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Thursday Thinkpiece: Case Management Tools for Solo & Small Firms

Each Thursday we present a significant excerpt, usually from a recently published book or journal article. In every case the proper permissions have been obtained. If you are a publisher who would like to participate in this feature, please let us know via the site’s contact form.

The 2017 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide

© 2017 American Bar Association. All rights reserved. Slaw readers can receive a 10% discount on purchase of this book. Use the discount code LTG2017 at checkout; this offer is valid from 4/2017-7/2017.

John Simek, Vice-President of Sensei Enterprises, Inc.
Michael Maschke, CEO of Sensei Enterprises, Inc.
Sharon D Nelson, President of Sensei Enterprises, Inc.

Excerpt: Chapter 14: Case Management

If you still live in the paper world, you may not know that a case management application provides all of the functions that you are probably currently performing. You use a Rolodex or some other type of method to aggregate your contact information. We still see address books at the office supply store, but more and more contact information is collected in an electronic form and synchronized to mobile devices. You have a calendar to schedule events, which may be written in a day planner. You have a file for each client or each client matter. We hope you use a word processor—or at least your administrative assistant does—to generate documents. You track everything you do for each client matter or keep some sort of diary. You probably even generate some sort of status concerning each matter. These are all functions of a case management system.

Even in a world full of smartphones and wireless devices, it amazes us that most solo and small firm lawyers still don’t use a computerized case management software application. We’ve been making that statement for more than ten years. Case management is a must-have for today’s modern law office. You may have heard other terms that describe the same type of software. Vendors attempt to differentiate themselves by describing their products with different names. You may hear descriptions such as practice management, contact management, litigation management, and so forth. Bottom line: They are all case management products, although they vary greatly in functionality. Arguably, the term practice management is more inclusive and encompasses what is termed “front office” (case/client information) and “back office” (accounting and billing).

There are several choices for case management, some of which we will cover here. The features vary by manufacturer, so make sure you understand what you’re buying. Probably the feature we are asked about most is the integration of e-mail and contacts with case management. Make sure that the product will work with your e-mail system and that you understand how it needs to be configured. The synchronization is getting better, but most of our clients are less than impressed with many of the implementations of synchronization support. For example:

  • How does the software deal with a common firm-wide Public Folder Calendar?
  • Will the product synchronize with your iPad or smartphone?
  • What if you don’t have an Exchange server and use hosted Exchange services?
  • What e-mail clients are supported?
  • Can you access your e-mail using other devices and software, or are you restricted to using only the e-mail interface of the case management software?
  • Can you synchronize data with your Google account?
  • Will synchronization occur wirelessly, or do you have to connect a cable and manually sync your data?
  • Are IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) connections supported or only POP3?
  • Can you sync everything in your personal mailbox, or are you limited to a subset, such as contacts and calendar only and not the tasks?

There are two mistakes that we consistently see when firms decide to implement a case management system. The first mistake is the failure to require everyone in the firm to use the system. You will not realize the full return on your investment if only a few employees use it. In fact, it tends to cause a whole new set of problems, because sometimes there is crossover between lawyers and cases and some operate within the case management system and some don’t. The second most common mistake is the failure to invest in training. Training will allow all employees to use the features of the case management system fully, thereby becoming more efficient and properly organizing all data for a client matter. Simply dumping a case management system into a firm is worse than useless. When you price the software, price the training as well.

As with other sections of this book, we cannot mention or address every case management package or every feature of every product. We mention the most popular and widely used case management packages that we see being used by solos and small firms.

Amicus Attorney

Amicus Attorney (www.amicusattorney.com) from Gavel & Gown Software is a good small firm package that provides a fairly simple approach to case management. The technical requirements are very reasonable and don’t require a powerful and expensive computer to run. You have a choice of using desktop software or the cloud solution. Either version would work well for the solo or small firm attorney. The desktop/server version is called Amicus Premium. It is an on-premise solution that can be installed for a single user or on a server for multiple users.

The 2016 Premium Edition uses SQL Server to achieve unlimited user and unlimited data access. The good news is that the Premium Edition comes with an embedded SQL Server Standard Edition Restricted Runtime for use with the Amicus Application Server. This mean you don’t have to make a separate SQL purchase unless you want a more robust environment.

