Table of Contents of this Article:
Legal Management Software Programs for Law Firms
Specialized Legal Management Software Programs for Small and Medium Law Firms
by Tom McNichol
Lots of legal software can do many things well. But some packages on the market do one or two things extremely well.
Lots of legal software purports to do it all. However, there’s also a useful niche of applications that do only one or two things–but do them very well.
This specialty software takes aim at a particular area of law, making the work easier to organize and manage and at the same time reducing the amount of paper the practice generates. Often vendors will let you try out the software at no charge before you buy it. Even if a vendor doesn’t explicitly offer a free demo, a straightforward appeal to the software maker written on company letterhead or an email with a law firm address will usually get you the trial you want.
Remember, software can only be as good as you are willing to master it, so make sure you’re fully committed to changing the way you work before you purchase the new software.
Here’s a look at some applications for legal specialties and what you can expect from each package.
Bankruptcy software is a story told in multiple chapters–as in Chapters 7, 11, and 13. There are a handful of solid bankruptcy software packages on the market, including Bankruptcy 2011 (www.bankruptcysoftware.com), Best Case Bankruptcy (www.bestcase.com), Easy Soft Bankruptcy (www.easysoft-usa.com), E-Z Filing (www.ezfiling.com), and LegalPro Systems (www.legal-pro.com).
This software streamlines the notoriously cumbersome bankruptcy process by walking you through the data entry step-by-step. The software provides electronic questionnaires for clients to fill out. The data then can be imported directly into the program, saving you the hassle of re-entering it yourself. Many of these titles also tie info from credit reporting companies directly into the program, so with the click of a mouse you can automatically enter the client’s creditors on relevant bankruptcy documents. And because many court jurisdictions now require electronic filing, the programs have built-in electronic filing capabilities that also let you access custom forms from local jurisdictions.
If you’ll need to create PDF files that can be edited and printed out, most of the programs require you to have Adobe Acrobat installed on your computer. And most bankruptcy software is Windows-only and won’t run natively on a Mac (that is, you have to use a virtualization program such as Boot Camp, Parallels, or VMware Fusion).
Presiding over a client’s financial misfortune is never pleasant work, but bankruptcy software can help ease the pain.
Immigration lawyers can use a specialized form of case management software tailored especially for their cases. Vendors of stand-alone immigration software packages include ImmigrationTracker (www.trackercorp.com), INSZoom (www.inszoom.com), and LawLogix (www.lawlogix.com). Immigration software helps lawyers manage each case from client intake to the resolution of the matter. These packages include online intake questionnaires in several different languages that cut down on paperwork and build a client database.
The programs provide the latest immigration forms, allow for the e-filing of forms, and have a tracking and reporting feature that shows you exactly where a particular case stands and what comes next. Built-in calendaring helps you manage deadlines, activities, court appearances, and appointments, and tracks your time for billing. Calendar information can often be synchronized with Microsoft Outlook or a smartphone to keep you up-to-date even when you’re away from the office computer.
Most of the programs integrate data across a wide range of immigration forms, so information entered on one form will be automatically pulled into similar fields on other forms. You can share data with clients to let them monitor the details of their case status. This gives you more time to work on cases instead of fielding phone calls from anxious clients checking in.
Winning an accident reconstruction case is no accident–victory often depends on being able to present a defensible scenario that jurors can easily grasp. Few areas of law have been as transformed by computing as accident reconstruction. Powerful graphics and animation packages now present a clear and emotionally powerful representation of an accident that draws on verifiable crash data. Among the accident reconstruction packages available are Aras 360 (www.aras360.com), High Impact (www.highimpact.com), Precise (www.precise-law.com), SmartDraw (www.smartdraw.com), and Visual Advantage (www.visual-advantage.com).
Some of these, such as SmartDraw, generate simple diagrams that can be used as a static exhibit in a trial–a slightly more advanced version of the hand-drawn exhibits lawyers have used for generations. Other packages, such as Aras 360, are sophisticated enough to let lawyers create a fully animated 3-D video of an accident. These programs draw on hundreds of equations and formulas that automatically make calculations about speed, energy, momentum, distance, time, acceleration, and drag factors, then use that data to render accurate animations of an accident. In this kind of trial, seeing is believing, and animation software can help paint a more vivid picture for a jury than even the most stirring oral description.
The law isn’t a game, but playing one can help you sharpen your legal skills. Transmedia Inc. (www.objection.com) offers a series of computer games that teach evidence skills to lawyers, judges, and prosecutors. These programs, offered on CD, are surprisingly sophisticated learning tools for both rookie and veteran lawyers.
The company’s Civil Objection AutoNeg game features a complete trial of an automobile negligence case. “Players” examine and cross-examine lay and expert witnesses from the perspective of both plaintiff and defendant. Another game, Civil Objection SlipFall, takes players through testimony for a variety of slip-and-fall cases. Classic Objection involves a capital murder trial: The only way to save your defendant is to master the rules of evidence.
All three programs require players to demonstrate considerable legal skill–in fact, each completed game qualifies for nine CLE credits in California. So go ahead–for once, you can justify playing these games on company time.