Approach Legal Applications
While computer industry pundits are
doing their best to push toward an Application Service Provider ("ASP")
model, in which companies "lease" software that resides on a web server
rather than purchasing it to run in-house, there are a number of unresolved
issues, in particular for the legal industry. Our skeptical piece "ASPs
May Carry Lethal Sting" (No. 14, Summer 2000) met with the widest response
of any of our newsletters.
Nevertheless, virtually every major
software maker is rushing to develop (or at least announce) web versions
of their software. It is worth examining the models available and how existing
software makers are approaching this issue. There are three basic models
for ASP use:
Create an entirely new application from
"Web enable" existing software
A hybrid approach in which some features
of a given software are available on the web, but there is no direct link
to the primary data that resides on a company's in-house servers.
From the point of view of software
programmers, writing entirely new web-based software has many attractions.
You do not have to worry about going through contortions to reproduce the
"look and feel" of existing software, nor do you have to worry about matching
existing functionality in a web-based application.
There are two main downsides to this
approach. The first is that many of the providers that are springing up
today will fail, leaving their customers high and dry. This year marked
the beginning of a shakeout in the dot-com industry. Between January and
September 2000, 109 dot-coms failed in the US and Britain, or about 12
per month. In October 21 failed and in November failures were averaging
well over 1 per day (22 in the first half of November). You can expect
a similar shakeout to take place in the ASP market about a year or two
from now as startups run out of their initial capital. Thus going with
a "from the ground up" company carries substantial risk with it. To date,
in addition to Pets.com and its sock puppet, perhaps the most notable failure
is Red Gorilla, whose clients for its time tracking and expense modules
included Adobe Systems, NBCi, and OfficeMax. Red Gorilla closed down in
October and by the end of November customers' data had still not been transferred
to another provider. A recent article in Forbes magazine estimates
that up to 90% of all ASP startups will fail. There is no guarantee you
will pick one of the "winning" 10%.
The other downside lies with the functionality
and general usability of these applications. Thus the "Editor's Choice"
of a recent PC Magazine review (August 30), hotoffice.com, presents
a complete rolodex/ calendaring/scheduling application online. This can
be extremely useful if you have a widely dispersed workforce, or people
who are constantly traveling. However, the programs themselves are somewhat
kludgy-looking and slow. [Note that less than a week after this article
was written, hotoffice announced that it was going out of business!] The
functionality of these programs may not be all you have come to expect
from a desktop either: for example, most of these programs will not synchronize
information with a Palm Pilot/Visor (fusionOne is a rare exception). While
DSL connections are rapidly popping up in business-class hotels, response
time is still a major problem here. For reviews of other products see http://www.zdnet.com/pcmag/stories/reviews/0,6755,2619206,00.html. At the higher end of the
scale, the New York firm of Shearman and Sterling has recently licensed
similar software from niku.com for its some 1500 users.
Other vendors trying to make major
inroads into this market include think-free.com and 1stlegal.com. Both
offer an entire suite over the Internet. Thinkfree comes with an advertising
supported free version (imaging having to look at advertising while composing
a brief: distracting to say the least!), but for a fee the advertising
can be removed. Both are extremely slow and clumsy to use. I wouldn't even
try it on less than a DSL line - my ISDN line would be impossible to use
on a regular basis.
The second approach is to "web-enable"
existing software. Probably the granddaddy of these applications is GroupWise,
which has had an Internet interface module since 1995. The Java-based Internet
version of GroupWise has gradually improved over time until it offers almost
all of the functionality of the PC version. You log in through two sets
of passwords: first to the GroupWise Web server, and secondly to your GroupWise
account. Data is encrypted during transmission, providing additional security.
Document Management vendors such as
PCDocs, iManage and Worldox also offer some sort of Web solution. Worldox
has one of the better versions, since it not only allows a user full access,
but can be configured so that a particular client can see only some or
all of the documents relating to that client. Worldox even lets you create
entirely new documents and use the Internet connection to add them to your
data store. iManage is also trying to break into the web suite application
market with its QuickTeam.com.