For very large-scale installations, a separate SQL server is recommended. SQL Server 2014, 2012, 2008 R2, and 2008 (Standard or Enterprise) are supported. Certainly a consideration is the cost of the SQL server software and the hardware to run it on, which can add a hefty price to the implementation costs, especially if you need a lot of CALs (client access licenses). Both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of SQL Server are supported. We recommend the 64-bit version, which supports more memory than the 32-bit version.

The pricing for Amicus Premium is no longer available on the website. You have to contact Gavel & Gown to figure out how much the software will cost you. However, you can play around with the Amicus Price and Return on Investment Calculator to identify license cost. As an example, if you only enter one lawyer and no staff in the form, it shows that Amicus Premium will cost $849 per seat. Previously, you paid a hefty amount for the first license and then a lot less for additional licenses. With the change to a flat license cost, expect to pay several hundreds of dollars more than before.

Mobility is a real focus for the majority of vendors these days. Amicus is no exception. Amicus TimeTracker is used to connect your mobile phone to the features of Amicus Attorney. You will need Amicus Attorney Premium and a license that include Amicus Anywhere. You can record your time, edit previous entries, see your list, and much more. The data is securely transmitted over the Internet between your firm’s Amicus Server and your device. The data stays on your server and is not stored on your mobile device. TimeTracker works with most mobile devices with a modern browser. That includes iPhones, iPads, Android and BlackBerry and Windows phones and tablets, and Windows and Mac desktops and laptops. Amicus TimeTracker is available during the 30-day evaluation period and will always be available if you run Amicus Attorney software that has a valid maintenance plan.

The Amicus Anywhere product is available to provide a secure remote connection to your Amicus Premium environment using a browser. Amicus Anywhere provides you with a remote access solution and keeps your data under your control on your server and not in the cloud. Amicus Anywhere also includes TimeTracker, which was mentioned above. There is no additional cost for Amicus Anywhere, but you will have to have a maintenance plan in place. In other words, as long as you pay for maintenance (a touchy subject among a lot of users) you’ll be able to take advantage of Amicus Anywhere.

Another feature of the Premium Edition is a client portal to facilitate collaboration with your clients. Client portal access is an often requested feature from both attorneys and clients. We are beginning to see more and more case management systems including client portal access. The Amicus Client Portal access gives clients real-time access to selected matter information securely. You can grant specific clients access to designated matter files, specific documents, notes, and events on those files. Clients can upload new documents to their matter files and even add notes to the documents. The Client Portal also enables secure messaging with clients.

In addition to the on-premise solution, there is also an option for a cloudbased implementation of Amicus. Amicus Cloud is a full-featured solution that includes matter management, calendaring, task management, contacts, phone call management, global full-text searching, billing, time entries, expense tracking, reporting, document management, and trust accounting. There are also additional features such as a date calendar, collections assistant, and conflict checker. Amicus Cloud uses the cloud services of Microsoft Azure. It is accessible from any device using a modern browser. The cost for Amicus Cloud is $45 per user per month (billed annually), which is $540 per user per year. You can also opt to pay $49.95 per user per month if you don’t want to commit to an annual payment. In addition, hosted Exchange services are available for an additional cost, but you’ll have to contact Gavel & Gown to find out how much. These dollars are going to add up quickly, especially if you have more than one or two users. As with any other cloud service, make sure you understand the terms of service when placing confidential client data on a third-party server.

In May of last year, Abacus Data Systems and Amicus Attorney joined forces. The result is a private cloud platform that is a complete virtual private workspace for your firm. The offering is called Abacus Private Cloud and is a fully managed solution. This means that all of your computing needs are in the cloud. Not just case management, but Office 365, firm files, document services, two-factor authentication, and any other application you may need. You’ll have to fill out the information request form to get pricing for a custom solution.

A trial version of Amicus Attorney (both on-premise and cloud) is available and highly recommended if you are considering purchase. Try the product first to make sure that it meets your needs and will work in your computing environment. If you are already an Amicus Attorney Small Firm user, you’ll need to upgrade to the cloud offering or Amicus Attorney Premium since the Small Firm version is no longer supported.

