New Technology & Legal Management
Issue 2 â€“ Nov 2011
We are living in a World that is undergoing a dramatic change. The Internet and globalisation have been driving forces of that. They opened the whole World to become our market but also brought the competition around the World to our backyard. This change puts a huge pressure on your business. The question is how to adjust to survive in the environment? Is it possible to benefit from the changes? Running a legal firm is full of pressures and challenges. You have to outrun the competition and reach new clients and make your work efficient. So the question is what can you do differently to improve the way you run your firm? We are not a legal firm ourselves. We are a company offering a software solution to legal firms. Having roots in a software industry, we see your business from a different perspective than you. We are starting this magazine with an idea to open a channel of communication with you and to tell you about our ideas and thoughts, what we see as being important and the right way to go. We have a lot to say. We are living in a moment of history where technology is rapidly changing and creating impact on yours and all other businesses. We follow the technological changes and also understand the new opportunities they bring with them. It is our job to help you benefit from the new opportunities by constantly enhancing our systems and keeping you informed. By Slava Krnjetin
How to effectively communicate with your clients I had an interesting call from a customer. They have realized that they have too many places where they keep and maintain client contact details on their systems. They have seen the need to establish a standard platform that the company will use for communicating with clients. Here are all the places where they currently keep and maintain contact details of their clients:
Company Intranet. They separately maintain client’s details there as the Intranet is accessible to everyone in the company.
Company website. If they allow clients to login to the website, their details are available on the website.
Legal Management System that uses our Legal Studio - this is where they actually manage all their clients data.
Individual keep contact details for some clients in Outlook. They keep details of clients whom they contact often as it is easy to use Outlook to send and receive the emails.
Employees keep some contact details on their mobile phones for quick access while they are outside the office
Every element of it has its use and has some advantages that others don't. But when you put them all together it becomes a complete chaos. They have to maintain clients’ contact details on too many places. There should be only one place where client’s contact details come from. So the question is: what is the most logical system to use as a standard company-wide platform for communicating with the clients? There was only one real option to use their current legal management system for that. We looked at our system with a critical eye and realized that we had to upgrade to reach the level of simplicity and provide features that others had. We had to match the easiness of Outlook to deal with e-mails. We have to be able to send SMS messages to clients’ mobile phones. So, we have upgraded the legal management system. We have made it a proper platform to communicate with clients. It eliminates the need to use other current tools. Here is what we did: There are many ways to list clients in the legal system: to search by various criteria, to list clients belonging to groups or mailing lists etc. We have made sure that the lists include e-mail address and mobile phone columns. You can now choose to contact a particular client, all from the list, or to only those who are individually selected.
Emails We have developed a form for sending emails to clients. This is our emailing tool used through the system. The form has several layout variations depending on how it is used. The following is the email form when opened from the individual client’s form:
Templates We have recognized a need to create templates with standard e-mail messages and save them to the database. The templates can be used by employees to send e-mails to the clients. A new Template module is now available in the legal system. The employees can prepare standard messages and save them as templates. Once saved, they can be selected from the email form and it will provide the e-mail text to the form. We also understood that the messages must have ability to be personalised with the clientâ€™s name and other details. The client's name and other details can be embedded in the text of the messages. To make this possible we have introduced replaceable parameters. The parameters like @Name, @First Name, @Address, @Suburb and others can be inserted in the text. The system will replace the parameters with proper values form the client's record.
SMS Many clients cannot be easily reached via e-mail. This is especially truth for professions where they are required to be out of their offices. Think of surveyors or architects that are always on sites. The only way to reach them is via mobile phones as they have the mobile phones with them all the time. To provide a tool to contact them via mobile phones we have created a SMS form. Using the form, the SMS messages can now be sent to the clients.
Please note that in order to use the SMS facility, your company has to sign a contract with the mobile provider. As this sends the SMS messages to mobile phones, usual contract is required.
Mail Merge Being able to create the mail merge documents is a standard feature that every system must have. Our legal system is not an exception. We already had the mail merge facility. This has now been upgraded to a tool available in many places through the system. It follows the same rules as the emailing tool: you can mail merge all items from the list of clients, just to the selected ones, or to the current client only. The following is a layout of the Mail Merge tool:
The mail merge is a feature of Microsoftâ€™s Office products. We use Word to create mail merge documents. The Word uses its own templates and they have to be created and stored in a particular folder for the tool to be able to use them. The Word documents created with mail merge are often formal documents like invoices or certificates.
