NetDocuments and Summer Adventures

On Monday we leave for Tel Aviv (that’s in Israel) for the month of August.  And just last week I returned from 2 days of NetDocuments certification training in Provo, Utah.  I had intended to do a detailed writeup of the class; and even intended to study for my certification exam.  However, I am too busy.  No sooner did I leave the training than 3 opportunities landed on my lap (Cloud-based law firms and law departments) that were crying out for NetDocuments.

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Credenza – Practice Management Lite

Basha Systems has recently gotten certified for Credenza, a product of Credenzasoft.com, but really a spinoff of Amicus Attorney.  Check out our new subdomain for information (amicus-attorney.bashasys.com).  The reason is really simple.  Credenza is for those who are not ready for full blown legal practice management.  It strikes a balance by including those features which most attorneys with practice management ACTUALLY USE.

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AdvologixPM – The One Year Anniversary Review

It’s been a year since my review of AdvologixPM for Technolawyer (see Review: AdvologixPM: Web-Based Practice Management System,” Technofeature, December 15, 2009).  Since that time, I have spent a lot of time learning the Salesforce.com platform (completing several online courses) as well as working with AdvologixPM.  Basha Systems has signed on as a development partner and reseller, and now offers regular training classes on how to use and configure AdvologixPM.  On this “anniversary”, I wish to reflect on those features of the AdvologixPM platform that are “special”, if not “unique” and explain why Basha Systems has become an Advologix partner.

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Recent Adventures in the Cloud

It’s been a while since my last post. I have been active in the web-space, mostly on LinkedIn where I manage a few special interest groups: (1) The Virtual Lawyer, (2) Future Automation (Documents, Data and the Cloud), (3) Time Matters Connection, (4) HotDocs Wizards, and (5) Amicus Attorney Wizards.  The first two groups have been pretty active, growing with interesting discussions, but I have neglected this space where I have a better opportunity to express myself. And so, below are some thoughts on areas I have been exploring.

Cloud-Based Practice Management

I have done reviews of AdvologixPM, RocketMatter, Clio and Houdi.  These systems do much to remove remove the shackles of an office-based, big-hardware, client server based system.  They enable lawyers to “be virtual” and to be free.  And in these times of downsizing, resizing, and cost-cutting, the ability to have a flexible and scalable practice management system that doesn’t require too much capital investment is quite worthwhile.  It allows attorneys to form “ad hoc” groups, practicing together, often from their homes, or wherever there work in.  The potential of cloud based practice management really lives in the “collaboration features.” For those who have followed my discussions on LinkedIn or participated in them, the economics of Cloud based practice management have come to be comparable to those of a client-server model.  If your firm is looking at getting a “new license” and getting “new hardware” or replacing a “server”, the economics of a Cloud solution start weighing in their favor.

Most practice management vendors have moved to “annual pricing” for their software.  This is often in the form of an annual maintenance plan, or some other structure that requires users seeking tech support, service releases or upgrades to pay some percentage of the cost of the software each year.  Fees range from 20% of list up to 33 1/3%.  In my view, these fees are reasonable and justifiable.  They provide ongoing revenue to the software vendor to improve the software and fix the software, as well as pay for responsive support staff.  That said, these costs need to be factored into a TCO (“total cost of ownership”).  If you already have a functioning server; and already have case management software in place, you need to be aware of some significant costs that should be considered in making a decision to move.

Pro-Cloud Costs

You need to factor in the software vendor’s annual maintenance fees.  You also need to factor in the cost of applying service releases and upgrades.  Just because the software is “included” doesn’t mean that you will not have disruptions in service during the upgrade or application of the release.  Some of these disruptions come form the time of migrating the data to a “new platform”.  There are consulting and training costs surrounding the new features.  Some upgrades have required new hardware and new operating system and database software.  If you haven’t put a backup system in place, you need to factors the costs of that solution.  You need to evaluate what “redundancies” you have in your hardware and software in the event of disaster.

Costs of Moving to the Cloud

If you have “nothing in place”, the start-up costs are negligible.  You can take your “Outlook” contact list and synchronize or import it into the cloud system.  However, if you have been running as a business for a while, you will have large contact lists, active matters, email repositories, and documents.  The decision will be what to do with these items.  You may decide to “import” this data into your Cloud system.  If it is just contacts, that can usually be done pretty easily with wizards.  If you wish to bring in custom data, you will be best served to work with a consultant.  They will identify the fields that need to be customized in the practice management system, help you cleanup your data, and set up import templates.  If you are moving in “documents”, you need to be aware of “size” limits.  The base fee includes a certain amount of storage.  If your files exceed that storage, you will incur extra changes.  In the greater scheme these are nominal, but you need to be informed what the charges are and be realistic as to what you are storing in the cloud.

There is so much more I could write, but I will be coming back to this topic on a more regular base.  As many of you know Basha Systems has signed up as reseller partners with AdvologixPM and NetDocuments. There is a philosophical reason.  I believe that lawyers have different needs and uses for their practice management systems and that no single configuration of intake forms and calendars will satisfy all attorneys.  In that light, I prefer the “platform” approach adopted by Time Matters (in the Client-Server world) and by AdvologixPM in the Cloud.  The platform approach presents a base configuration that meets MOST of the needs of MOST attorneys.  But at the same time, it allows the individual organizations to disable features they don’t need, modify features they do need, and extend the program by adding additional features.  Moreover, a platform approach allows 3rd party vendors to create applications that extend the features of the shipping application.