Time Matters

LexisNexis has a couple of offerings suitable for the solo and small firm market. Time Matters (www.timematters.com) used to be the most popular case management package for solo and small firms (before being purchased by LexisNexis), but we don’t see it at very many firms in our area. Time Matters is a very powerful and highly customizable case management application, but it can also be fairly complicated for many small firm lawyers. It is an absolute necessity to purchase training if you are considering implementing Time Matters in your firm. The learning curve is steep but well worth it because Time Matters is truly a feature-rich program.

The current version is Time Matters 15.1. The support document for Time Matters system requirements recommend that you run a dedicated server if you have five or more users. In our opinion and experience, Time Matters requires the installation of a dedicated server no matter how many users there are. The dedicated server can significantly increase implementation costs for the solo and small firm lawyer, but we feel strongly that Time Matters needs a dedicated server for adequate performance of the application. Also, Time Matters is only supported in a local, directly connected environment. This means that the use of any wireless connections or WAN technologies for the application, which prevents most data center implementations, is not supported. The workstations and server need to be connected to the same local network. You could install Time Matters in a data center, but the users would have to use a supported remote access technology. Peer-to-peer networks are not supported, hence further requiring a dedicated server. You can use some versions of Windows (e.g., Windows 7, 8/8.1, or 10) as a server with five or fewer connected workstations. There is limited support for virtual servers, but that shouldn’t be a problem if it is properly sized. Perhaps the installation requirements are why we haven’t seen any new Time Matters installations for a long time.

Version 15.1 adds more than 30 functional enhancements to the 43 that were included in version 15. Version 15.1 also offers access to LexisNexis Gateway and integration with Chrometa, a passive time keeping solution.

According to the LexisNexis website:

  • Time Matters 15.1 also brings support for Microsoft Office 365 OneDrive. With OneDrive access, Time Matters 15.1 customers can broaden their document storage and sharing abilities through Microsoft’s powerful cloud storage service.
  • Time Matters 15.1 includes support for Windows 10, Microsoft Exchange Server 2016, and Microsoft Office 2016, ensuring an optimal upgrade experience for even more firms.

Last year you could order Time Matters directly from the website, but not anymore. LexisNexis has removed a lot of the publically available information about Time Matters. You have to contact the company to schedule a demo and get additional information. LexisNexis has gone back to its past practice of requiring contact with the sales team. Needless to say, we are not fond of this approach and the lack of transparency. If you are considering Time Matters, we highly recommend taking advantage of the free trial. We also recommend that the majority of solo and small firm lawyers investigate several of the cloud solutions first.

PracticeMaster

A highly rated case management application (and our personal favorite) is PracticeMaster (http://www.tabs3.com/products/practicemaster/practicemaster.html) by Software Technology, Inc. (STI), which is the choice of most solo and small firms in our area. Version 18 is the current shipping version of PracticeMaster. PracticeMaster comes in three versions: Practice-Master, Platinum, and SQL. The regular version of PracticeMaster contains a number of useful features that most lawyers would desire. Many solo and small firm lawyers think that Microsoft Outlook is a case management program. Not even close. You can view a chart that compares the features of Outlook and PracticeMaster at http://practicemaster.com/products/practicemaster/pm_comparison.html.

PracticeMaster introduced workflows with version 16. Workflows are essentially triggers that automate tasks within the software. In addition, PracticeMaster has one of the best e-mail integration schemes that we’ve seen. Smartphone support is excellent as well, especially with Tabs3 Connect.

PracticeMaster and Tabs3 licenses include the first 12 months of maintenance. Perhaps it is a new trend to include maintenance automatically as a way to ensure that users pay for support. The cost of the regular PracticeMaster version is $600 (including 12 months of maintenance) for the first active user license, and each additional license will set you back another $280. The pricing hasn’t changed for the last four years.

In addition to the regular PracticeMaster version, STI offers PracticeMaster in a client server version, which scales to larger implementations. The Platinum version costs $1,320 (including 12 months of maintenance) for the first user license and $365 for each additional user. Don’t forget to add the cost of the client server environment when calculating the total cost of the project. As an example, the Platinum server software is required for any client server implementation of Tabs3 or PracticeMaster. This server software could cost from $965 for eight connections and up to $7,475 for 1,024 server connections. An even more robust implementation would be using Platinum SQL Server Software. Cost for the SQL version is $1,320 for eight connections and up to $39,340 for 1,024 server connections.

