The type of practice you have should dictate
the type of case management system
which is best for your legal needs
By Alan Alberts
What type of case management system do you need? If you do litigation, you need a computerized calendaring/case management program that has docketing. That means that you can give the computer a trial date and the computer will automatically generate all the related events.
Some programs like the Legalex, Compulaw's Advanced Docket and Abacus come with extensive California rules sets for their software.
Some of the more powerful case management systems, like Software Technology's Case Master, do not come with California rules.
If you do strictly transactional work or only occasional litigation, you may not need the power of these programs. Because they deal with the complexities of litigation, they are powerful and take some time to learn to use well. You may find a simple (and less expensive) contact management system easier to learn and use.
I have just finished evaluating an add-on to the popular ACT! contact manager. The name of the add-on is ACT!PAK! It makes ACT! a very good choice for attorneys.
ACT! has been around for many years and is a solid program. It contains a database where you store information about clients, prospects, insurance adjusters and anyone else you need to contact. The information can include the name of the contact, what kind of contact (client, another attorney, court reporter, doctor, expert, etc.), addresses, phone and fax numbers, and who referred the person. You can use more than 70 fields to store information about a contact.
When you start ACT!, it will ask you if you want to reschedule things you have not yet done for today. A mouse click brings you a list of all your activities for the day. If you have set alarms for particular events, they will pop-up at the appropriate times.
You select the first call. A couple of keystrokes dials the number. Another keystroke starts a timer and another opens up a screen so that you can enter unlimited notes about the call.
When you are done, pressing a few keystrokes saves the notes, records the time you spent and schedules the next time you should call or the next thing you should do.
If you get a call from a client, a push of a button brings up all the information you need on the screen in front of you.
One of ACT!'s weaknesses is that its built-in word processor is very limited. ACT!PAK! allows you to instantly generate WordPerfect, Word or Word Pro letter from the information in an ACT! contact (or generate a form letter to many ACT! contacts) with a few mouse clicks. ACT!PAK! will insert information from any of the ACT! fields into the letter.
Another of ACT!'s deficiencies that stood in the way of more law firms using it was the inability to do any docketing. ACT!PAK! has a simple docketing feature.
You can, for example, enter the date of an accident and have the computer automatically schedule reminders of relevant statute of limitations dates.
Or you can enter the date that a client retains you and have the computer remind you of all the things that you want to do when you start a new case (like send a fee agreement letter or open a physical file).
Although this feature is not as sophisticated as those in the sophisticated legal-specific calendaring systems, it may be just what you need.
Alan Alberts lectures and writes about legal technology. His consulting and software training firm, Alberts & Associates, teaches law firms, both on-site and by phone, to save time and money by using computers effectively in their practices. They can be reached at by phone at 916/621-4447; by fax at 916/621-4472; or on the Internet Alberts@spider.lloyd.com.