Paul Bernstein, Attorney at Law
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PRODUCT REVIEW: CASE MANAGEMENT AND MORE FROM "LEGAL FILES"

Case management programs are rapidly becoming a necessity in the practice of law. It is a topic I have written about on numerous occasions, and lawyers will continue to see more and more articles on the subject in the near future.

The absolute need to be efficient

With overhead costs constantly rising, lawyers are being forced to handle more issues, more efficiently. Clients expect lawyers to utilize the same technology that allows their own businesses to boost productivity. No one questions the value of spreadsheets or word processing programs, and virtually all businesses today greatly benefit from their ability to store, retrieve and query information stored in databases. Certainly most law firms have computerized document creation and time and billing, but the profession has been slow to utilize networks and client/server technology. However, in our defense, few industry specific programs have been available to the legal profession that take advantage of PC based networks. With recent advances in case management programs, this is all about to change!

Second-generation case management programs are rapidly entering the market, and most law firms that I consult with are making plans to purchase case management applications in the very near future. Within the next few years, I believe 90 to 95 percent of law firms, of every size and practice variety, will be using some form of case management software. If your law firm is not currently utilizing this new breed of software, the time to decide to do so is upon you.

Legal Files setting a standard

I have just reviewed a program that may well set the standard for case management software today and into the next millennium. The program, known as Legal Files, is a full-featured case management system that is extremely well designed and implemented. Legal Files, however, provides more than case management; it is also fully integrates groupware functionality.

Legal Files has a huge list of features that I found to be impressively smooth, intuitive and easy to use. Anyone familiar with Windows 95 (or Windows 98) will be comfortable learning and using Legal Files. The program adheres to the latest Windows standards, and it doesn’t require any special commands or function keys. Case menus, for example, are completely customizable, allowing the law firm to include only information that it chooses to utilize. The product has a large variety of well-designed windows that a law firm can pick from when designing case menus, but the program also allows law firms to design its own custom windows. The program even has built in e-mail and Internet capability (The single-user version I reviewed did not have this feature enabled). Strategic areas of the program contain user-definable pick lists so law firms can modify the contents of the list to suit their styles of practice.

This product has evolved over the last several years. One of the most important reasons I believe this is an outstanding product is that it was developed by lawyers for their law firm and continues to be the software used by the law firm in its multi-office environment. Even before the program was market ready, the parent company, Legal Files Software, Inc., previewed the prototype at various conventions, looking for reactions from law firms and consultants. Every so often I would run into their Marketing Director at an ATLA convention or legal technology conference and ask him when the product would be ready for me to review? "Soon, Paul. We’re still developing and testing it," was his usual reply. They took their time and they "got it right". This 32-bit, Windows 95-based program clearly shows the results of careful design and extensive testing and refining.

For instance, you can link together multiple offices through the Legal Files’ unique replication technology and it also offers fully integrated notebook computer usage via the Internet. This is not a new feature for Legal Files. The company has worked for many years with multi-office law firms to perfect these features. The program is also not a glorified calendar or simply an issue manager. It breaks the chains of "personal information management" (PIMs) and delivers real file and office management. The application also brings a true team concept to case management, sharing and integrating the work product of attorneys, legal assistants and administrators, allowing significant increases in efficiency and productivity. I predict that this program will be a favorite among law firms of all sizes.

The Information "Delivery" System

Legal Files has two other features that I particularly liked. First, the program’s "Heads Up!" notification system is unique and quite helpful in managing activities. When you first enter Legal Files, Heads Up! greets you and brings relevant items to your attention. Your activities for the day (appointments, court appearances, tasks, etc.), as well as e-mail, phone messages and documents routed to you for review, are "delivered" to you via Heads Up! With just one click, you can retrieve the related file or item. Throughout the day, new items sent to you appear on your Heads Up! The second feature that impressed me is how the program uses tool bars. The application has two of them. One of the tool bars is horizontal and the other one is vertical. Together, these tool bars give the user a one-two punch that is like being an athlete on steroids.

Two Specialized tool-bars make for ease of use

The horizontal tool bar that is always at the top of every window contains icons for the most often-used features, such as, name cards, file list, calendars, e-mail, documents, phone log, mail log, etc. By default, the Legal Files tool bar initially displays only information that is pertinent to the logged-in user and that person’s files, so you don’t have to sort through complex queries to find just your appointments or docket. Depending on the user’s security clearance, Legal Files also offers the user the ability to see information relating to other files or staff members.

