Archive for the 'Law Practice' CategoryAugust 7, 2010
I’ll admit it. One of the reasons I like using Apple products is that Apple really gets it. When I bought my first Mac back in 2003 (a Mirror Drive Doors PowerMac G4), I was just looking for something new. I had followed the technical development of Mac OS X and was quite impressed. But I was mostly just taking a leap of faith.
Today, Apple has so much more to offer. But it’s not just about the products. Apple is arguably the most successful company in the US right now. And that means there are lots of lessons to be learned from Apply for any business, including a law firm.
In the past week I came across two articles that delve into the marketing of Apple computers. Neven Mrgan posted this quick comparison of the all-in-one computer web pages of Apple, Dell, and HP. It’s fascinating to see the difference in approach taken by Apple. Dell and HP seem to assume that you’re only going to visit their website if you have already decided to buy one of their computers. For all the talk about the Steve Jobs reality distortion field and Apple “tricking” people into buying their computers, it often seems to come down to Apple’s competitors completely forgetting about this thing called “marketing.”
Case in point, a post on Minimal about product lines. If I wanted to go shopping for a Dell or HP today, I wouldn’t have any idea where to start. They both decided to copy Apple from the early 1990s — the time when Apple had completely different model numbers for computers that only differed in their amount of memory and storage.
Dell has the following small and medium business laptop lines:
- Inspiron Laptops
- Studio Laptops
- Precision Mobile Workstations
- Gaming Laptops
- Studio XPS Laptops
- Mini Netbooks
Has Dell really identified nine discrete markets for their laptops? And, if so, why do they does their website do such a terrible job of telling me which line is perfect for my needs? It’s important that a product or service speak to the customer’s needs. Dell and HP seem to really be lacking there, whereas Apple has really hit the mark.
Apple is clearly worth watching. They’re not without fault. But there is a lot to be learned from observing how they do business.
I just finished reading through the materials for the presentation by Ben Stevens and David Sparks at the 2009 ABA Tech Show called “Got Apple Envy? Macs in a PC World.” It’s a great introduction to using Macs in any business, but with a special emphasis on the business of law.
Since I missed it the first time around (the tech show was in April), I thought I would add my input. What has changed since April? There’s new software, of course. And I also have seven months of additional experience to draw on. So here is what I would add to “Got Apple Envy?” given the chance.
Ben and David did a good job of laying out the office suite options. But there are plenty of good word processing options outside of the suites.
One of my favorites is Nisus Writer Pro. I love the interface. Nisus Writer Pro makes it very easy to work with styles. It’s much better than Pages’ combination of styles drawer and inspector.
I’ll also give a shout out to AbiWord. It has the advantage of being free. But the real reason it’s valuable is because it does a good job of opening Word Perfect files. The PC version of Microsoft Word can do this, but Microsoft Word 2004 for Mac OS X doesn’t appear to have this capability. So I keep a copy of AbiWord around for those occasional Word Perfect files (yes, firms still use Word Perfect).
People using Entourage probably use its built-in task management tools. But anyone using Mail has to choose between iCal’s tiny capabilities and using a third-party solution. The good news is that there are plenty of good Mac applications for task management (aka Getting Things Done – GTD). My current favorite is The Hit List. But I have also used Omni Focus and Things at various times. I plan to make a final decision sometime in the next six months, but it’s difficult. They all have their strong points!
I have to disagree that Bento has limited usefulness for a law practice. For a hypothetical firm that has a large budget for database design (or purchase) and someone experienced in charge of processes? Yes, Bento has limited usefulness because it just isn’t very powerful.
But many firms are still using pen-and-paper or Excel spreadsheets to track client work. Bento could absolutely help these firms if someone with just a little knowledge helped them set something up. Bento would definitely be a step up for countless small firms.
Another category of software that might be useful to attorneys are the research tools. Applications like Yojimbo, DEVONthink, and Together come to mind. I don’t have much to say on these other than that I know they exist.
I have used each of them, but I just prefer keeping my research data in a folder hierarchy rather than a single application. Ok, there is one exception. I have taken a liking to Little Snapper. I find myself using it much more than Paparrazi.
