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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Ease of Use—Not a Good Thing?

John Heckman in his recent blog post, When Is Ease of Use Counterproductive? raised an interesting issue and one I have struggled with in designing advanced interview systems for document automation.  He posits that making something too easy encourages foolish and stupid behavior.  There is a balance between “constraints on behavior” and making something too simple.

John was likely thinking of practice management systems that strive to use wizards to paper over the complexity of their systems.  As a person who routinely turns off the wizard, I can see his point.  If you don’t ever confront the data entry form, you will not know enough about the structure of the system to be able to properly work with the data you have entered.  I can appreciate a well designed wizard, but too often the wizard makers make assumptions that simply don’t apply to you.  And unless the user is exposed to the non-wizard approach, they will often be unable to get the result they desire from the software.  Extensive wizards can in fact cripple good software.  It is not that they break the software.  Rather, it is that they obscure the functionality of the software.

In building document assembly interviews, I am constrained to balance simplicity of design with the complexity of reality.  Make an estate planning system TOO SIMPLE, and the templates it produces will only be functional 80% of the time, requiring constant vigilance and tweaks of the final Word document.  Make it too complex and the user will not know how to answer particular questions that appear unfamiliar out of the context of the documents they used to edit manually. The solution that I have come up with is a balancing act.  Rather than push the complexity under the rug with a wizard, I script the dialogs with an “advanced” option that allows you to expose more complex questions in a particular area.  Questions are carefully grouped under headers.  There is help text both associated with the variables and on the dialog.  With document assembly tools I can also add constraints that prevent bad data from being enter, such as an “division of assets” that might exceed 100%.

There are many purported “simple systems”.  The iPOD app store is an example of “simple systems”.  DISCLAIMER: I have 2 iPOD Touch devises and a Blackberry Storm.  In their advertisements, Apple toots:  “There’s an APP for that”.  And yet, the sum of the parts is often less than the whole. And that is because each APP is an Island, requiring you often to dual enter data and maintain the same data in multiple places.  I find the approach by Salesforce.com and Mozilla Firefox to be quite different.  The “APPS” in these cases are plugins that extend the core functionality of the system and allow you to do more with forcing you to separate your data in different Island.  Yes, there are thousands of apps for Salesforce.com; but each APP assumes a core set of shared data (Contacts, Accounts, Opportunities) and so these apps together are MORE than the sum of their parts.

And so, when you think of “Ease of Use” bear it in mind with a grain of salt.

Upon Returning from Banff

I have just returned from the Amicus 2010 Consultants conference in Banff.  They were kind enough to invite me to speak on document assembly to their consultants and to demonstrate how Amicus Attorney can support and facilitate complex document assembly workflow.  The setting, high in the Canadian Rockies, was nothing short of spectacular.  Some days were sunny and warm (I wore T-shirt and shorts) and other days it snowed.  But what was real exciting was the transformation from Amicus Attorney from the “warm familiar” attorney practice management system that “anyone” can use into a powerful, fully customizable, extensible workflow powerhouse.

Workflow Possibilities

I took several days to prepare for my session, evaluating just how far and how easily Amicus could be modified to support complex workflow.  The answer was that “within constraints” there was no limit to how far it could be customized.  Customization is permitted on Contacts and Files in the form of “Custom Pages”.  Each custom page can be designed.  All field types are supported.  You can layout the prompts and the data entry boxes in any fashion you want.  You can (and are recommended) to use the same fields across multiple file types.  However, you can apply them in a different order, in a different grouping, and on different pages across multiple file types.  You also have “custom records” which can be used on files and contacts, with no restriction on the number and type of custom records.

This is all done without substantially altering the familiar look and feel of Amicus.  But in the process, it truly transforms the product.  Gone are the limit of 50 custom fields for Files and 20 custom fields for contacts (assuming of course you are using Premium Edition).  In preparation for the session I prepared 3 custom pages with a total of 100 custom fields of various types including dates, picklists, checkboxes, text, and memo fields.  I also added custom pages for contacts on the file.  And I created two new record types.  It was all done rapidly.  I was able to define the field names, the prompts, the size of the text boxes, the location on the page, and even use alignment fields to make everything “pretty”.  I was also able to add text label boxes to provide further clarification.

The fun begins

This would have been enough, but the focus of my presentation was document assembly.  Amicus lets you access all the fields, including custom fields, in both “merge templates” and through HotDocs.  The merge template builder gives you access to the custom data on the file with fields grouped by file type.  If you are “rigorous” on your field naming, your field lists can self organize by subject area.