As for NetDocuments, I favor that platform over DropBox, Box.net, iGNYTE, and GoogleApps, for two reasons.  First, it was developed “FOR LAWYERS”.  That means it was designed to meet the security, encryption, and document integration needs of lawyers. Second, you cannot adopt a Cloud practice Management system and then leave your documents in the “MyDocuments” folder or on a local Server; this position is inconsistent.  So you need a viable cloud-based stoage.  Moreover, you need a system with an API (Application Programming Interface) so it integrates with your cloud solution and isn’t a separate repository.

Flat World … Big Cloud

Last week, I received a call from London.  An American lawyer, based in London, with clientele in Florida was setting up a firm “in the cloud”.  He was planning to use a Salesforce.com application for lawyers called AdvologixPM and an accounting service called Xero.com.  After some research, we discovered there was integration between Force.com and Xero, an accounting software package offered as a SaaS model (monthly fee) and hosted out of New Zealand.  After speaking to an accountant in Auckland, New Zealand, we were able to advise the client.  What makes it interesting in the “multinational” nature of this engagement made possible by “The Cloud” and requiring “no software installation”, but rather the engagement of “services.”

Here was a lawyer in London, contacting a consultant in New York, to assemble a practice management suite with “case data” hosted in the U.S. on Salesforce.com and “accounting data” hosting in New Zealand, to service clients in Florida and England.

Go figure this brave new world.

Credenza, Houdini, AdvologixPM, RocketMatter, Clio, TimeMatters 10 & Amicus 2010

Wow!!!!! The marketplace for practice management software has exploded this year.  They must have added something to the water that programmers drink (they do drink , don’t they?).

Well, yesterday, Gavel & Gown released Credenza (Click for more info).  Now you can have your Outlook and your case management; no synchronization, no exchange.  Rather, you now have FILES within Outlook.  A $9.95/month subscription is the cost.

Meanwhile, I am currently reviewing HoudiESQ. This system is a web-based practice management system designed by Frank Rivera (who architected Time Matters World Edition). It is offered on either a SAAS (Software as Service) or self-hosted basis. What is different is that it entirely redesigns and rethinks the interface for a practice management system.  Stay tuned for my review in Technolawyer later this month.

Not to be outdone, LexisNexis has released Time Matters 10 (on an all-SQL platform).  Apart from major improvements in stability and access speed, the system includes Desktop Extensions.  These widgets give you a window into Time Matters on your desktop and could change entirely the way you work with your practice management system.

Gavel & Gown, with the release of Amicus 2010 Premium Edition, has produced a solid, stable product.  While continuing its focus on “separate offices”, the Premium Edition, centralizes the data on a single SQL Server (full SQL Server 2008 Standard is included with the license) and added extensive customization in the form of custom pages and custom records.

On the SAAS front, RocketMatters, Clio and newcomer AdvologixPM are coming into their own.  Each have been progressively adding features to fill out the requirements of a robust practice management system.  Clio and RocketMatter have expanded their billing and trust accounting features. AdvologixPM, with its support for extensive customization, has released a new document automation module that lets you launch full document packages, populated with data from the Force.com platform.

So what is going on?  For several years nothing happened in Practice Management.  Many vendors “treaded water”.  Some vendors exited.  Few new players entered the market.  And existing products pretty much stayed the same. There was no excitement, no ferment.  Something is clearly happening.  And it may not be good for established vendors unless they respond to the new environment and try to generate buzz and excitement about their products.  The SAAS products are looking at a complete redesign of the way practice management is done (anywhere, anytime, any platform) that reflects the new business reality.  The SAAS products also are looking at entirely new interfaces and windows into your practice data.

How can the SAAS developers do it?  There are two answers.  First, the SAAS developers control the software and the hardware.  In a hosted environment, the developer can make instant improvements.  There is no need to wait for the “long-tail” of users to upgrade; no need to support multiple platforms, legacy software and legacy hardware.  The host is the platform.  And that makes the SAAS developers much more nimble.

The second reason, perhaps, is more significant.  And that is the pricing model.  SAAS is “cheap” on the start-up, and expensive in the long run.  It is very easy and cheap to get started with Credenza, RocketMatter, Clio and AdvologixPM.  Once you have signed on, you will keep paying so long as you use the platform.  That means that there will be ever-increasing revenue for the SAAS developer so long as it continues to innovate; with the more innovation leading to more sales, and further increases in revenue. This is a “win-win” situation.  The SAAS developer wins by the “monthly” vote by the end-user paying their fee.  The user wins by having that vote courted with constant innovation.  By contrast, the up-front software sale with nominal maintenance produces a “disincentive” to constant innovation; once you reach market saturation in your segment, the revenue actually decreases.

Despite the groans from the current users, LexisNexis has got it right with its new AMP or annual maintenance plan.  In doing so, they follow the example of PC Law and STI/Tabs.  The hope is that LexisNexis uses this annualized revenue and maintenance to “innovate and improve” the product steadily and attract new users, rather than simply extract the profits from its existing user base.  It is this transition to software as a service (whether on a desktop or in the cloud) that represents the future of practice management.

Dcoument Assembly on the Move – Contract Express

I have never been more optimistic about the future of document assembly than today. After years of retrenchment and stagnation, the market is full of new energy and ferment.  HotDocs is under new management, but it is not clear what direction it will be taking.  On the desktop, XpressDox has been launched by key developers formerly of Korbitec, developers of GhostFill. At $150/user, a free full-functioning trial downloads, a full powered syntax markup that requires NO component file and automatically determines relevance, there is some real new energy on the desktop level.

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