Choosing a Case Management
Before evaluating the merits of various
case management programs, you need to decide what it is that you want them to
do. Or ask the even more basic question: why do I need case management at all if
I have Outlook for e-mail, calendaring, scheduling and contact lists?
The short answer to this is that programs
such as Outlook are typically designed around individuals (contacts) and a
single person's schedule (yours). They are at best ill-suited for group use.
Case management programs such as Abacus, Amicus or Time Matters are generally
matter centric. All information: contacts, e-mails, appointments, To
Do's, time spent on a file, documents, etc. are related to a particular matter,
case, project, client, etc. This means that when it comes time to generate a
chron list or refer to events concerning a matter, the computer has all the
information you need without consulting the physical file. This drastically
reduces the number of times you have to say "let me check the file" in response
to a client's question: all your file information is at your fingertips on the
computer. This saves you substantial amounts of time and makes you appear on top
of things to clients.
What Should Case
The answer to this question depends on
your particular practice. What a P.I. firm needs and what a real estate firm
needs are vastly different. So the first thing to do is to make a list of your
needs: do you need to track medical information, real estate information,
personal information for trusts and estates, etc. Do you want the program to
generate documents based on client information? What kinds of links do you want
to have to time & billing and/or accounting programs (which produce still
another level of efficiency)?
You must then decide what trade-offs are
acceptable. You can probably find a program that will do 90% of what you need.
Customizing it so that it does the last 10% will be difficult and very
expensive. In addition, suppose you want two features, A and B. Program One does
A very well, but B poorly, whereas Program Two does B very well but is only
mediocre at A. What are your priorities? Are there "deal breaker" features,
i.e., features whose absence nixes the deal, no matter how well other
aspects of the program function?
One of the most important issues is how
much of the advanced capabilities of the various programs you wish to use, in
particular document assembly or links with document management or e-mail
Once a preliminary list is established,
you can begin to examine case management programs. I will deal here primarily
with Amicus and Time Matters, which are the two programs I know best. My
impression is that Abacus runs a distant third, but may well fit the needs of
some firms. Some of the features and functionality you will want to consider
include the following:
How high is ease of use on your list of
priorities? This depends largely on how savvy or computerphobic your users are.
Amicus is quite a bit easier to use than Time Matters (with some exceptions such
as group scheduling) and has a much lower learning curve. Ease of use is an
overriding consideration for many firms and thus Amicus is frequently favored by
smaller firms that want a low-maintenance program they can use with a minimum of
training. My experience, and that of other consultants who implement these
programs, is that Time Matters is likely to require twice the training Amicus
does to implement equivalent functionality.
Time Matters is bucking the general "ease
of use" trend in the computer industry that is simplifying interfaces and
removing complexity. Time Matters unabashedly looks like a spreadsheet,
presenting the maximum amount of data possible in a given space. On the other
hand, this appeals to users who may want maximum functionality or not like
Amicus' "eye candy."
Do you want to make the program jump
through hoops or are you willing to "make do" with minimum customization? Are
there specific things the program must do for it to work well with your
practice? None of these programs can be expected to work "out of the box." They
all require customization, and the more advanced features you want, the more
that will cost. Time Matters can be customized to a much higher degree than
Amicus (but expect to pay extra for a high degree of
An investment in training is the best
investment you can make. Users that have been poorly trained (or not at all)
will be poor users. Typically, training may be done in two or three "passes" so
as not to overwhelm users and to introduce more advanced features when users
have become familiar with basic aspects of the program you choose.
If security is a main concern, and you
wish to restrict some users' ability to access certain areas or features of the
program, Time Matters is the way to go. Amicus security is very basic (a
password to get into the program) and is not granular, that is, it cannot be
applied selectively to specific functionality (such as the ability to delete
Both Amicus and Time Matters have their
own in-house e-mail. Amicus will allow you to launch any MAPI-based e-mail
program, but it does not let you store e-mail to or from clients in Amicus
without a separate step of saving the e-mail as a file. Time Matters has its own
e-mail client and bi-directional synchronization with Outlook e-mail and
calendaring (as of Service Pack 3). Of course, if you are fortunate enough not
to use Outlook, this is not a relevant consideration.
You may require specific add-ins to make
the product work acceptably. Amicus will integrate with the CompuLaw court rules
(although the licensing terms are extremely restrictive), integrates with
Lernout & Hauspie's voice recognition, and has a Telephone add-in module
that lets Amicus manage all your telephone calls. This only works with certain
phone systems (be very careful to check them out) and you need Caller ID, but it
can be a great tool. For example, not only does it start to time every phone
call you receive for billing purposes, it even lets you schedule who you will
accept calls from, while shunting other calls into voice mail.
One thing you need to examine is the level
of support available. This depends not only on the support available from the
various companies (Time Matters has an edge here for end users), but more
importantly what is available from consultants in your area. In many cases the
"best program" is the one that has the best consultant in your area.
For firms of over about 50 users, the
issue of scalability is important. Due primarily to its database structure, you
can expect Time Matters to scale better than Amicus. A lot of routine database
management in Amicus requires that all users exit the program, which is onerous
for larger firms.
The Return on Investment for any case
management program is so spectacular that cost should not really be an issue.
You can reasonably expect to recoup your total implementation cost in under
three months of use through savings in time and increased efficiency. That said,
the sticker price of Time Matters will be less than Amicus, but the total cost
of implementation, including training, is likely to be higher for Time Matters
than for Amicus.
A number of the above criteria tend to be
mutually conflictual, which is why you need a clear set of priorities of what is
important to your firm before picking a specific program. You will need to make
a series of trade-offs and then "sell" them to your firm. Without properly
setting your user expectations, it is all too easy to have a failed installation
with the result that nobody uses very many capabilities of whatever program you
have chosen. Finally, whatever program you choose, be sure to invest in adequate
In a business environment, there are
generally accepted customs that govern telephone conversations. You answer the
phone by identifying your firm and/or yourself rather than saying "Hello." Since
e-mail conventions have not had the same time to sink into the general
awareness, a reminder of what has come to be termed "netiquette", the rules and
customs that govern e-mail and Internet communication, may be useful.
Don't Shout. Typing all caps for
emphasis is considered "shouting" and very impolite (unless of course you mean
Don't Send HTML E-Mail. While
Outlook supports HTML formatting, many corporate e-mail readers and listserve
programs do not and the result can be extremely annoying. It may look something
class=3D316544017-15011999>Per AA Partnet Newsletter, would appreciate=20
receiving a sample and a pricing sheet.</SPAN></DIV>
Yes, the text is there. Need I say
Don't Set "Reply to All" as
Default. Suppose a mailing goes out announcing the company picnic. You reply
that you can't make it, but forget to uncheck "reply to all." Most people could
care less that you can't make it and will simply be annoyed. This is very
For attorneys interested in technology
issues, the Technolawyer listserve is an extremely useful resource:
John Heckman contributes regularly to this
forum. A much abbreviated version of the Case Management article above will
appear in the "TechnoDebate" column of Law Office Computing, Dec.-Jan.
2001 issue. His contribution on Internet security in law firms appears in the
current issue of Law Office Computing, also as part of the "TechnoDebate"