I’d love to expand on the existing topics into the other kinds of applications that I use. But I doubt that most attorneys enjoy dabbling in law / marketing / design / programming like I do. Still, if there is a category of application that you want an opinion on, all you have to do is ask.
One of the drawbacks of Digital Rights Management (DRM) protections on media (typically audio and video) files is that your computer must be authorized to play the media file. Opponents of DRM have often asked the question, “what happens when the company that sold the DRM-protected media goes out of business?” With no service to authorize your computer to play the media file, your purchase becomes worthless.
Those fears were realized last week when Microsoft announced that it would be shutting down its PlaysForSure authentication servers. The MSN Music Store sold DRM-protected music that could be played on up to five computers (music purchased from the iTunes Store works the same way). Once at the five computer limit, you can add a new computer be deactivating one of the five authorized computers and authorizing the new computer. In theory this was supposed to allow you to keep your music forever. Of course, “forever” was never really promised. And now, with the shutdown of the MSN Music authorization servers, customers will be limited to playing their purchased music on whatever five computers are authorized as of August 31, 2008. When those five computers break, are sold, or stored in the basement, kiss your “investment” goodbye.
One of the guiding principles behind the anti-DRM movement is the idea that people should control their own data. This principle applies not only to DRM, but also to the services and applications that store your data. I am a strong supporter up to a point. We try to keep our important data in services and applications that make the data accessible. Database applications and online services should allow data to be exported in multiple formats. Or, even better, they should allow direct access to the data (granted, this is much easier when the data is in a database and can be accessed with SQL rather than being stored in a proprietary file format).
The other side of data control is application (or vender) lock-in. Many people are Microsoft Word users today solely for that reason. The same could be said of many iTunes or Windows Media Player users. Applications with good import and export features help to minimize application lock-in. As I have discussed before, I do admit to some application lock-in. I try to stay away from monolithic applications that don’t allow me to access my data. But I don’t limit myself to only open standards.
So I ask, how important is data accessibility to you? Is it something you have ever thought about? Does it drive your decision-making? If so, for what kinds of data? And what kind products? What products have you chosen where data accessibility was the primary factor? What products have you ruled out primarily on that basis?
Mac Law Students posted a nice review today of the current state of the Mac browser field. The focus of the review is how nicely each of the eight browsers reviewed plays with LexisNexis and Westlaw. Safari 3.1 seems to be the best of the bunch (which isn’t surprising given the effort put in to making Safari standards-compliant). Really, though, none of the browsers did poorly. It’s obvious that both Lexis and Westlaw are designing their sites now with more than just the Windows / Internet Explorer world in mind.
I like (and dislike) a variety of things about Lexis and Westlaw. During law school I primarily used Lexis because Westlaw has historically not played well with tabs. Westlaw’s frame interface throws a wrench into my use of tabs. Invariably, I would click on a Westlaw link in the current tab and nothing would happen – or so it would seem. What actually happened was that a page somewhere on one of my other tabs had been replaced because Westlaw decided that particular tab had the window the page should be loaded in.
One reason I do like running Westlaw on a Mac browser is that Westlaw prints and downloads work better. I am not sure if it’s a bug or a feature, but if I switch to another application while doing a Westlaw print in Internet Explorer (on Windows XP), the Westlaw popup window closes and the print stops. The same thing happens if I switch applications during a download. It’s irritating that Westlaw forces me to sit there and watch, unable to do any other work on the computer, while it’s building the pages. Westlaw doesn’t do this on any of the Mac browsers I tried. For some reason I haven’t tried Westlaw on Firefox for Windows. Does anyone know if Firefox for Windows has this “feature”?
One omission from the review is Firefox 3.0. The Firefox team recently released Firefox 3.0 Beta 4, and I haven’t encountered any problems with it (unlike with Beta 2). Firefox 3.0 is getting close enough to an “everyday browser” that it should probably have been included.
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:
- Manage contact information, including client data
- Manage appointments and to-do items
- Automatically create to-do items associated with each stage in the estate planning process
- Keep track of all meetings and communications with each contact
- 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.