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Part 3: ABA TechShow & My Lame Take on LPM/PRP Systems

So, it turns out there is no shortage of reviews and surveys of LPM systems. Just Google it.

But because I don’t care, I offer my extremely limited take on a few of the vendors showcasing at ABA TechShow this year. There is no particular order for my list as I did not want to suggest that any one of these vendors is better than another because it’s really going to come down to your needs. My perspective, again, is based more on Nicholas Carr’s discussion on cognitive overload, and among these vendors which ones gave me the most relaxed feeling. Although features are pretty important too, which is to say you should see my earlier post on that issue and, at the very least, my recommended reviews.

Also, and importantly, is the default view. It tells you a lot about what these various systems think you want to see, from calendared items, to-dos, recent matter transactions, billable hours targets, news, etc. Ultimately, when evaluating any of these services, you have to decide whether they are presenting the right combination of information for you (or can be customized to do so). There are plenty of other factors as well, such as whether you are happy with your current billing and accounting setup apart from client-matter management, which is a very big deal if you are, for example, someone who loves using Kahuna Accounting‘s implementation of Xero. Remember, you don’t always need everything in one package to be efficient or smart in your practice.

And that’s the shit of all of these platforms. Features upon features and maybe many fall into that category of Microsoft Word where you’ll only use 10% of what you pay for. Who knows. But I would argue that you should at least go for something that (1) seems intuitive and (2) if it isn’t, has a robust knowledge base, community support, or both. Self-help centers are a thing, and are vitally important. Any vendor who isn’t building a knowledge base to help you learn and trouble shoot, and community centers that demonstrate users are working towards solving problems, are suspect in my mind. It is, in fact, one thing I’m actively working to build for our own digital product, and something I rely on when working on private projects.

CAVEAT. So here’s the deal. I know there are several vendors not represented here, but these are the ones I had down, and even then I didn’t get to everyone (so noted in my review). These are also my opinions based on workflow mechanics I know very little about. So if you don’t like my assessment, just recognize that no one is going to read this anyway.

ALSO for this post, and this post only, I’VE TURNED ON COMMENTS, so if you are a vendor or user or whatever and would like to say something that isn’t defamatory, please do so and I will make sure to clear them for the post.

So, without further ado…

CLIOclio

So, of all the platforms, Clio is close to the gold standard, assuming you’re really down with lots and lots of third party integration either natively or through Zapir, and you understand this cloud thing. Now, the product demo was a bit chaotic for me, with lots of fast talking and clicky-clicky on various parts of the website. Seriously, it wasn’t until I signed up for a free trial that I thought maybe I could understand this fucking platform.

So here’s some stuff that totally interests me. First off, tool tips when you’ve never done something in a site before. Yes, and especially when it stops after I’ve done it or they continue because I haven’t. Alert notifications when something is down or not working so I know someone is on the case. +1

Clean. Did I mention that. Because it is, and it doesn’t feel totally overwhelming, although there is a lot of shit here. Things I’m not sure I should be clicking on. There’s also nice little reminder of all the Clio Apps that I can add, like Fastcase integration, which is a definite plus since we get it through the Texas State Bar.

Anyway, I like Clio, and I could see using the service. BUT, I could also see getting overwhelmed with all of the options and third-party integration. To ameliorate this problem is their significant knowledge base, which helps users figure out what to do. As an aside, I still see people complaining about invoice and bill generation, which I’m pretty sure given their website that it’s something they’ve spent a lot of time on fixing.

For real reviews, I would suggest The Lawyerist‘s from 2014 and Andrew Cabasso’s from JurisPage. What scored points for me with Clio (as many others) was the fact that I was given a 30-day free trial and, after sign up, received a welcome email from a sales rep and a follow-up telephone call. You may find those touches annoying, but I don’t if I’m someone seriously considering adopting this platform. And put it in this context: what if you signed up for a free trial and no one contacted you for days? Me, I’d feel ignored and would say “well, fuck you too.” Unless, of course, the platform was really compelling.

MATTERMOJO

mattermojo

I love the idea of MatterMojo. Seriously, if you are an Office 365 user, particularly if you are thinking about Matter Center, this is probably the best product that integrates with Office 365 that I’ve seen yet. And you should be thinking about this because Office 365 does away with the pesky need for an Exchange server or, if you want to run an intranet, Sharepoint. Both of which are expensive to purchase and maintain.