As for HotDocs, Amicus takes full advantage of the HotDocs API.  You can use a default “map file” which will automatically create a HotDocs component file will all the data on the file (with the exception of custom records at the present time).  This include all matter data, including custom fields, all data on the “primary client” including custom fields, basic information on people on file (in a repeat) and special fields for data on events, tasks, notes, calls etc.  It creates a CMP file and will generate the requisite answer file without any mapping required.  That doesn’t prevent you from creating your own custom maps to an existing set of HotDocs templates.  Nor does it prevent an advanced HotDocs developer from creating his or her own master component file and using an INSERT command to bring the interview into the template.

Even more exciting is the ability made possible by SQL Server that ships with Premium Edition.  You can create a database component in HotDocs and “query” the database for any data that is not coming over automatically.  You can use the Short Filename in your query to go back and grab more related data. Or, you can build your own dynamic reporting system.

Conclusion

As you can see, it was a busy few days.  I learned a lot about Amicus and met a lot of great new consultants and made some new friends.  In my standing room only presentation, it is my hope that I have excited them as much about document assembly and its possibilities, as I am now excited about Amicus.

Time Matters Installer Error – On Loading Internet Explorer After Upgrade to Time Matters 10 SR2

It happen on a client. Every time they opened Internet Explorer or Outlook, they would get a Time Matters error and it would attempt to run a setup file.  It was looking for a file called infoent.msi. No matter what you did, click Cancel, OK, the problem would keep recycling.  A reboot didn’t solve the problem.  Nothing would make the darn thing go away.  I thought this was isolated to my client, until I started discussing it with other CIC’s.  Marc Wexler had seen it and had a solution.  The best solution came from Wells Anderson.  Read on for the solution.

The True Cause

The cause of the error had to do with a Windows installer that had not “completed” all steps of its installation.  The incompletion was triggered when you opened Outlook or Internet Explorer, most likely because the installation routine, in my case, an upgrade to Time Matters 10 Service Release 2 was trying to build integration to those applications and was interrupted.  When you open one of those applications, it would then try to complete the installation, but since the installer had closed and removed itself, it could no longer find the file “infoent.msi” to complete the action.  I am sure programmers could come up with a more precise explanation.

The Solution

You could call techsupport, if you were on annual maintenance.  Or, you go to the Microsoft Knowledgebase and click on the article titled: Use the Windows Installer CleanUp Utility to remove Office 2000, Office XP, or Office 2003 (found at http://support.microsoft.com/kb/290301).  Or you could just click here to download the Cleanup Utility.

(1) Run the EXE to install the Cleanup Utility
(2) Find “Windows Install Clean Up.
(3) Find the entry for LexisNexis/Practice Advantage installer
(4) Click on Delete.
(5) When done, go into File -> Setup -> General -> Workstation Level and run both the Word Processor Setup and the Additional Program Setup.

The problem should go away.

Custom Imports and Updates

Time Matters has a very advanced and sophisticated import system.  There are many reasons one would wish to import data into Time Matters.  The most common is for new users of Time Matters who are converting from other systems.  If they are using Outlook, you can use “synchronization”.  For other practice management system or contact management systems there are pre-set import routines.  But there are other circumstances where you will need to use the Custom Import.  It is for those circumstances that I offer a few tips or best practices.

Circumstances where Custom Import is Required

(1) Your data source is Outlook, but you have used custom fields.
(2) Your have worked with Seibel CRM On Demand, and only have CSV (Comma Separated Value) Files.
(3) The built-in import doesn’t support the record type you want to bring in, such as “Notes”
(4) You are doing a “mass” export and cleanup and reimport
(5) You are enabling User Defined Records from a custom database or spreadsheet.

We use Excel to cleanup the data before import and prepare
(1) Always “index” your imports with some unique record ID.  In Excel, you can add an ID column, with data such as ADV001, ADV002.  By dragging the corner of the cell, Excel will complete the series.
(2) Use concatenation (e.g. =CONCATENATE(A2,” “,B2,” “,C2) ) to merge data from multiple columns.
(3) Use Cell Formatting on Dates and Numbers to get the “data” to look the way you want, and the “copy/paste” into a new column as text
(4) Replace the column heads with the Time Matters Core Field Name, or Field Label for the record type you will be importing.
(5) Mark as “DNC” for Do Not Code, any columns of data which you don’t wish to import.
(6) Search and remove all QUOTES “” in any of the cells, Except for Cells where there are Formulas
(7) When done, save worksheet to CSV.

When you are doing the import:
(1) Create a sample data set with only 2 or 3 records
(2) Save the Import Template and test it until it works perfectly.
(3) Then rerun the template, but change the data source to the full set
(4) Be sure to include the RecordID as a field you are importing, and set it as the matching field.  This is a critical step to avoiding the creation of duplicate records.

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.