The good news is that STI has updated its website to calculate the software cost quickly. Just go to the price estimator page (http://www.tabs3.com/products/pricing_info.aspx) and select the products you are interested in, the number of concurrent users, and the number of billable entities if selecting any of the financial packages.

Version 18 of PracticeMaster is the current shipping version and it includes several new features. The Fee and Cost Entry has been modified to be more like Tabs3. The Rate Code and Sales Tax values from Tabs3 are now displayed and can be modified. In addition, “Budget exceeded” now displays when entering fees and costs in PracticeMaster. There is a new Fee Recap icon that has been added to the main toolbar and provides a quick summary of fees entered for a timekeeper on a specified date. There is a new Outlook Synchronization Settings Report, which will aid your IT support personnel in troubleshooting any Outlook synchronization problems. The Form Designer has two new buttons in the toolbar. Magnetic Snaps and Snap to Grid will help with alignment of fields. There are additional enhancements as well. Improvements to Calendar Conflict, Graphical Calendar, and WorkFlows round out the upgrades included in version 18.

In a move to enhance security, the version 18 SQL edition of PracticeMaster has an option to enable encryption to protect your data with an extra layer of security. When you enable encryption, there is no place to enter a user-defined passphrase, which would indicate that STI could technically access the data since it presumably has access and knowledge of the encryption keys. To be fair, someone with knowledge of the encryption key would have to connect to the law firm network or be given physical access to the database. We are beginning to see vendors offering some form of encryption as a way to protect access to the user’s data. This is especially important for attorneys who have an ethical duty to protect the confidentiality of their clients’ data. It is unfortunate that only the SQL version has the encryption option, where the cost will put it out of reach for the majority of solo and small firm lawyers.

Mobile access requires the Platinum versions of PracticeMaster and Tabs3. There is no additional cost for Tabs3 Connect if you are enrolled in a maintenance plan. With Tabs3 Connect, you have access to Tabs3 and Practice-Master anywhere you can connect to the Internet. This means you can get to your data from your smartphone or other mobile device. You have access to your client and contact information, fee and cost entry, personal and firm-wide calendar, and more. The connection is secured using SSL, and the data resides in your Tabs3/PracticeMaster environment in your office. Because you must have the Platinum Editions of Tabs3 and PracticeMaster to take advantage of Tabs3 Connect, however, the mobile access feature will be out of the reach of many solo and small firm lawyers, which is very unfortunate, especially since Tabs3 Connect is the best remote access solution to practice management data we have ever seen. Tabs3 Connect is a feature of the Platinum version of Tabs3 software. Firms that use the Platinum version of Tabs3 but do not use PracticeMaster have the option to purchase a subscription to the billing features of Tabs3 Connect. The subscription cost is $60 per user per year. You can learn more about Tabs3 Connect by visiting http://www.tabs3.com/products/tabs3_connect/tabs3_connect.html.

Finally, it is highly recommended that you obtain the trial version of PracticeMaster. This will help you determine whether the product is right for your practice and your installed infrastructure. We don’t think you can go wrong with this product. It is constantly being improved, and the support is among the best in the industry.

Clio

Clio (www.goclio.com) is a SaaS (software as a service) solution that is used by solo, small, and midsized firms. Access is via an Internet browser, which means it will work just fine on an Apple computer. The maker of Clio is Themis Solutions, which is headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia. Themis Solutions has the excellent reputation of listening to its customers and constantly enhancing Clio based on users’ suggestions. The company also has remote offices in Toronto, Canada, and Dublin, Ireland.

Clio is a full-featured practice management platform. Features such as document management, time tracking, calendaring, tasks, billing, and so on provide a complete solution. The billing component works well for hourly and flat-fee billing. Users have control over billing rates at the activity or matter level. Clio is highly customizable: custom fields can be inserted into any matter file. These custom fields have many different formats, so lawyers can enter dates, dollar amounts, website addresses, and various text types.