The second "tool bar" which is vertical, (known as a "Tool Box") is available only when there is a name card or file active on the desktop. When working in a file or name card this vertical set of tools appears along the left margin of the main window with some of the same icons that are in the Tool Bar across the top. The difference is, the "Tool Box" gives you information (calendars, e-mail, documents, phone log, mail log, etc.) that relates only to the particular matter or case on the desktop. For instance, it will show you all of the appointments that have been made for a particular file, without regard for whom the appointments may have been made. The Tool Box allows extremely quick overviews of even the most complicated cases.

Contact and Case Management with Muscle

Legal Files’ "name card" Rolodex-like system allows the storage of a lot of information, well beyond basic phone numbers and addresses. From the name card system you can check conflicts, family information, mailing lists, create and track letters and documents, track related e-mail or enter web site addresses and more. You can assign categorizes to name cards or relate people and companies to other name cards and cases in your system. Of course, you enter information only once and than it can be "linked" to places or cases in the system. Once a name card is linked to a case, just one-click of your mouse from a case window retrieves the name card information. Just want a phone number? Simply place your cursor over any name card link and the phone number automatically appears. This handy solution called "phone tips" is similar to "tool tips" used throughout Legal Files to display the name of fields or functions in the program. With certain phone systems you can even auto-dial phone numbers!

Customizable Case Menu System – See everything or only what you want!

Legal Files has a great customizable case menu system. The program gives you complete control over the size, color, content, and text of any menu, enabling you to create a customized system of case menus specific to your office that include only the type of information needed. The menus display the various "folders" or windows of information, in an easy-to-read and understandable list format. I believe this is an improvement over the floating file tabs used in many other case management programs or the over use of pull-down menu items. Upon opening a file in Legal Files, you see a list of the windows of information contained in the case. Each of the window names has an icon that looks like a file folder next to it. After information has been entered into a particular window, a check mark appears on the folder icon next to that entry on the menu. At a glance, you can tell what areas of a case have or have not been worked on. Customizable Fields throughout

If Legal Files is missing a particular information field that is important to your practice, you can easily create your own custom windows and attach them to any file. The program’s customization capabilities extend to the document assembly templates, task wizards and dozens of custom pick lists that you can create and modify, all without additional programming required. Link to accounting and time and billing programs

If you need more than Legal Files’ case level time tracking and trust accounting, the program can export time and expense data to other software packages, such as TimeSlips, Peachtree Accounting and others. Legal Files also offers custom linking to your favorite software.

Litigation support assistance

To help manage your litigation process more effectively, Legal Files includes several helpful features, such as a customized litigation checklist and built-in imaging capabilities, and special windows for evidence, expert reports, pleadings/discovery and transcripts. A click of your right mouse gives the user access to the active window’s functions, allowing more efficient use of the program. Matter of fact, every window supports right mouse pop-up menus!

The Way to Link

In our increasingly mobile and ever-expanding society, staying in touch with the office and staff presents a major challenge. If you have not opened that branch location or bought a notebook computer because of the associated high costs or the inability to adequately link your information, Legal Files provides a tested, effective and low-cost solution.

Before the introduction of Legal Files, the most common configuration to connect offices with multiple locations was a wide area network (WAN) built around the "central server" concept. The two primary disadvantages of this conventional system are it is inherently very slow, causing significant productivity losses especially in a Windows environment, and attempts to increase performance through high-speed lines (such as T-1 or ISDN connections) can be extremely expensive. Conversely, Legal Files has a unique system called "Link/Sync" that provides a real-time, low-cost wide area network that offers faster access to data and does not require costly telephone connections. The Legal Files solution is known as a "replicated" WAN, where each location in the WAN has its own network database server (there is no single server in this configuration). All the various servers replicate information to one another and synchronize the data so all locations have the same information. This design gives the staff members at each office much faster access to the firm’s data and provides an exact duplicate of the firm’s database and documents at each location. This feature has the added benefit of data redundancy in case of a catastrophe. Also, the built-in e-mail and document routing features in Legal Files provide all locations linked in the WAN with an excellent inter-office communication system at no additional cost.

Because the "Link/Sync" system sends very small "packets" of data to and from locations, the telephone connection between offices can be as simple as a voice-quality leased data line, which is many times less expensive than a T-1 connection. The next release of Legal Files includes a WAN connection via the Internet, which will eliminate the need for a direct telephone line connection and provide even further operational savings.

Legal Files, Lawyers and Laptops

Legal Files puts the power and resources of your entire office on your laptop or notebook computers. Just as data can be replicated between offices, Legal Files allows file and matter information to be replicated between your notebook and network, letting you create documents, update file information, send e-mail and handle many other functions anytime and anywhere you want. The real breakthrough is that they have made advanced technology very easy to use.

