Carilyn Elefant’s Complete v. Cobble v. Cutting Edge is an excellent 30,000′ look at the general choices available for practice management. While I believe that she is right in recommending that any new solo take a serious look at web-based (SaaS) solutions, I don’t believe that desktop solutions have seen their day. Until reliable high-speed Internet connections are ubiquitous the web will be both a great strength and an Achilles heel.
As I look for a practice management solution, I am looking for that magic bullet – a software package that will facilitate the mundane business of practicing law leaving me more time to practice law. Sure a cobbled system – Outlook for contact management, a strict file structure & naming conventions or perhaps some type of revision control software (SVN is free) for document management, and a tickler/productivity system like Tim Ferriss never forget anything again – is an inexpensive and workable solution. The downside is that like any D.I.Y. project, it just invites tinkering, tweaking, and time-wasting as one strives to perfect it, and, unlike desktop and SaaS solutions, there is nothing in the cobbled solution (besides one’s personal iron determination) to impose disciplined consistency.
Desktop solutions are the devil we know. They have years of development behind them leading to full-featured software and generations of lawyers that will swear by/at them. The implementation of any desktop solution represents a serious investment of money (upfront license costs, yearly maintenance agreements) and time in the form of steep learning curves and software maintenance.
The new kids on the block are SaaS solutions. Lacking the comprehensive feature set of the desktop solutions, they reduce training costs and eliminate maintenance expenses. If one considers total cost of ownership, SaaS solutions can be a quarter of the cost of a desktop solution. The risk here is one of trust. Do you trust your Internet connection enough to risk access to your conflict checker/time keeper/billing/document management software? Do you trust the SaaS vendor to keep your data secure, private, and confidential? Lacking a well-established user community and reputations built through long experience, SaaS solutions are the devil you don’t know.