with, we have dividing the site into several product-specific subdomains.  There is still bashasys.com.  But now, visit timematters.bashasys.com for our offering in Time Matters.  Take a look at probateforms.bashasys.com to see what we built for the Nebraska Bar Association.  If you are into estate planning, you might look into estateplanning.bashasys.com.  And there is a brand-new store where you can easily make your purchases.

Keep posted for more specific announcements.

Nolo Press – Invovator, Threat or Nuisance

I posted the following topic on the Legal Innovation group on LinkedIn:  Is Nolo Press (www.nolo.com) an innovator, a “threat”, or just a nuisance? Nolo Press ( http://www.nolo.com/ ) started out as a counter-culture response to the high cost of lawyering for the “average Joe”. It has morphs from “legal kits” to online legal forms and rakes in tens of millions of dollars a year. I got some interesting responses that I thought worth posting here.

Solomon Bedford writes:

The question is a good one. A related question I would like answered is whether attorneys should ingore, compete with, or partner with such businesses? The threshold issue is whether a lawyer can be involved with such a product/ service in manner consistent with the rules and spirit of professional responsibility. The trend has developed strong momentum because there is a segment of the population that desires a finite service and or product at a finite price. This is an issue the ABA touched upon in a publication regarding limited scope representation. I would like to know if anyone has any thoughts on this issue.

Richard Durfee writes:

The short answer is “yes.” It is an innovator to consumers who don’t like paying big legal fees, a threat to lawyers without imagination or self confidence, and a nuisance to the do-it-yourselfer that doesn’t complete the paperwork. It is good for people to take responsibility for their own legal affairs, and a huge mistake in this day and age for attorneys to assume that the public needs them as much as they used to, or that consumers are as ignorant of their options as they were in the pre-internet days.

Maurice Hendriks writes:

Hi Seth, my short answer is “no”. It is not an innovator as there are numerous others who operate following an identical business model. My brief analysis on what NOLO does is that they do nothing more than providing references to legal information as per their ‘About Us’ statement ‘We are the nation’s oldest and most respected provider of legal information’. To the best of my knowledge they do not actually provide legal advice but only provide access to legal information, but please correct me if I am wrong.

I definitely do not see their model as a threat. People buy kits online as a first step. Then they start filling them out and not infrequently find that is all too hard and decide to go the local small legal firm for a free consultation after which they often end up as a ‘small’ client. Looking at it from that perspective, it may actually generate work for lawyers. Filing in the forms online is a service that has grown as a natural progression of the Internet and as Richard mentioned, it is time for professionals to adjust their business and mind-set to the innovative Brave New World.

A nuisance is something personal, if it is a personal nuisance then it may be time to ascertain why it has become one and possibly start thinking about leveraging and benefiting from the facts rather than wasting time being frustrated by it. It can of course also be ignored.

Mitchell Kowalski responds:

This is about as threatening to the legal industry as online trading is to stock brokers. This group and the others who do the same thing, will have a nice niche market. But there are also a lot of people who are interested in personalized service to ensure that things are done “right”.

In short, there is room for both.

And, at the risk of being seen as more cynical than I am (a huge stretch!) as a lawyer, I’m happy to be rid of the type of client who would buy these kits.

Bruce Marcus responds:

his is intermediation, in which a customer bypasses a traditional middle man. When you trade online and skip a broker, when you log on to the internet with your symptoms instead of calling your doctor, when you read your newspaper online instead of buying it at the news stand, even when you do your own taxes with a tax software package, that’s intermediatin.Is it a nuisance? Only if you let it be, but it’s a fact of life. Adjust your practice, and move on. you can’t stop it.

Further Thoughts on the Discussion

Solomon makes a good point: “The threshold issue is whether a lawyer can be involved with such a product”. Nolo has a sister site http://lawyers.nolo.com/ which feeds business to lawyers; I don’t know what fees they charge. They may also have links when you complete a form to “find an attorney” to help you with the form.

A second player, LegalZoom, a competitor to Nolo ( http://www.legalzoom.com/ ) also is offering a legal directory, along with automated forms and paralegal services.