The MatterMojo interface is super easy to use and very familiar to anyone running in Windows 8+ environment. Hell, you can even access MatterMojo within Outlook. That’s crazy, and I loved it.

But let’s be clear, the feature set is limited, and so from a matter management and CRM standpoint, this might be a super option for you heavy MS users. But there are many features it lacks, and so from that standpoint, it may not be a good option. AGAIN, I love this idea and where these guys are headed. And as best as I can tell, no one has reviewed this product. Now, as someone without an Office 365 account, I couldn’t free preview this on my own, but I would encourage you to do so if you have one.

MYCASE

MyCase

So, another near gold standard platform, and from what I’ve been able to gather from some soft sites, a perennial favorite among smallsolos. Check the screen cap above, which really interested me. I’m a big fan of Intuit’s TurboTax, and so the idea of progress bars to get you into the site intrigues me, and I think it’s a really good way of getting someone acclimated and motivated to using the platform. Very smart, and something you won’t see during a product demo, but should be pointed out.

Now, I have to knock the service a bit for the cheesy iconography on the home screen (that doesn’t rear it’s head again until you get to billing), but it’s not horribly distracting. But the site works intuitively and seems to address most of the issues you’d face when considering case management. What completely baffles me though (and take a look at the screen cap above) is the use of an envelope and text bubble to represent email and messaging when every other tab utilizes text. An odd choice if you ask me.

There are some other issues I came across when working with the site, but I’ll let you figure those out. Nothing insurmountable, just workflows you have to get used to, like with any of these vendors. I do appreciate the color variation on the site because it tends to draw out parts you might need to focus on and might not realize it at the time (calls to action). Plus, it’s not overwhelming, so I can see why many lawyers like it.

One last thing, like other platforms, you’ll find a rich knowledge base that can answer pretty much any question you have when trying to implement the service.

Again, I would recommend The Lawyerist review of MyCase. And, as with Clio, what scored points for me was the fact that I was given a 30-day free trial and, after sign up, received a welcome email from a sales rep and a follow-up telephone call. I cannot emphasis enough how important those things are when you trying to implement such an enormous platform.

AMICUS ATTORNEY

amicusattorney

No. Just no. So Amicus has Amicus Cloud, and I was totally into learning about that. But when I approached for a product demo, I was directed to Amicus Premium (not sure why I was steered away from Cloud). And then I was given a confusing demonstration of the platform by someone who was clearly uninterested in educating me about it. On top of that, I had to labor through a “demonstration” of an interface that I would equate to the early 2000s. Seriously, I’m reposting a screencap from their own website for “Dailies”:

amicusattorney1

In my opinion, there is no part of my day where I would want to look at this. And I’m totally confused by the idea of including in the side bar, “Sports Scores,” “Stocks,” and “Weather,” which seems an attempt at making this page sticky. Not sure.

Look, in fairness, I’m going to post Andrew Cabasso’s brief review here because it’s the most recent and if you’re interested in this platform. Also, had there been a free trial sign up on the website, I would have given the platform a go because I feel that Amicus deserved it, especially since they’ve been in the space for so long and know just a little something about LPM. If you know of any other good reviews, please post them in the comments.

COSMOLEX

cosmolex

Cosmolex is very interesting. So, in the product video (I always watch the videos), we are told how the platform will make a firm more compliant, efficient, productive, and profitable. And the approach they seem to be taking is focusing on billing time, finding unbilled time, and trust accounting, which is a very different approach to many of the other vendor who focus on GTD, with upcoming events, tasks, etc. It’s a curious approach to LPM, and I wonder how attorneys will take to it. For example, under the Activities menu, the tabs are organized in the following order: Time/Expense, Invoices, Calendar, Task, Documents, Notes, and Recent Activities. The first two are about billing. Interesting.

I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that lawyers like Cosmolex for trust accounting as it seems to really focus on that as an aspect, especially since they tell you it is an area where many lawyers make mistakes that could lead to ethics violations. But matter and task management are pushed to the side a bit in favor of billing and accounting issues, and I’m afraid that the platform was created to solve one problem with the rest of the LPM solution being added as an afterthought.