Extracting data From time to time the legal company will have to extract some data from the database. There can be various reasons for that. One reason is to send client addresses to printing company to print labels to mail brochures to the clients. We already had a tool for that and it looks like:
The employees can select fields to export from the field list and the resulting data will be displayed in the Excel file.
You have noticed that at the bottom of the form, most of the tools have a choice to select to log the message. This saves a Note record with the message text so that details about the message are preserved and is linked to the clients’ records. The following four icons are used to select the tools mentioned so far. The icons can be seen in various places, like on client’s form, on clients’ lists, clients’ groups list and Note form. This makes the tools integrated in every part of the system.
Mobile Phones So far we have provided several tools to communicate with clients sitting in the office and using the legal system. The last 'missing' element was ability to access the client's contact details outside of the office. It is important to contact the clients via mobile phones. Fortunately, we already had our Phone App designed exactly for that purpose. It accesses the legal clients’ database and provides ability to login, search for clients and display client’s details on the mobile phone.
As it works on the mobile phone, it offers several phone features including the ability to call the member, send SMS message and view the client’s address on map.
Other tools Once we have established the legal system as the communication platform, we can go back to the tools previously used by the company for communicating with clients. We have looked whether we could incorporate some of them into our concept and make it more powerful. The first step was to look into Outlook. The Outlook is a useful tool for sending and receiving emails. We have decided to integrate Outlook in our solution. We have put a button on the Email form that allows an employee to open the Outlook. The data from the form pre-populates the Outlook, the email addresses, subject and message texts all display on the Outlook. With this feature, the Outlook can be still used, but there is no need to maintain client’s details in the Outlook anymore. What about the client’s lists on Intranet? The Intranet has its place in the company’s environment and is a useful tool available to every employee. The decision to maintain the clients using the legal system made this easier. All what has to be done is to access the legal clients’ database and list contact details from there.
The company’s website still needs to be able to provide logins to clients, to verify and display some of their data. There is only one place to access this data, the legal clients’ database. All data is centrally maintained there and other systems can access and read the data if required. With one upgrade to the existing legal system we have managed to establish our Legal Studio as a company-wide platform for communicating with clients. We have provided tools to send mass emails, SMS messages to client’s mobile phones, create mail merge documents and export data whenever required. We have also established the legal clients’ database as the source of client’s data for use on Intranet and company’s web site.
Document Management System One of critical elements of every system is to provide efficient document management. Every solution claim to have one but how really effective are they? I have seen many bad solutions that it is worth exploring this topic. There are several aspects of the document management system and we will look at each one in detail.
Document storage The first and most important question is where the documents are stored. There are several ways to keep the documents and each of them has its good and bas sides. In the Database Most of the system store documents in the database. On the surface this looks like the best solution. The advantages are easy to understand: all documents are in one place centrally controlled. The only way to access the documents is via program. This means that it is easy to control access to the documents and document versioning. The databases ware initially made only to store records with data. Over time, it became possible to store big blobs like documents or images in the database as well. So the technology allows you to put the document in the database. This doesnâ€™t automatically mean that it is the best thing to do. Keeping all your documents in the database is misusing the technology. We all know that this always backfires at some point. There is another bad side to storing files in the database as well. Over time the database tends to grow very large and often becomes in-practical to handle. This especially is a problem if the documents you are storing are big, and typically this is a problem if you are storing Excels or Word documents, as they have a large footprint. We have to consider another aspect of that as well. We live now in an Internet age. Every system must have a web interface as well as the usual desktop one. Sooner or later, the request will come to display the document from the database on the website. Getting the document from the database to the web can sometimes be very tricky. The old technologies used to store the documents, like OLE and the web donâ€™t mix well. Keeping the documents in the database also does one more thing: it empowers the supplier of the document management system. You depend on them to get your document out of the database. What if you decide to move to another system? How can you get all documents out? Imagine if the documents were just files saved in some directory, how easy this task would be! In the File System The File System has been developed for one reason only: to manage files on the system. Each document is initially a file (unless you store it in the database). There is nothing more natural but to store the documents in the File System as it is optimised and perfected for that task. So, what are good and bad sides of such solution? The files will be stored in some folders, wonâ€™t they? So the first thing to consider is the folder structure. I have seen two types of designs following two different ideas.
