Desktop Legal Practice Management -Part 1

I mentioned previously that I had also looked at desktop software for practice management. Most desktop practice management programs seem to think time and billing components are for a separate program (or a separate fee to enable an integrated program), but I will deal with them as one program where possible, since I view time and billing as one of the primary purposes of practice management software.

This product from Thomson Reuters looks good, but is simply astronomically expensive. They won’t sell you fewer than four licenses at a time and have crazy annual maintenance charges.

Once I heard the prices I decided not to do a demo. It does look like a very capable program from the videos on their website.

Things I like: excellent Outlook integration, full general ledger accounting built in, so you can drop Quickbooks, document assembly, rules based calendars and quite customizable.

Things I don’t like: requires SQL server so probably a pain in the neck to set up and use.
Doesn’t integrate with Quickbooks if you want it to.
Many of the integrations are for products only used by larger firms.

Overall, this looked like a good product, but the pricing kept me from taking an in depth look. If you are willing to spend 5-6k up front and 1100 per year in maintenance, then give them a look.

West Firm Central

To continue my series on law practice software, and as I noted in my article I still have not gotten to see Westlaw Firm Central. A Westlaw representative did call me and offered me a lengthy free trial period for Firm Central, which hopefully will start soon.

UPDATE 3/5/14: I finally signed an agreement for a six month free trial of firm central with their time and billing component. Will post my thoughts soon.

Legal Software and Security

While I left it out of my article on legal practice management software, there was more than just frustration with Clio’s inefficient workflow (to use a terrible word – Clio is just inefficient).  The issue I had was the security of my data.  I had always assumed that Clio, like other cloud providers, had it in their interest to keep my data safe.  Then I allowed a third party software vendor that integrates with Clio’s API (application programming interface – a mechanism for allowing third parties to program their software to use the data in Clio).  

Essentially, Clio’s API is structured so that once a vendor is authorized by a Clio user to access that user’s data (and it is simple to authorize, just click a big button), that vendor has virtually unfettered access to all data until it is revoked. Clio has no control over how that vendor will then use the data.  In my case, the vendor took my authorization for one software program he had developed and changed the name to another software program.  Thus, I had authorized one thing, but a totally separate product (with totally different functionality) had access to my firm’s data. 

Clio’s API security mechanisms do not provide you any control over what data is shared.  For example in my case, where I had allowed access to a calendar reminder service, granular data permissions would have prevented the vendor from accessing my billing data and sending out unauthorized billing reminders (this is exactly what happened).  Furthermore, Clio’s API allowed the vendor to avoid having its own login mechanism, so you could not cancel the clio integration and still access your account. 

In my case, the vendor also sent out emails to my clients to remind them of bills to be paid without my authorization.  This was a flaw in the third party software, which actually did things that I had never permitted. 

I tell this story because it is important to avoid trusting any website that happens to integrate with a cloud vendor’s API.  Just because a company programs to access data, does not mean that the vendor is trustworthy.  It is up to cloud vendors and the user to make sure things are secure.  Clio, unfortunately, did not take these concerns seriously enough.  My conversations with them let me to believe that they did not understand the serious threat to law firm data that they had created. 

It was this incident that led me on my search for new software. 

Customers hate loan servicers

This article in today’s New York Times describes the crazy new business of loan servicing. Apparently, some regulators thought a private equity driven industry, which hardly even existed five years ago, would be better than the banks at dealing with loans.

They aren’t. The frequent transfers to companies that no one has ever heard of has resulted in crazy confusion and I personally have seen circumstances similar to those described in the article. Ocwen is just a disaster to deal with. I had to threaten a lawsuit on behalf of a client just to get them to acknowledge that they were paid off in full (not all of their loans are distressed).

How the collection of loan payments became a revenue stream separate from the actual loan is inexplicable, but essentially is why the mortgage industry went wrong in the first place. Instead of lending for the profit on the interest, they are looking for profits on chopping the loan into component parts. Yet, how does a loan with a low interest rate generate more than just that 3 or 4% interest overall? This engineering is always bound to fail.

The Collapse of Big Law: A Cautionary Tale for Big Med – Richard Gunderman and Mark Mutz – The Atlantic

The Atlantic has an analysis of what it calls Big Med and compares it to the collapse of Big Law and the so-called deprofessionalization of law. I think the collapse of the legal market is overstated in general and certainly in this article. I don’t think anyone in private practice has ever assumed that they are doing it solely to improve society. It is a way to make a living, enjoyable for some of us (I am a solo and a big law refugee and I love what I do), and less enjoyable for some. I think notions of professionalism are largely overrated in any event.

People don’t trust lawyers because we are as a bunch not trustworthy. We aren’t really supposed to be. We are tasked with arguing on behalf of clients to get them a favorable result regardless of what is right, so how can you trust us?

Health Insurance

For those out there who are going to be newly insured in the new year, or those that hope to be soon, you should be aware that both state and Federal law give you rights if the insurance company fails to live up to its obligations (and they most likely will disappoint you if you have a significant claim). New Jersey has an appeal procedure for any denied claim and that includes review by an independent third party, but you also have the right to enforce your insurance contract in court. At the end of it all, insurance is a contract. In exchange for paying your premiums, the insurance company agrees to accept the risk of paying your medical bills. If they fail to do so, they are in breach of contract. Employer provided insurance is also governed by Federal Law, primarily by a statute known as ERISA.

Now that the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”) mandates that every person have insurance, more people will be subjected to denials of coverage that have no basis in fact. When this happens, it is important to protect your rights, and your wallet.
We have successfully handled several cases where the insurance companies wrongfully denied health care claims. Call 201-289-5352 if you have any problems with your insurance company.