Review: Daylite in an Estate Planning Practice

January 6, 2008  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

Daylite is a well-regarded productivity and CRM program for Mac OS X from Marketcircle. Several months ago I purchased a copy of Daylite for my wife’s estate planning practice. At the time, Daylite seemed like a good CRM solution and came highly recommended. We started and ended our CRM journey with Daylite, but the path in between those points was anything but a straight line. This article describes that journey. It is written from the perspective of an estate planning practice, but will no doubt apply to many kinds of law practices (and other businesses).

Despite spending the money on Daylite, we never quite got around to incorporating Daylite into the everyday processes of my wife’s law practice. As with many business owners, there were just too many things that needed to be done today to get involved with something totally new. That’s how things sat until a few weeks ago, when getting new CRM software running took on “must be done today” status. After studying my wife’s law practice and thinking about how she would use the software, we came up with the following requirements:

  1. Manage contact information, including client data
  2. Manage appointments and to-do items
  3. Automatically create to-do items associated with each stage in the estate planning process
  4. Keep track of all meetings and communications with each contact
  5. Keep track of all documents associated with each contact

Since we already had a license, we first took a look at Daylite. Previously, we had only used the Daylite demo database – this time we used live data. As we began to use Daylite with live data, it seemed like Daylite wouldn’t be able to do everything we wanted. We didn’t see a way to associate files with a contact. There also didn’t seem to be a way to automatically create a series of tasks whenever a potential client made an appointment or a new client retained the firm. Two very important requirements seemed absent in Daylite.

Being easily deterred (for the moment), we looked at several other solutions, including Bento – as I previously wrote about – and FileMaker Pro. Neither seemed a good fit. Bento can’t automatically create groups of tasks and has limited search and reporting capabilities. You can create and view records, but that’s about it. FileMaker Pro can seemingly do it all. The only problem is, FileMaker Pro doesn’t do it already. There are a few CRM templates available, some designed especially for law firms. None, however, did everything that we wanted. So we came full circle and started looking again at Daylite.

Daylite can, of course, do all the things I thought it couldn’t. I found that out when I read the manual and started asking questions on the Marketcircle forums. I have to admit that I didn’t read the manual when I first installed Daylite. I had (I thought) a good reason, though. Daylite looks like many programs I have used before – a dash of Entourage, a sprinkle of Mail and iCal. I thought I could “figure it out” just by reading the labels on buttons and trying various options.

But Daylite’s apparent simplicity is deceiving. The power of Daylite is in creating things (e.g. contacts, organizations, groups, projects, opportunities, tasks, appointments, notes) and linking them to other things. It is these relationships, in addition to the data on the thing itself (e.g. contact name, addresses, phone numbers), that carries the information.

For example, using Daylite, a rainmaker can record every interaction with each rainbroker. A rainbroker will be a contact in Daylite, as will each client referred by that rainbroker. The clients can be associated to the rainbroker with a “referred by” type of link. Each phone call with the rainbroker can be logged. Each email to or from the rainbroker can be linked to the contact entry in Daylite with DMI. Files from other applications can also be associated with the rainbroker in Daylite. By creating and searching on relationships between data, Daylite can accomplish items 1, 4, and 5 from our requirements list.

The remaining requirements relate to task and appointment management. My wife typically meets with each estate planning client four times from start to finish. At each stage, there are tasks that must be completed. Most tasks either depend upon other tasks (so they must be completed in a particular order) or are time-sensitive for other reasons (for example, calling to confirm the appointment on a particular day).

Daylite makes all this happen with Projects and Activity Sets. A Project will be created in Daylite for each estate plan my wife prepares. Creating a Project in Daylite provides two main benefits. First, the estate planning lifecycle is tracked with a pipeline for the Project. We created a single pipeline, with stages for each of the major milestones in the estate planning process (e.g. appointment, initial consultation). Second, all the important contacts, tasks, appointments, and files relevant to the estate plan can be linked to the Project. All of those things could be linked to the client contact, but that becomes problematic when the client comes in for their second estate plan.

