In the past few years there have been a number of entrants into the area of Cloud-based practice management. These companies offer the promise of practice management Nirvana — run your practice on any device, from anywhere with no software installation, no server, and even no network. ActionStep, which has an installed base in New Zealand and Australia, has adapted its practice management system for the U.S. law market. I am going through their training curriculum this summer and will be releasing a formal review on TechnoLawyer’s SmallLaw newsletter in September. For now, here are a few highlights.
Matter Management Dashboard
The “matter manager” is what distinguishes a matter management system from simply a jumped up CRM (Contract Relation Manager). ActionStep has a sophisticated and configurable matter manager. The dashboard lets you see in a glance recent activity, next steps, and billing. And in 3 clicks you can see any information on the file.
Perhaps the most unique feature of ActionStep is their workflow engine. It breaks a matter into “Steps”, and each step can be associated with a series of tasks, calls, notes and documents. These Steps can be “imported” into a system allowing for rapid development. They also can have branches depending upon outcomes.
A matter management system without document assembly is simply a glorified calendar and billing system. Even with custom fields, if you can’t produce documents using that data, in the words of Prof. Kingsfield in The Paper Chase, “Mister Hart, here is a dime. Take it, call your mother, and tell her there is serious doubt about you ever becoming a lawyer. ” Without document assembly, the “raison d’etre” of the system is simply missing.
ActionStep treats document assembly seriously. First, there are custom fields that are data typed. Fields are more than simple text-boxes. They include text, text blocks, number, currency, dae and time, links to appointments, dropdown lists, and multi-select dropdown lists, as well as checkboxes and autonumbers. And you can including repeating custom records, also accessible during document assembly.
They are associated with matter types. Second, you can have collections or lists of custom records with custom fields. And ALL of these fields can be put into the document; including repeating fields with proper handling of repeats and text formatting and changes. The tools are not yet perfect, but there may be some further news down the pike that will bring full function document assembly into ActionStep.
Many Cloud based practice management systems and desktop client-server practice management systems can do billing; and most can do trust accounting; but very few can do full-on accounting inside the same integrated database. ActionStep lets you set up a full chart of accounts. It even supports multiple-division charts of accounts. And that is because much of their business, and where they started was a business workflow system with a full-on accounting in the cloud.
When it comes to Trust Accounting, you can set it up to post the money to multiple bank accounts. The system has reconciliations and a range of accounting features that come close to those of Quickbooks. And because they are in one database, you can do reporting across the accounting back office and the practice management front-office. If you want a separate accounting system, there is integration with Xero.com, a leading Cloud vendor of accounting software and Quickbooks Online integration is under development.
Email Inbox Management & Document Management
ActionStep builds email into the workflow. Emails can be recieved into ActionStep and sent from ActionStep. Attaching an email to a Matter is as simple as sending it to [MatterNum]@firmname.com. When sending an email from ActionStep, you can make use of email templates that are personal and cusstomized. They can use fields from the matter and any linked contacts on the matter.
Read the Review
These are just “first looks”. Be sure to subscribe to www.Technolawyer.com, the SmallLaw newsletter, if you want to read the full review.