Other software that is taking this
path includes Time Matters, which staged a very impressive prototype demonstration
at NY Legal Tech in September. However, it is likely to be some time before
its Java-based Web version is ready to be released.
Software that is taking a less ambitious
approach includes ProLaw, which has an HTML-only "Web Portal" approach
to its case management suite. As was clear during the NY Legal Tech demonstration,
this approach cannot hold a candle to Java-based types of applications:
clunky, slow and with limited functionality. In addition, the ProLaw version
is read-only, so that you can get your data but not add new data.
A number of companies, in particular
firms dealing with accounting software, are offering partial approaches.
This is understandable, since if law firms are extremely concerned about
the security of client data, they are doubly paranoid about their accounting
PCLaw is unveiling a web version of
its popular legal accounting package which will enable authenticated users
to access some (but not all) of the firm's data, and enter some new data.
The level of access permitted can be defined within the software, so that
companies are not stuck with a "one size fits all" version. PCLaw will
host its own data access site, thus avoiding third-party vendor issues.
Much further down the line, applications
such as TimeSlips provide a web data-entry module, but no real access to
the firm's data. Any time entered on the Web must be manually "swept" and
imported into the firm's TimeSlips data. This is merely another form of
remote entry and really doesn't qualify as a "web version" of the software.
It remains to be seen how the TimeSlips link with Peachtree will pan out.
Amicus Attorney, one of the leading
case management programs for small firms, has a "Remote Update" function
that can work across the Internet, but no actual Internet version. As with
other companies that don't have actual solutions, Amicus no doubt has a
version "in the works," but at present this is vaporware.
Litigation Support software fits the
ASP model very well: you have a large data store that you want to grant
a number of co-counsel, clients, etc. access to across the web. Instead
of sending out CDs or using a slow dialup connection, the Internet would
seem to be an ideal solution. Litigation support is an area in which the
ASP model is likely to have significant success.
Summation's iBlaze now allows firms
to define an Internet repository for all or part of its data. This can
be extremely useful in large class-action or similar cases with numerous
co-counsel. However, it still requires that the data be manually uploaded
to the web, and no real time access to the firm's actual database is provided.
A number of conclusions become apparent
from the above:
First, many of the startup "written from
scratch" companies will fail. When they do, your data may be in limbo for
a significant period of time. If you choose one of these solutions, make
sure you can get backups and that there are guarantees in case of failure
(for example, that you will have at least 30 days to get your data out
in the case of failure)
Second, different types of software may
lend themselves to different models. You may want a different approach
to litigation support software than to accounting software. This is definitely
not a "one size fits all" situation.
Lastly, all the reservations expressed
in our earlier article still apply. Even more than for an in-house network,
you need to plan for disaster in the event your ASP fails or your connection
is disrupted for other reasons.
Matters Service Release
Time Matters Case Management has just
issued Service Release 3 for its Version 3.0. Although labeled a "Service
Release," it virtually amounts to a version 3.1 given all the new and improved
Integration with Worldox such that all
Worldox documents relating to a given client/matter appear both for the
client ("contact" in Time Matters terms) and the matter. This can dramatically
expand the utility of the conflict checking available from Time Matters,
since Worldox documents are now also full-text searched when doing a conflict
check. Previously, Time Matters could not search any external documents
attached to Time Matters files.
The ability to see client balances from
within Time Matters if you are using either PCLaw or TimeSlips, as well
as new and/or improved links to Juris and Tabs III.
Full, bi-directional synchronization
with Outlook calendar and contact lists, in addition to e-mail synchronization.
This is unique within the industry (although some other programs, such
as ProLaw simply use the calendar features of Outlook as their own).
An improved e-mail client from within
Supports multi-page Twain scanning.