I give Cosmolex high marks for its UI and UX, and the speed with which it works. It’s fast, feels light weight, and didn’t really take me much time to get into it. I particularly like the use of bright colors for calls to action which they’ve deemed important for the pages and modals. I also received a fairly prompt call from a sales rep after I had signed up, which was great.

Overall, it’s a nice looking platform, and if the accounting is something you’re interested in, I would definitely give it a spin. But I would also recommend Bob Ambrogi’s review and, of course, Lisa Needham’s review over at the Lawyerist.

THOMSON REUTERS FIRM CENTRAL

Firm-Central-screenshot

So, I got a better buzz off of Firm Central than I did some other vendors’ offerings, largely because of the idea of applying WestSearch and KeyCite to all of my documents (and the autolinking of cases to my uploaded documents). I saw this platform some time ago, and I guess I feel like it hasn’t really progressed much since then. Time and billing continue to seem like an afterthought, and it’s really focused more on matter and document management, which is fine if that is what you want of an LPM system. But it’s heavily focused on integration within the Westlaw environment, such as Doc Builder, WLNext, etc. These are good things if you are a heavy Westlaw user, so something like Firm Central might work for you. But if you aren’t, then it’s offering might be considered more niche than anything. From the product demo (there is no free trial period without talking to a sales rep), it seemed relatively intuitive, and of course TR has spent a lot of money working to make its platforms easy to work with and very responsive. But over all, it felt lacking, as if it were really just sort of a gateway to their larger more robust offering for big law, and that just doesn’t work for smallsolos. I wish I could direct you to a more recent review of the platform, but sadly the best take on it still comes from the wonderful Lisa Solomon.

LEXIS FIRM MANAGER

lexis

Well, what to say about Lexis Firm Manager, right? I mean, look at that screen, which is the default screen following a free trial. Lots to fill in and very little in the way of guidance. Of course, I can add matters, contacts, and the like, but at the end of the day, the most promising feature demoed was the “Money Finder” feature in the bottom right-hand corner. It’s designed to find unbilled hours for you to recoup based on tasks completed that aren’t assigned.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about the platform. It’s fairly intuitive I guess, and there is the Firm Manager “Help” interface which has a number of informative articles. The “Community” is fairly depressing with very little activity, so there’s not much to learn from it as best as I can tell. At the end of the day, there’s just not much that gets me excited about the platform. The other thing that bothered me was the default font sizing, which was too small. I adjusted it on the fly on my Mac, which helped a lot, and if you use the site, I would suggested doing likewise.

BUT, and here’s the thing. Although Firm Manager didn’t press my buttons, guess what Lexis does? It gives you a 30-day free trial. Holee Shit! Look on a Thomson Reuters page for a free (no sales call) 30-day free trial of shit and I bet you won’t find it. So here’s the thing. Try it, especially if you are a Lexis Advanced user like we are. Hell, TRY ALL OF THEM THAT GIVE YOU FREE TRIALS! That’s the point if you are trying to figure out how to be more efficient and profitable. I might not be high on this platform, but I’m amazed that they did this, which in my opinion is smart.

As with others, I would direct you to a very good review by Heidi Alexander over at Attorney at Work and The Lawyerist’s very own review.

ZOLA

ZolaHomePage

There are a few pornographic things I’d like to say about Zola, the gist being, I’m excited about what they are doing after seeing all these other vendors. I mean, look at that interface! The default client is Saul Goodman. Of course it is!

Okay, from a “just what am I looking at perspective” the interface is super clean and lightweight. You get a focus on email (native!), events, and activity, with a sidebar of matters, calendar, blah, blah, blah. All easy to see.

Their biggest selling point? I think they created the moniker “Practice Resource Planning” as a means of distinguishing themselves from other LPMs that don’t offer native email, accounting, and predefined business tasks when a matter is created. Does that mean they are truly unique? I have no idea, but I do know the interface is clean and intuitive and I like the lack of tabs in favor of side tabs with iconography that’s easy to understand.

I did not request a demo, although I did get a demo during TechShow, so I haven’t had an opportunity to play around with the system. But it would seem that most of your feature sets are here, and if you are thinking about moving into this space, Zola is worth your attention.

As best as I can tell, the only person to write about Zola is Bob Ambrogi, so I would recommend his post on the platform.