Clio can also be configured to synchronize with Outlook and Gmail to provide bidirectional syncing of calendar, contact, and task entries. Clio integrates with many online service providers like Office 365, Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, Chrometa, NetDocuments, Fastcase, CloudMask, Law Pay, QuickBooks Online, and many others. You can see all the apps that integrate with Clio at https://www.goclio.com/features/integrations/. Like many other practice management products, Clio is constantly being improved, as can be seen by the increased integration with third-party products.

Clio Connect is a feature that enables firm members to share resources and collaborate with clients, contacts, or co-counsels easily through a secure web-based portal. This grants clients, contacts, or co-counsels the latitude to review and contribute to relevant matter developments and helps to mitigate associated inefficiencies related to time-consuming communications.

Clio’s dedicated iOS application makes it easy to manage your law firm from your mobile Apple device. There’s also an Android app for Clio. With the mobile app, you can track your time and expenses, add tasks, look up your appointments and deadlines, and anything else you need to manage your practice from the road.

Another key feature is the ability to use the Amazon S3 cloud for data storage, giving you complete control over your data. Your data is automatically backed up to Amazon S3 on a weekly basis. Once the data is replicated to the Amazon cloud, you have the option of downloading the data to your own computer. It is available to subscribers of the Legacy, Boutique, and Elite plans. There is no additional cost to use this feature other than the cost from Amazon, which is pennies per gigabyte. Clio calls this the Data Escrow feature. Just search the help forum on the website for complete instructions on how to activate Data Escrow.

Besides backing up your data to Amazon S3, you can also export data from the various areas as shown here:

  • Bank Transactions
  • Bills
  • Calendar
  • Contact Notes
  • Contact Related Matters
  • Contacts
  • Documents
  • Expense Entries
  • Matter Notes
  • Matters
  • Tasks
  • Time Entries

Finally, Clio provides extensive support to customers free of charge. In-house telephone support is available 17 hours a day. The same service is also available by e-mail and live online chat. Training webinars are available online, typically three days a week. Clio also offers a library of training articles and videos.

Take advantage of the free 30-day trial to make sure Clio will work for you. Clio has changed its pricing and moved from a flat cost to a tiered pricing model that adds additional features as you move up the tiers. The Starter level costs $39 per user per month (billed annually) and includes the performance dashboard, custom invoices and templates, time tracking, support, and the secure client portal: Clio Connect. The next level is the Boutique offering, which costs $59 per user per month (billed annually). It includes everything in the Starter version and adds accounting integrations, custom fields, UTBMS coding, Zapier integration, API access, data escrow, sortable custom fields, alternative fee billing, payments, and trust accounting. The top tier is the Elite plan, which costs $99 per user per month (billed annually). It includes all the Boutique features plus priority support, originating attorney revenue report, court calendaring rules, matter budgets, and campaign tracker.

There are no longer reduced costs for support staff. Clio considers a user to be a user. That means that a receptionist, paralegal, attorney, and so on will all pay the same price. Discounts are available as a member benefit from more than 30 state and municipal bar associations and the American Bar Association. Be sure to ask your bar association if a discount is available.

Clio is one of our favorite SaaS practice management systems, and we highly recommend it. Several of our clients have converted to Clio and never looked back.

Rocket Matter

Rocket Matter, around since 2007, is another web-based cloud practice management system designed specifically for the legal industry. It also contains a time and billing function, which provides almost all you need for your law practice. Rocket Matter is very popular among Macintosh users, as it is web-based. There really isn’t any case management application that is specifically geared toward the Apple user community, so Rocket Matter meets that need through web browser access. You can still use Rocket Matter if you are a Windows shop, since all you need is an Internet connection and a web browser.

Rocket Matter has released an app specifically designed for the iPad. As CEO Larry Port said, “This is not just a companion app to our Web version. It is a full-featured practice management platform.” You have the full ability to edit and access contacts, tasks, matters, notes, and so on. Probably one of the most valuable features is that you can operate the app with or without an Internet connection. This means that you can have your full practice management environment with you at the courthouse even if there is no Wi-Fi access to the Internet, which many locations ban or prevent. Any information that you modify or add while you are offline will synchronize with your Rocket Matter environment once you reconnect to the Internet.