A third player, http://www.directlaw.com/ offers a different pitch. For a fee, they will set up practitioners with their own space in directlaw where they can sell directlaw products, along with their own legal counseling services. DirectLaw handles the billing and takes a fee for its document production services.

So the question Solomon raises is apt; should a lawyer get involved with one of these vendors. It could lead to referral business. While the typical person who approaches these sites is not a “big spender” everyone knows that some small spenders become big spenders, and enough small spenders can constitute a viable business.

Off-Shore Word Processing

In this time of economic downturn, a number of firms are looking at making Staff cuts.  And one of the areas they are looking hard at is word-processing.  There has been an aggressive pitch by “vendors” offering to outsource the word-processing department.  With the advent of high-speed color scanners and high-speed internet, it is possible to send your document (or your dictation) around the world, and have it delivered back to you 24×7.  With worldwide networks and hosted document repositories, it is possible to have a service provide with offices in every major time zone.  And so, what is missing in the bid by these vendors for your work. What are some of the choices.

Read moreOff-Shore Word Processing

Sharepoint and Infopath vs. Time Matters and HotDocs – When FREE is NOT FREE

FREE is not FREE.  We in the legal practice management community live in a “bubble”.  Because of our “unique needs” and “limited budgets” lawyers and professional service organizations, have been able to attract a unique set of software tools for drafting our documents and managing our business.  Among these tools are document assembly software packages like HotDocs, GhostFIll, DealBuilder and Exari.  And among the practice management tools are ones like Time Matters, Amicus Attorney and PracticeMaster.  These tools are well developed, with development histories of over a decade or two decades of use.  And these tools are “Rapid Development” platforms that enable developers and consultants to build powerful and highly customized solutions for their clients.

It is true there are OTHER tools that can be used for managing contact information and for automating forms.  These other tools are “free” since many of them are included with the licenses to products many already use.  InfoPath is included with the enterprise version of Microsoft Office; SharePoint Services is included with many versions of Windows Server. And because these tools are “free” and because larger organizations have dedicated programming staff to build solutions with these tools, there is a tendency outside of LEGAL, to use these tools instead. THIS is a mistake.

But Can’t We DO the SAME thing

I have spent time exploring SharePoint and InfoPath.  From my perspective, as a consultant, building solutions based on “free software” is a great sell.  I could build solutions with Merge Templates; or go beyond and set up InfoPath data entry forms to fee the merge templates.  I could offer these forms over a “free” SharePoint server.  I could take the document markup used by a document assembly product like HotDocs, and replace it with Bookmarks and XML objects with rules assigned to those objects.  This would be great for my business, until I asked the client to pay for the development bill.

The reason lawyers and professional service organizations choose a HotDocs for document assembly or a Time Matters for practice management is because the development costs for equivalent level of customization is a fraction of what they would be for building a custom system on SharePoint Service, InfoPath with Microsoft SQL Server.  These solutions are powerful and integrated out of the box.  I was asked by a prospective client how much time it would take to covert a set of 100 lending documents into a series of automated HotDocs templates.  When I replied a conservative 2-3 months, his response was, “That would replace our division of programs in _______ .” These tools are “staff multipliers” both in the efficiency such systems can achieve, and in the efficiency of these tools for software development.

A Well-Kept Secret

Big “IT” is keeping these tools secret.  It is always better to not have to requisition new software for solutions that “could have been built in-house”. The risk of bringing in such software lies both in the cost and the risk to existing staff who could have been tasked to build the solution in-house.  Besides, these systems they say, are just a bunch of data tables and merge fields; what could be so hard.

They say the “devil is in the details”.  In practice management and document assembly, that is true. The goal in document assembly is “RTP” or ready to print. And yet, there are thousands of potential nuances in any given document. The goal in practice management is in the multiple views of the data and the ability to search effectively across multiple tables to mine the data,and the ability to vary the data requirements across different practice groups and different purposes.

The real risk however for big IT is not document assembly software and practice management software (much of which was developed in North America), but rather outsourcing of entire divisions to India, China and Pakistan.  Big “IT” looks at “body count” and lines of code, rather than productivity, suitability of solutions to the requirements, or time from conception to delivery.