In the next few weeks, my reviews of CLIO and RocketMatter will appear in Technolawyer, with copies on this site. I don’t want to give away the results, but I want to comment more generally on the development goals of cloud-based offerings versus client-server offerings. To some degree, I have dealt with that tension in my development and advisory role in the creation of Wealth Transfer Planning and its unique front-end for HotDocs. It is this balancing act between simplicity and sophistication, between stability and customizability, that marks really good software. CLIO and RocketMatter are following in the footsteps of the two giants of software development.
CLIO and RocketMatter are following the outsized success of SalesForce.com and that of Bob Butler’s efforts in building Time Matters. SalesForce.com is a ubiquitous platform that promises data anywhere, on any platform, from any location. Resources are “rented” at a hefty monthly fee. The user has no upfront costs, no hardware costs, and pays only based on usage. The user gets service guarantees. But what has made SalesForce.com so successful is the API (application programming interface) which lets it read data from and write data to just about any resource, its customizable front-end, and the ability to create and purchase add-ons that interact with the data. All this together is responsible for SalesForce.com’s outsized lead in the Cloud market. It can be whatever you need it to be; and it is likely, if you want it, that someone else has already customized SaleForce to meet the needs of their industry, and can give or license you that customization module.
Time Matters, in the Client-Server environment is much like Salesforce.com. It is a powerful, structured database that allows near infinite customization. Out-of-the-box Time Matters works as a full-blown practice management system. It can be easily customized. There is a network of consultants and third party vendors who have harnessed the power of the data in Time Matter’s SQL databases, and those who, like yours truly, have built and marketed add-ons for Time Matters.
So how can CLIO and RocketMatter follow in the footsteps of the two giants? At the moment, they are ensuring the stability of their core offering. Both have delivered solid, functional practice management systems. Both have unique visions on what usability is, and how it should work. Their interfaces are innovative; client/server vendors should take notice of what they have done in terms of usability. And yet, both CLIO and RocketMatter have a singular vision; a single view of what the interface should be, what features should be available. They try to fit all lawyers and all law practices into one mode of operation, one mode of billing, one mode of practice.
In their efforts to get out a 1.0 release, the software at present does not represent the full diversity of practices of lawyers in the market place. This is not to say that these programs will not or cannot represent that diversity. Unless your core product works, is stable and supportable and dependable, it doesn’t matter how customizable and flexible the product will be. The learning curve on both products is measured in hours, and not days or weeks, like it is for other practice management solutions. CLIO’s tagline is “Practice Management Simplified”. RocketMatter, in some ways, seems to think for you, seamlessly building interrelations between contacts and matters. Both make it easy for lawyers to bill and capture their time.
And yet, in this drive to simplify, make practice management easier, more available, these vendors have missed the richness and diversity of the practice of law; they have missed the benefits of interconnectedness between data and documents, between applications. Much of what I am asking for in these offerings can be added on and built into these offerings, and most likely will. And since the cost of distributing updates of Web 2.0 technology are zero, may come to pass. We need more recognition of that diversity, the ability to customize by practice area, to recognize user-specific preferences in the interface, to recognize new and unique record types, and the ability to package and deliver such features.
I will save for another time why The Cloud is so important, particularly for lawyers.