Within the last six months, most of the vendors I deal with have
released upgrades to their programs: Amicus Attorney, TimeMatters, PC Law,
Worldox. And then there is the impending release of Windows Vista/Office
2007 earlyish next year. Clients often ask me: what should I do? Do I need
this upgrade? Many clients understandably feel it is simply too expensive
to upgrade every time a new version comes out.
To approach this issue without losing your sanity, it is important to
understand how the software industry works and the directions in which it
is going. The time is long since past when software companies derived a
significant part of their profits from new sales: today, upgrades drive
profits. The newest buzzword in software – Software as a Service ("SaaS")
goes even further. In this scenario, you "lease" the use of software on a
monthly basis for a specified period of time: software becomes more and
more like cell phone service. This has several advantages from the maker’s
point of view: not only does it increase and regularize the company’s
income stream, it also tends to "lock in" the user to specific software.
If you stop using the "service" in some cases you may lose access to your
PC Magazine analyst Michael Miller’s recent comment about Microsoft
also applies to other software makers: "Its existing products are good
enough, and its upcoming products aren’t must-haves."
LexisNexis has been gobbling up software companies at a great rate and
now owns Time Matters/Billing Matters, PC Law, HotDocs, CaseMap,
NetDocuments and Concordance (litigation support) as part of its "Practice
Management" stable. Since some of these products are
overlapping/competing, it remains to be seen whether the classic computer
industry phenomenon of AMD will play itself out (that’s Acquire, Merge,
Destroy). In the meantime, LexisNexis has been moving toward a policy of
yearly upgrades as part of increasing its revenue stream. This means that
each upgrade has fewer new and/or major new features. Upgrades become
increasingly marginal in terms of increased utility over the previous
version, although following Microsoft’s leads fancier graphics and
"wizards" abound (it is usually to your advantage to turn off the wizards
as fast as you can and learn how to use the program). Perhaps more
importantly, since no software company has the resources to put out a
stable new product every year, this means that over time, although
perhaps not in the immediate future, the quality of the software
must inevitably decrease, since there will be more pressure to get out the
new release and correspondingly fewer resources available to fix the
existing release. After all, who is going to pay money for an "upgrade"
that simply fixes defects in how a program works? Thus programs are
frequently rushed to market in order to meet some artificial deadline.
Although you may want to take advantage of the price savings in an
immediate upgrade, now more than ever the adage "wait for Service Pack 1
before you implement" is good advice.
For the end user, there is clearly a trade-off in the "leasing" model.
On the upside, it guarantees fixed monthly payments and software upgrades.
On the down side, it will almost certainly be more expensive than buying
the software and upgrading as needed, unless the base software is included
as a "loss leader." The key question is how much more expensive:
when given these options you should do the math very carefully.
Faced with this situation, many clients have asked me: "it’s been
working fine for me, what do I need the new release for anyway?" There are
several main reasons why you might want/need a new version.
It has some new feature that you have been dying to have for years.
Thus Time Matters 8's improved e-mail or its integration with Acrobat
Reader could be critical for some firms. PCLaw 8 has the ability to track
time that has been written down, and lets you have a timer running in
You have an older version which is no longer supported. The software
may work just fine, but if the time ever comes when you do need support,
you are likely to really need it (i.e., in some sort of
catastrophic situation) and it will not be available.
The version of the program might not run properly if you purchase new
hardware with an updated version of Windows. This issue may be aggravated
when Windows Vista comes out some time next year.
Some software programs, in particular PCLaw and Worldox, include
upgrades in the cost of yearly maintenance. This means that there is no
financial reason NOT to upgrade, once the new version is stable.
What about specifics?
Amicus Attorney/ Accounting
Gavel & Gown has completely revamped its product structure. The
flagship product, Amicus Attorney 7, has been completely rewritten for
SQL. While this is very positive going forward, the product is now very
resource-intensive and rather slow, although most of the early issues have
been resolved. The program features the ability to create and format an
unlimited number of custom fields; much better Outlook integration (you
see your entire Outlook inbox, including subfolders, from within Amicus).
You can see multiple calendars simply by clicking on a list of users. It
also lets you select "Favorites" for files, people, etc. that lets you
access a subset of your information quickly, and adds some other minor but
slick features, like the ability to look up an address via MapQuest.
Because the requirements for Amicus 7 are more suited to firms of more
than 10 users willing to invest in technology, Gavel & Gown has released
Amicus Small Firm, based on Amicus V+ and incorporating the new Amicus
Accounting. This is available only to new clients, with a limit of 10
Finally, the new Amicus Accounting is an interim product based on the
purchase of source code from an established Canadian accounting package.
Amicus Accounting has severe limitations in terms of the number of users
it will support and, more important, format options (client/matter numbers
must be all numeric for example). If you integrate Amicus Accounting with
an existing Amicus Attorney installation, it will overwrite your existing
client/matter numbers and substitute all-numeric ones in some random
Gavel & Gown is promising a fully-rewritten accounting package in about
2 years that will do away with the existing limitations. If your needs are
very simple and you are willing to accommodate to the limitations of the
package, this option might be acceptable for very small firms. Otherwise,
you would be better off waiting.
Version 8 includes a number of new features, including:
• TM Save and TM Open now function in Firefox and Adobe Acrobat Reader.
• AutoText functionality for Time Matters (previously only in BM);
• Form Styles can now be linked to multiple Classification Codes (if
you use exten-sively customized form styles, this could be very
• Billing Matters now lets you customize the Pre-Bill format.
• Management of email attachments is much improved. This is a key issue
for many people using TM e-mail, and could justify an upgrade by itself.
PCLaw’s new features include:
• Ability to open a timer from within Word to track your time while you
• More functions export to Excel (including the Register)
• The ability to track time that has been "written down" to get more
accurate time reporting for analysis.
• Change lawyer rates in advance to take effect on a given date.
• Reprint, Write Off or Unbill multiple bills at one time.
Vista / Microsoft Office 2007
The central fact about Microsoft Vista in the "new interface" version
is that it won’t run on most current computers. It will ship on a DVD (not
CDs), and most business computers don't have DVD drives. You will most
likely need 2Gb of memory and what today would be considered a high-end
gaming video card with 512Mb of dedicated memory for it to work properly.
There are virtually no business PCs today which meet these requirements.
Most of the really advanced features have been dropped from Vista, so
aside from the interface, new features are marginal.
Office 2007 has a drastic interface change that is likely to require
substantial retraining. Also, it remains to be seen whether the "new"
format will meet the specific needs of law firms. Initially, you might be
better off sticking with the old format until the new one has been
thoroughly tested in your specific environment. In short, upgrading to
Vista should probably be done along with your next cycle of hardware
As a rule I recommend upgrading every other release, except for
programs where the upgrade is part of maintenance, or unless there is some
new feature you have wanted for a long time or is of particular interest.
If you are currently using a version of your product that will be "sunsetted"
(such as Time Matters 5) you should definitely upgrade. With programs
where the upgrade is part of maintenance (PCLaw or Worldox), it is to your
advantage to upgrade once the new releases are stable.