The first one is to create a separate folder for every client. The program creates a folder name by simply using the client name and adding the client ID (to insure uniqueness of the name). The first time it creates the folder automatically. After that it just uses the existing folder. I have developed such solution for a customer. We have invented the whole folder hierarchy to store the documents. We have created several levels of folders, something like this:
The first level was the office name (as they had several), then the fist letter of the client name and only then the client name. The program was maintaining the structure by itself, no need to do anything manually. This served one unusual purpose. They deal with some clients more than with others. Some of them are big clients and they communicate with them all the time. The folder structure that we developed allowed them to put a shortcut to a client folder on their desktop. Just by clicking on the shortcut opens the File System right on the client’s folder and all files are immediately available. Off course, being the File Manager, all of its power to protect the data with controlling access and applying permissions are at hand. Accessing one client’s files programmatically is not the problem. The program prepares the folder structure and it goes directly to the client’s folder. The only difficulty with such solution is being able to search document for all clients as this involves searching though the File System. Searching through the database is much quicker. This lead to building a mixed solution one that has the best of the both words. We stayed with the File Manager, only this time we decided not to go overboard with the file structure. All documents are on the same folder. The place where the documents are, are not of any importance any more. But we added one critical element: for every file we store we add a record in the database keeping information about the file: who it belongs to, and when and by whom it has been saved. It stores a file path to the document as well. This separates the physical storage from the information about the files. Having the files in the File System allows you now to have a full control of your documents. You can easily back them up and display whenever you need. You can move them to another drive or archive. All you have to do is run a little program to change the paths of files in the database. In the Cloud There is one big change that the future will bring to us. All our documents will be moved from your servers and stored somewhere else with some of big providers. The “Cloud” is a new name for that. So, what will this mean to us? Initially, not too much. The programs will store and retrieve the documents in the same way as they do now. They are just going to be in a different place. The Cloud
storage will have a choice of storing the documents in the database or in the File System. They have the servers there just the same as you do? The important word here is “initially”. The real changes will come later. The Cloud is a different medium and every medium has its own possibilities. We know one thing for sure: this will bring substantial changes and among the others in the way we handle our documents. We just can’t know what will change. At least for a while.
Document Production Do not get confused with similarity in the names. The Document Management takes care of storing and retrieving your documents. The Document Production does what its name sais, it produces the documents. This is how your quotes and invoices are created. Once the document is created it becomes just another file that has to be saved and this then becomes a domain of the document management. Some companies produce thousands of documents each week. The way this flood of documents is produced and stored can make a major impact on their system. I have seen systems running slowly like a dog. The purely designed document production system was to blame. If you have to add a spreadsheet or an image to the document storage there is no other option but to add them as they are. If, on other hand, your system creates documents and creates thousands of them, then it is important that a proper method is used for that. Too many systems create documents in Microsoft Word. This is quick to develop and make them work and is an easy shortcut for the developers. The problem with the Word is that it has a big footprint and crates files of large size. Transferring large files through the network wastes system recourses. It also makes the storage database inflate too fast. The usual way to resolve that is to add more power to the systems. But, buying additional servers and adding more grunt barely manages to compensate for the poor design. Much better option is to create your documentation in the PFD format. The PDF has many advantages over the Word:
It has a much smaller footprint It is locked for further changes and satisfies the auditing requirements It is also the world standard and it is broadly supported on the web
Creating the documentation in the PDF format however requires much bigger software skills and longer time to develop. This somehow looks too much for most of the existing systems. We are using software that we purchased on the web. It allows us to create the documentation in the PDF and in a simple way. Each document type has to be defined as an XSL file. The XSL tags describe each part of the document: each text, define its format and also the complete layout of the document. It takes a bit of efforts to create it but the result is what you want to have. Using this software we have created literally hundreds of document types including invoices, quotations, renewal requests, schedules of currency and certificates.
The resulting documents are well presented, small, fast to transfer through the network, created in a format acceptable to everyone and easy to store. What more can you wish from the system that produces all your documentation.