SMOKEBALL

smokeball_1

Well, let’s see here. First of all, I love me some Smokeball. But, that was before I knew they migrated into the LPM space, which came as a bit of shock to me at TechShow this year. Second, I see where they are headed, and as a differentiator, I guess it makes sense. What you have to understand is that they are concentrated on Illinois, and Chicago particularly, so the platform and predefined lists and forms are all geared around that. Once you accept this limitation and the fact that Smokeball is really about documents and versioning control as it relates to matter management, then you might see this platform as uniquely suited to your needs. Importantly, the interface and controls are not difficult to master, and it’s integration with Office works well.  It’s clean and light and with the company’s support in getting your forms online and marked up, there’s a lot to like about the direction they are headed.

Is it limited? Yes, but that’s the idea with so many of these LPM services now. Not everyone needs the totality of features, they may just need a third or quarter of them, and for those platforms that execute well in those areas, they may just fit the bill.

I haven’t seen a review of Smokeball, but seriously, if you are in Chicago and in to document management with some automation of forms, you should check these cats out.

MERSUS CASE

MerusCase

DISCLAIMER: I was not able to get a product demo, so this review is very limited and should be taken in that context. I find it is important to talk to employees so you get a better sense of how the product works in real-time.

Okay, so I stopped by their booth, but no one was there, so I had to move on. From what I was able to see, the interface looks really clean and relatively intuitive. However, if you want to break it down and know whether MersusCase is right for you, I would suggest Andrew Cabasso’s review over at JurisPage (which suggests it might be a narrow fit for lawyers outside of California who don’t practice PI or Workers Comp law) and definitely Lisa Needham’s review over at the Lawyerist.

ROCKET MATTER

rocket

 

DISCLAIMER: I was not able to get a product demo, so this review is very limited and should be taken in that context. I find it is important to talk to employees so you get a better sense of how the product works in real-time.

I would have tried Rocket Matter, but they required a credit card (it says “risk-free trial,” but that means you have to have the remembering thing). And that’s fine for some folks but I’m bad at making reminders to cancel accounts before free trial periods end. I just know this about myself. But from what I can tell, Rocket Matter looks like a nice interface and probably does a bunch of shit that the others do. I mean, that’s what it says on their website.

As for reviews, man, I guess I’m going to recommend Andrew Cabasso’s review over at JurisPage, Brian Focht’s review over at The Cyber Advocate, and probably the Rekal Technologies post. I guess my reluctance here is two-fold: (1) I didn’t get to see the platform, and (2) the reviews are at least a year old. At least with the platforms that I saw and was able to use, I could vouch for the reviews, even if they were a bit dated. I can’t for Rocket Matter. So if you are the kind of person who has no problem remembering to cancel a free trial that’s tied to a credit card, I would suggest giving Rocket Matter a go, especially since it is considered one of the “Big Three,” namely Clio, MyCase, and Rocket Matter.

Oh! And I would be remiss if I didn’t note that Rocket Matter does seem to follow up promptly after you’ve created an account, which is very nice. Of course, I couldn’t use the service on my own terms, but the touch is important. And Bob Ambrogi also had a great post on their new client intake forms that you can read here.

LEGAL FILES.

LEGAL FILES 1

DISCLAIMER: I was not able to get a product demo, so this review is very limited and should be taken in that context. I find it is important to talk to employees so you get a better sense of how the product works in real-time.

So these cats have been around since the 80s and consequently have had a lot of time to think about LPM. But, in my opinion, they’ve probably done it really well for those of us that grew up in the 90s. After that, the learning curve might be a bit steep for you. I’m not sure what to say about the portal other than the fact that it relays a lot of information that can be difficult to absorb all at once. For example, when you want to manage a case file, you’re presented with a separate navigation menu nestled between all of the other dialog boxes for file information, transaction summaries, individuals related to the file, etc. And as you can tell from the screen cap above, each dialog box makes heavy use of side-to-side scrolling, which can be taxing. Yes, you can tab through fields, but that really isn’t the point. And in my opinion, the reports dashboard was pretty cluttered as well.

Do they have features? Yes. Out the wazoo, including tablet integration, so they nail most of them on my features list. And they must know something more than the other vendors because they service several other industries as well, which is hard to say for the “new guys.” But again, if I’m going to be living in it, I need it to be a little more modern and give me a better feeling of accessibility.

As for other reviews, the only one that seemed like it might be worthwhile comes from Paul Bernstein, and well, I’ll let it speak for itself.

 

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