LPM Tools: Metrics That Matter

In Comparing the Cost of SaaS LPM Tools to Conventional: The Metrics That Matter Carolyn Elefant presents a well considered argument that simply comparing the cost of software as a service practice management (SaaS LPM) tools to conventional desktop ones (as I do in: RocketMatter & Clio) isn’t accurate as it does not incorporate the intangible benefits inherent in the SaaS model such as the reduction in IT support costs, office space requirements, hours lost responding to client requests for updates, etc. I do have to agree with her assessment that one should make this type of externalities-based comparison when choosing a LPM system. However, I believe that for all its positives, the SaaS model has some serious flaws to overcome.

Current SaaS LPM offerings are immature technology that require reliable a high-speed Internet connection and offer no off-line capabilities. Whereas desktop systems tend to be mature software offerings from stable companies with long track records and most desktop systems offer some form of mobile access. Buying into one of the current SaaS solutions means risking mission-critical software on the belief that you will have Internet access 24/7/365 and that nothing will fail in the electronic chain that connects your computer to the SaaS provider’s servers. Continue reading

The eFax Option

How does one handle the occasional fax? The traditional model is to buy a standalone fax machine or a multi-function printer and either pay for a dedicated phone line or a line sharing device. The other option is eFax.

eFax services convert a fax into a digital file that can be received by eMail and vice versa. The typical eFax solution provides a dedicated fax phone number that will convert incoming faxes to email attachments that are automatically sent to your eMail address. Your outgoing faxes are sent as eMail attachments to the eFax service which sends them to physical fax numbers so your outgoing faxes are received just as if they had been sent by a standard fax machine.

Based on research done by FaxCompare, the “market standard” is for a service to provide a 30-day free trial, have no start up fee or hidden fees, and to offer 24/7 customer service and both send/receive capabilities. Expect to pay about $10 per month for 300 total pages (incoming & outgoing combined) with additional pages costing about $0.10 per page.

Here is a “SaaS” model that works for me. It is less expensive than owning dedicated hardware, is more efficient since it cuts down the number of steps needed to send a fax, should be more reliable, and is more secure (faxes go to specific eMail addresses rather than sit in the fax machine until someone picks them up). Plus it is the “greener” alternative. The best part is that FaxCompare has done most of the comparison shopping already and offers a set of apples-to-apples vendor reviews.

SaaSy Practice Management

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 againis 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.

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Online Backup Services

If the first rule of the digital age is “save early, save often” the second has to be “backup your data daily” and unless you are an ubergeek with a home-brew 18 server complex with Raid 5 disk arrays capable of doing disk to disk mirroring build into your hall closet, online backup services like BackBlaze, Carbonite, iBackup, SugarSync, or Iron Mountain may be a solution to a problem you hope you never have.

However, not any on-line backup solution will do for the paperless law office (or for that matter, a law office that maintains any electronic client information). After all there is an ethical duty to protect client data and maintain client confidentiality. So before running out and signing up for the cheapest on-line service out there be sure that the service provides an automatic, encrypted backup service that gives you exclusive access to your files (or at least a written statement that files are kept confidential). Then, periodically check your backups by doing a file restore – remember doveryai, no proveryai (trust but verify)

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Caseload

Finally, a SaaS Practice Management tool whose pricing makes sense. Caseload by Blackletter offers subscriptions that range from free to $50/month. For $0/month, 2 users can work on a single active matter. Other plans increase both the number of users and the number of active matters. Don’t like limits, then the $50/month plan is for you – unlimited users, unlimited matters.

Caseload must have project management genes somewhere in its origins because it is very work-flow oriented and offers graphical outlines of each active matter showing task order and deadlines. Caseload does not offer many frills – invoices are fairly plain, no multiple billing rates, and there is little to customize. But it does provide the basic tools for matter & contact management, calendaring, to do lists, billing, and file storage.

The user interface has a few rough edges – it is not always possible to move from one subsection to another without making use of the browser’s back button and you may have to scroll down the page to reach the “help” button. Other complaints – there does not seem to be obvious way to import/export data, no tutorial is provided, there is no way to classify a contact as opposing party, and conflict checking is rudimentary bordering on primitive. While, the price point helps to mitigate the software’s flaws, my overall feeling is that Blackletter may have jumped a little to soon when they released this version.