Rocket Matter also has a client portal offering, which allows users to create branded portals. You have the ability to share calendar information, documents, and invoices with clients or anybody else. The portal integrates with LawPay, allowing clients to pay their invoices online. Another Rocket Matter feature is the integration with Copy2Contact to add new entries to your contacts. Rocket Matter also integrates with other cloud providers such as Gmail, Google Calendar, Box, QuickBooks, Dropbox, and Evernote.

In 2016, Rocket Matter released a redesigned user interface called Atlas and new workflows. The original interface was programmed to maintain a fixed size to match the normal screen resolutions of the times. Since then, resolutions have increased and monitors have gotten larger too, which left a lot of white space on the sides of the original interface. Atlas is a responsive design and adjusts to match the user’s device, taking advantage of the previous white space areas. Navigation has moved to the left side of the screen since most people are right handed and read from left to right. You can bounce back and forth between Atlas and the classic interface depending on your comfort level.

Workflows are aided by the usage of matter templates that can include events and tasks. That means you can assign a template to a new matter and a lot of predefined items will populate automatically. If you are a current Rocket Matter user, we’re sure you won’t go back to the classic interface once you experience Atlas.

Like many of the other vendors, Rocket Matter has removed pricing information from its website. You have to contact Rocket Matter in order to get pricing information. We are not fond of this practice, which isn’t very transparent.

Rocket Matter is a cloud implementation and carries the same issues as other providers. The data is held by a third party even though it is transmitted on an encrypted channel. Like Clio, Rocket Matter is always working on improvements to its product. For example, it now provides offline access to your data. Those who have used Rocket Matter generally give it favorable reviews, and we recommend that solos and small firms that want a cloud solution take a look at both Clio and Rocket Matter. Both are fine products.

Firm Manager

LexisNexis has its version of a hosted case management system, which is called Firm Manager. It appears that Lexis has Rocket Matter and Clio squarely in its crosshairs as it competes in the SaaS market. There are two pricing plans for Firm Manager. The Starter plan is $29 per user per month and the Essentials plan is $44 per user per month. These costs make Firm Manager a much cheaper alternative to other cloud-based case management offerings. Some local bar associations may receive additional discounts, which makes the pricing even more attractive.

Firm Manager continues to add features, making it a worthy contender for your practice management dollars. The Starter edition contains Matter Management, Calendar Sync, Billing, Trust Accounting, and Document Management. The Essentials edition includes all of the Starter features and adds Role-Base Permissions, Integrations (e.g., QuickBooks), Reporting, and Customizable Templates. The partnership with LawToolBox helps managing your court deadlines faster than ever. It calculates court deadlines based on the rules for your state and syncs it all up in Microsoft Office 365. With Firm Manager, you get unlimited online storage for case exhibits, documents, client lists, and more.

Though we have yet to hear of any attorneys in our area using Firm Manager, we’re very impressed with its improvements. LexisNexis really wants your business and provides contact and matter import templates. The templates are in CSV format and ensure that any existing data will properly import into Firm Manager. Firm Manager isn’t nearly as robust and full-featured as something like Time Matters or ProLaw, so we are pretty sure there won’t be a home for some of the data in Firm Manager. The other concern is potential price increases over time, which LexisNexis is known for historically, although the pricing is still very reasonable. Firm Manager finally looks like a good candidate for the solo and small firm attorney and is worth a test-drive. If you are considering Firm Manager, be sure to take advantage of the 30-day free trial to make sure it will meet your practice needs.

MyCase

We are seeing a lot great deal of buzz surrounding another web-based case management product. MyCase is similar to the other products and provides similar functions, such as shared firm calendars and reminders, tasks, contact management, document organization, document assembly, time and billing, and so on. It even has iOS and Android apps to facilitate mobile access. MyCase is also jumping into the lawyer marketing game by providing a MyCase website. Actually, the value of the website is working as a portal for clients to get information about their case, pay their invoices, and securely communicate with the firm. Besides the portal aspects, MyCase looks to be getting into the website provisioning business by building lawyer websites that integrate with MyCase (that’s where the client portal feature comes in) and includes a blog, social media integration, Google analytics, a responsive code for mobile device access, and basic search engine
optimization. The website feature costs a onetime setup fee of $500 and then $50 a month.