Daylite also makes it easy to create multiple tasks for a Project with Activity Sets. An Activity Set is a group of tasks that are all keyed off of the same date. There are two types of Activity Sets – forward and reverse. In a forward Activity Set, dates for each task are measured by counting a certain number of days after the Activity Set begin date. In a reverse activity set, dates are measured by counting back from the Activity Set end date.

We created five Activity Sets for the typical estate plan, plus several more for the tasks required in advanced planning. There is a single forward Activity Set that begins on the day the client appointment is made. The remaining four standard Activity Sets are reverse Activity Sets that end on the day of the client appointment. The tasks in the Activity Sets are given categories based on the type of work the task involves (e.g. phone call, document preparation, document review, sending documents through via postal mail or fax). At the beginning of the day, my wife (or once we get it set up, an assistant) can see a list of everything that she has to do that day and what type of work is involved.

So, despite the initial uncertainty, it looks like Daylite will do everything we currently need it to. There are certainly things that might be useful that a fully-integrated CRM package could provide. For example, it would be nice to be able to create a report showing each rainbroker and how much in total billings they have referred to the firm (for any time period – all time, past year, current year). Hopefully, more advanced reporting will be possible once Marketcircle provides direct read access to the Daylite database – something that will apparently happen this month. Daylite is a great piece of software, but it still falls prey to one of life’s axioms: as soon as you have what you want, you want something more.

One note about buying Daylite: we purchased our copy of Daylite from the Apple Store, which sells Daylite for the same price as the Marketcircle web store. Since then, I discovered that MacMall sells Daylite for more than $20 cheaper than either the Apple Store or Marketcircle.


  1. Jeff,

    Thanks for this post , It was very helpful for validating DL 3.7.2 and completeing my due dilligence on the product . It is my understanding that you can achieve fully automated reporting and email delivery in pdf format via Marketcircle’s “Delivery ” add-on . Hope this helps .

    All the Best-
    P.S given that your wife runs an estate planning practice , check out my website at – this is MUST HAVE knowledge for EVERY estate professional . I can be reached at the above captioned address or at 1.866.988.3343 X 7787

  2. you mention estate planning and working on the Mac. What software on the mac do you use for creating Wills, Trusts & Estates

  3. My wife is a member of Wealth Counsel, which has their own suite of drafting software that runs on Windows. She runs the software through VMWare Fusion.

  4. Jeff,
    Is your wife still using Daylite in her practice? I just recently bought a Mac to evaluate switching my office to from PC’s and am looking for practice management solutions for a small (one attorney three staff) estate planning firm. (I am also a WealthCounsel member.)

  5. Hi Patrick – My wife is actually not using Daylite in her practice any longer. She felt it was too complicated for her to latch onto and use every day.

    So at the moment she’s using good old Mail, Address Book, and iCal along with a few paper processes for managing the status of client engagements. She also keeps asking me to teach her how to use Things for task management (although now that The Hit List is here, I may show her that also and see which she likes better).

  6. Jeffrey,

    I see that your wife isn’t using Daylite anymore. By chance do you happen to have your pipeline and activity sets available? I’m just starting my estate planning practice (WealthCounsel) and I’m looking for a good template to create my pipeline and activity sets.

  7. Rod,

    Unfortunately, I think that information is long gone. Once we made the move we uninstalled the database software used by Daylite and trashed the tables. Sorry!

    What I can tell you is that we centered our activity sets around the meetings. So there were actions in the activity set for before and after each meeting (before: reminder calls, etc; after: process, track and scheduling activities).

    You’re making a good move by joining Wealth Counsel. Natalia has been a member since the beginning of her practice and credits alot of her (and now “our”) success to the training and tools that came with the membership. And definitely take advantage of the conference calls. They have substantive and practice building calls (some of which are probably already archived on the WC site). Natalia is one of the practice building experts for the calls. The feedback she received has been great, so it sounds like members have found the calls useful.

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