Case Management (or Practice Management) software makers have seen a
rash of mergers and consolidations at all levels in the last several
years. To list some of the most notable: Elite time and billing
systems acquired the high-end Law Manager program; West acquired
ProLaw; Legal Files acquired Interface; RealLegal has acquired
several programs including e-binder and Practice Manager. In
addition, other programs that have not gone through an actual
acquisition have set up integrated links to provide easy access to
information in one program from another, either through an
import/export routine or a "hot link." Thus the Summation litigation
support program has set up links with CaseMap, Trial Director and
Sanction II; TimeMatters has an integration/marketing relation with
Lexis/Nexis that provides direct access to Lexis/Nexis from within
TimeMatters as well as an agreement with Dell to market TimeMatters.
Amicus Attorney has a deal with Gateway to sell a "legal" package
including Amicus and TimeSlips. Finally, the number of "hot link"
integrations has increased: QuickBooks, under pressure from
Microsoft Money, released an API (Application Programming Interface)
to enable other programs to transfer time and billing data to it. A
number of programs have set up links with the Worldox document
management program. Most recently, Amicus Attorney has announced a
document assembly module based on GhostFill (a competitor to the
dominant HotDocs). And this list is far from complete.
Why Is This Happening?
Why is this happening and what are the implications for the
future of these products?
The trend of the software industry, following Microsoft's lead,
is for programs to grow ever larger and incorporate more and more
features through mergers and acquisitions, if not in-house
development. People want to be able to deal with a single program,
no matter how bloated, rather than manage several smaller utility
programs, even if the functionality provided by constituent elements
of the "main" program is inferior to that provided by the specific
utilities. "Ease of use" is a mantra that has come to dominate the
software industry even when it produces what has been termed a
"disease of use."
Software makers increasingly try to take charge of the desktop so
that users access all other programs and functionality from within
the single main program. The core rationality is clear: it is
convenient to be able to say "fax (or email) this document" from
within a word processor rather than be forced to start from the fax
or email program and go out and get the document you wish to fax or
email. The problem arises from the fact that a given program
integrates only with certain other programs. Thus a case management
program integrates only with certain time and billing
programs. This creates pressure for users to base their software
choices on what other programs the software they are considering
integrates with. For manufacturers, such links can lead to increased
sales if your program "B" is on the short list of programs that
integrate with program "A".
Microsoft, with its deep pockets, has everyone else scrambling to
keep up with its control of the desktop. Since most case management
companies are relatively small, they simply do not have the
resources to add entire new program elements (e-mail, document
management, document assembly) to their core program, or if they do,
these elements are frequently stripped down with a lesser
functionality. It therefore makes sense for software companies to
set up privileged links to leverage the superior functionality of
existing programs devoted to doing one thing well. This in turn can
lead to mergers and acquisitions.
This trend is likely to proceed at an accelerated pace along two
paths, each with advantages and disadvantages.
Fully Integrated All-In-One Program
The first model is the fully integrated, monolithic program.
ProLaw is the primary example of this type. The main advantage to
this model is that since the code is all controlled by the same
company, integration is likely to be faster, more seamless and less
problematic than with "linked" products. Microsoft has frequently
been accused of making use of undocumented functionality in Windows
to integrate with Word and Internet Explorer better than what can be
achieved by outside companies (this was one of the elements in its
conviction for anti-trust violations). The main disadvantage is that
you are paying for pieces you may not need, or where an "outside"
program might provide superior functionality. If the program partly
fulfills your needs, will you want to spend more money on a
dedicated program to provide the missing elements?
Mergers and acquisitions that produce a single "integrated"
program can have serious drawbacks in that one is never quite
certain what will happen to the "acquired" company or at a minimum
to certain features of it. It is almost a truism that when a press
release says "marketing has shown that...." you know you are about
to lose one of your favorite features or find it transformed to the
point of being unrecognizable. The spate of mergers and acquisitions
is part and parcel of the industry-wide trend of "dumbing down"
Links With Other Programs
The second model involves a series of "linked" products in which
each one does what it does best, but links to the other products.
The advantage of this model is that to a large extent you can select
what products you want to use. The disadvantage is that even within
the available products the "link" may be slow or otherwise limited
or unreliable. This model also tends to lead to a lot of
finger-pointing when the time comes to troubleshoot a problem.
However, when the links are done well, it also leverages the
superior functionality of the component pieces.
In some cases, links to other programs can provide "multiplier
effects." Thus for example TimeMatters' link with the Worldox
document management system provides a "multiplier" for its conflict
checking module (as does its own more limited document management
system). Normally, conflict checking is only as good as the data
that has been entered into the program and thus is extremely limited
since a large amount of data normally resides outside the given
program. However, the TimeMatters conflict check also examines the
entire document store, thus dramatically increasing its
effectiveness. Programs such as Amicus Attorney, which also links
with Worldox, do not do this and their conflict checking routines
are correspondingly less effective.
What consequences does this have for you in evaluating various
products for purchase? This will depend on your preferences in terms
of the basic model of the software. For programs based on the
"all-in-one" model, look for "holes" - aspects of the program that
are either weak or non-existent. Will these become a problem in the
future? For programs that privilege links with other software, how
good are the links (some links are known to be somewhat flaky) and
again, what aspectsare weak or have links that are overly
Let us take two examples: if you want basic document management
features but are unwilling to spend the money for a full- featured
program such as Worldox, you might be better off with TimeMatters,
since it has a simplified document management system built in
(Amicus does not). On the other hand, if you need to track deadlines
based on court rules, you might be better off with Amicus Attorney,
which integrates with industry-leading CompuLaw (TimeMatters does
Hard choices have to be made when you want conflicting sets of
features not all of which are offered by a single program.
It is somewhat unclear whether "all-in-one" programs or those
based on the link model will prevail - the chances are that both
models will continue to exist, since both offer advantages. But it
is clear that software makers who do not offer expanded
links with other programs will be increasingly marginalized and may
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One of the new features offered by Word 2002 ("XP") is that when
a document crashes, a screen pops up offering to send the document
and other information to Microsoft for analysis. This may seem like
a nice feature, but it has some problematic aspects for law firms.
Say you are working on a document covered by attorney-client
privilege and Word crashes. Without thinking, you click OK to send
the document to Microsoft.
Since we can presume that Microsoft has not signed an explicit
non-disclosure agreement with your firm, you have now revealed the
contents of the document to a third party. Does this breach
attorney-client privilege (leaving aside for the moment the question
of how anyone would ever be able to prove that you had done so)?
Or, could it be argued that Microsoft here is an "agent" similar
to a secretary or paralegal employed by your firm? One attorney I
spoke with who specializes in intellectual property issues said "the
'agent' view might prevail, but I wouldn't want to try to litigate
that side of the issue."
To be on the safe side, firms adopting Word 2002 would be
well-advised to adopt a policy of not sending documents to Microsoft
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