MyCase uses Amazon services to deliver its product to the end user. It runs on Amazon EC2 cloud servers and is backed up using Amazon S3 storage. Data is transferred using SSL encryption and encrypted before being written to disk. Originally, the client access portal differentiated MyCase from the other case management products, but today, the client portals of many of the others function similarly to MyCase.

MyCase now has a one-way integration with QuickBooks Online. There is a onetime fee of $99 to add this feature. Essentially, it takes the accounting data from MyCase and pushes it into QuickBooks. The integration offers transmission of detailed invoice data, recording of payments on invoices, trust account transactions, new customer data, and cash and accrual accounting. Frankly, we’re not sure why you would want to implement this feature since it really isn’t a synchronization but a one-way push. Typically, integrations with QuickBooks are problematic since you have to make sure the QuickBooks accounts are always mapped properly to the data coming from and to the case management system.

MyCase costs $39 per month for each lawyer and $29 per month for each paralegal or staff member. There is a free 30-day trial, which we recommend you take advantage of. In late 2012, MyCase was acquired by AppFolio, a provider of web-based software for vertical markets. Time will tell if MyCase will survive the acquisition or migrate more to a marketing application rather than dealing with the daily needs of the solo and small firm attorney. We still don’t have any clients using MyCase, but the feedback on discussion lists has been positive.

HoudiniEsq

HoudiniEsq is an interesting product in that it offers an on-premise and cloud-based version. The feature set is comparable to the other case management offerings. Document management, workflows, contacts, matters, notes, calendars, invoicing, document automation, and much more are all functions contained within HoudiniEsq. HoudiniEsq integrates with Outlook, Excel, WordPerfect, Acrobat, SoftFile, QuickBooks, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, CalendarRules, BIRT, Google Gmail, and Google Docs.

HoudiniEsq has no user software application; everything is accessed via a web browser. Even the on-premise solution uses a browser to run HoudiniEsq. The on-premise solution does require a dedicated computer to host HoudiniEsq, and the technical requirements suggest that you could get an inexpensive ($300–$400) computer from Best Buy to run HoudiniEsq. Sorry, but we certainly don’t agree that a cheap consumer-grade machine should be used to house your critical firm data and the core of your practice. Perhaps spending a couple hundred bucks is acceptable to run the trial and to accommodate one user. The reality is that most firms (even solos) have at least one support person in addition to the attorney. Speaking of a trial, there isn’t one. At least not in the traditional sense. The on-premise single-user version is given away for free. It’s a full-blown version of HoudiniEsq, but only supports one person.

The cloud version costs $64 per user per month and includes support and updates. The on-premise solution is sized for 1 to 1,200 users. You are required to purchase an annual subscription for each user. There are three on-premise plans. If you are a solo attorney, there is a Solo On-premise offering that is $240 a year. If you have 30 users or less, the cost is also $240 per user per year plus a onetime server fee of $1,280 for every ten users. That means you will pay a minimum of $1,520 for the first year ($1,280 for the server and $240 × 1 users) for the minimum one-user requirement. The annual cost would then drop to $240 a year since you would already have the server software. The maximum 30 users would cost $11,040 [($1,280 × 3) + ($240 × 30 users)] for the first year. Subsequent years would cost $7,200 ($240 × 30 users). If you are at 30 users or more, you are required to move to the HoudiniEsq Elite package. That cost is a onetime fee of $8,160 for each grouping of 30 users and an annual subscription cost of $240 per user per year. Finally, there is a $192 per user per year support fee if there are more than 200 users.

The annual subscription cost makes it much more attractive from a cost perspective than the other case management options for the solo and small firm practitioner. Besides the ridiculous notion that you can run your practice on a Best Buy computer, the user interface was based on Flash technology. The latest version of HoudiniEsq (version 2.0) does not use Flash like the previous versions did.

Others

Additional products are available, but some of the vendors aren’t public with the cost or system requirements. We are less than impressed with companies that aren’t open about their pricing and technical requirements. Products like ProLaw (Thomson Elite) require you to fill out a contact form so that a representative can contact you about pricing. We are not fond of this practice and recommend a relationship with more open vendors, especially when you are entering this arena and want to make an apples-to-apples comparison.

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