Legal Files creates an exact duplicate of your firm’s network data and replicates it to a notebook computer. When attorneys or other staff members are away from the office, all the changes they make to their notebook are tracked and stored. When they link back to the office through a direct network connection or via dial-in, or the Internet, the changes made on the notebook are synced with the network. At the same time, any changes made on the network server by others in your office are sent to the notebook computer so it has the most current data. Only those documents and pieces of information that changed are replicated to avoid replicating extraneous information. Legal Files is the only legal-specific case management program I am aware of that has the capability to replicate data and documents in this manner.

Increased Productivity

For any comprehensive product, diligent data entry is essential to making the system work properly for you. Legal Files makes this as simple as possible by presenting all case information in a relevant manner and allowing data to be accessed with a few key strokes or mouse clicks. Within a few months of using Legal Files, you will start to see dividends from your investment in time and data, and the payback is significant. I recently spoke with one attorney who had been using Legal Files for about nine months. His caseload had increased almost 40 percent, and he felt he is actually giving his clients better service.

Document preparation in Legal Files is powerful and will easily save your staff many hours of time. The system is similar to other document assembly systems I have seen where you can create master "template" documents and the system then fills in the blanks. The difference is Legal Files collects such a rich array of information that your documents can have more blanks automatically filled in. Additionally, after the document is generated, the user can modify any information filled in by the system before saving the new document, providing the ultimate in document generation technology. All documents you create in Legal Files are also automatically named and saved within that case file for quick retrieval later on. Full-text searching is available for networks using an NT server.

Office and Workflow Management

It is obvious law firm administrators had significant input into the development of this program. With Legal Files, office managers and managing partners can run a multitude of reports regarding caseloads, expected revenue, case status and related management issues. These aspects of law firm administration are greatly overlooked in other products; Legal Files certainly paid attention to this issue in great detail.

The many built-in reports you get with Legal Files reflect this program’s understanding of law and how a case management system can be used to run a law firm. Basic reports, such as statute of limitations, pending settlements and firm-wide calendars, are complemented by reports dealing with the last date of client communications, pending negotiations and plaintiff resolution--all designed to help avoid common causes of malpractice. The program’s standard reports are really many reports in one, due in part to the different criteria you can select to modify the report’s output.

Other administrative features found in Legal Files that I haven’t seen elsewhere include a section to store relevant human resources information, a marketing expenditures module, and a system to organize and track prospective clients separately, along with a unique method for transforming a prospective client into an actual client. Plus, certain staff members can be given access to open "office files" for non-legal issues. I think administrators will find the security controls powerful, yet simple enough to set up and assign, with the ability to create any number and types of security groups required.

Legal Files Recommendations

If your law firm is committed to using technology to manage its cases, Legal Files is the program to start with and grow into it. Because Legal Files allows you handle all types of law practices, all in one program, it has the potential to be the only office management program you will ever need. Legal Files does require more of a commitment than a PIM, both in terms of time and money invested, but the results are well worth it. You get two very valuable things in return for your investment: 1) a mature and tested product that truly understands how a law office should run; and 2) a relationship with a company that is dedicated to its customers

If you are concerned about your system becoming outdated, I believe Legal Files is a product backed by a company with a vision for the future. The program has already demonstrated its ability to successfully incorporate advanced functions into a law firm environment with its Internet and replication technologies. Plus, the product is evolving rapidly. In fact, I have seen Legal Files make significant changes in just the last few months, which has made the product easier to use and more powerful. This is a testament to the company’s responsiveness to its customers. And, as noted earlier in this review, Legal Files was created by a multi-office law firm that continues to use this product as the back-bone of the firm.

I have been reviewing legal software for many years. Legal Files is a rare gem in that it combines the features noted above plus flexibility and ease of use, all at a reasonable price. It is safe to say that Legal Files has few competitors.

System Requirements

Legal Files was designed specifically for Windows 95/98 and comes bundled with a 32-bit SQL database, providing a client/server architecture for law offices of all sizes, especially those seeking robust performance from their computer networks. For workstations, you’ll want 100 mhz Pentium-level machines or better with 32 MB of RAM. Its document assembly system links with Windows 95 versions of Word and WordPerfect. The database can be run on either NT or Novell servers.

Suffice to say Legal Files has something for everyone, with enough functionality and flexibility to make it the one program your firm can grow with for many years. For current pricing, training costs and support and maintenance charges, please contact the vendor directly at:

 

Vendor contact information

Legal Files Software
2730 S. MacArthur Blvd.
Springfield, IL 62704
(217) 523-7480
(800) 500-0537
Internet: http://www.legalfiles.com

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