Mobile Revolution Few of us could imagine how far the mobile technology would go. It was just a phone at the beginning. Then it got a camera. Then suddenly the things started to change very fast. So fast that most of us still can’t get with terms of what is happening. In order to understand how we came to this point we have to look at individual elements that made those changes possible. It actually is very simple and we all had it in front of us all the time. Only if we managed to look at this in a right way! Mobile phones are computers. We knew that, didn’t we? And we also knew that the computers have programs that can do everything. All those applications that make whole echo systems around mobile phones are just programs. So we knew that they would come. Somehow they still caught us by surprise. Mobiles are linked into a network. Off course, they are phones after all. So why have the apps that bring whether details, sky map, news, videos etc. surprised us so much? We do have already most of that on our home computers, don’t we? Everybody carries mobile all the time. We have such a powerful tool in our pockets. It is natural that it had evolved into something that we can’t live without. Just wait until they become the only way to pay at stores and supermarkets, to unlock our cars and houses, to control our TVs and appliances. Where will the end be? Now the question is: will this impact your business? You can bet that it will. It already has. Here are some details: Do your clients sit in their offices during the day? Many don’t. But they all have mobile phones. The mobiles are the only way you can reach them. So having ability to text them from your management system is a critical method for communicating with them for business purposes. How can you reach your clients when you are out of the office? Do you carry a little phone directory booklet in your pocket? Do you have their contact details stored on your mobile? For thousands of members? Surely not! The only right way to get contact details while out of office is to access your legal clients’ database via your mobile phone. And for that you need a Phone App, like one we do. We know one thing for sure, this is just the beginning. It will go far from this point on. We can see several of the next steps it will take, but after that, nobody can. It may not look like that now, but soon this will become critical for your business. It is important to embrace the new mobile technology and implement as part of processing. The later you come to the party, the more difficult and costly it will be.
Our Legal Management offer consists of two separate products each covering its own area. They are integrated in one solution and use the same client database. Together they provide all tools for modern and efficient management of your legal practice
Legal Studio is an in-house system used by employees to run your legal practice. It provides tools to manage clients, contacts, tasks, billing, documentation, matters and engage in marketing. It is intuitive and easy to use. Users like its familiar Office look and feel.
Phone App Phone App provides access to clientsâ€™ data via smart phones. It is a tool for employees to view clients' data, while out of the office. It works on all major mobile platforms.
All our products leverage dominance of Windows platform and the internet.
Legal Studio Legal Studio is an in-house Legal Management System made for employees to manage your legal practice. It has been built to embrace the latest Internet technology. It is the modern state-of-the-art system giving you all tools you need to run your business. Our Legal Studio provides tools to manage clients, contacts, tasks, billing, documentation, matters and engage in marketing. It is intuitive and easy to use. Users like its familiar Office look and feel. It runs as an internal web site and users interface via the browser.
(image: client details) e system has been built as a number of interrelated modules with each module providing the tools for managing its own specific area. When put together, the resulting system is powerful, sleek, highly customisable and adjustable to each client’s needs. The system covers several key areas required to manage the legal practice:
Client Management stores all details about clients. It allows you to profile clients and collect details that you can later use in marketing. You can enter multiple persons and address records per client. Contact Management records all contacts made with clients. For each contact you can add a new Note linked to the client. E-mails and faxes can be sent directly from the Contact Management. Matter Management keeps details about client matters. You can store contact per each matter, raise tasks for the matter, attach files etc. Task Management manages task linked to clients and matters. It supports task allocation, follow-ups etc. Document Management creates and stores invoices and other electronic documents and links them to the clients and matters. The documents are internally stored in the File System. Billing module gives you tools to log work and expense items per matter and raise personalised invoices for the client. Marketing enables the creation of mailing lists with clients. Using the lists you can send e-mails and letters to clients. It supports mail merge.
User Dashboard is user’s home page. It displays all user relevant information: matters, tasks, recently updated clients etc. The user can also see all of the activities displayed in calendar mode. Role–based Security is the internal security mechanism that controls overall user’s access. It defines what menu items the user will see and what the user can do with the data: view, update, delete, add etc. Calendars and Graphs - sometimes data is better presented if displayed in a calendar or as graphs. The system has both web-based calendars and graphs.
(image: matter details) The Legal Studio provides you with several key benefits:
You will have a modern and powerful system to manage your legal practice. You will have all data in one place and tools to manage their details and records of contacts with them, notes, tasks, matters and electronic documents linked to them. Our Phone App will give your employees access from their smart phones to your data You will embrace the latest Web 2 technology
Legal Studio works within Windows environment. Our Legal Studio is the main part of our Legal Practice Management offer. The other part is our Phone App that provides mobile access to your client contact details, their matters and other data.
Phone App Mobile phones are nowadays everywhere. They are the fully operational computers with integrated network and everybody has one all the time. The potential is huge and difficult to comprehend. A platform like this has never existed before. It is unavoidable that one day they will become an important part of your data processing. It was expected that our clients would come up with requests to have a phone app for mobile access to their data. The smart phones are everywhere and it was high time to integrate them with the business. As a result we have developed Phone App, an app for mobile phones to access data from the databases. Our Phone App provides mobile access to data for users of our products. There are two main versions of the product that provide:
Access by employees. You employees will login to the app to search your clients and view their data. They can view contact details, addresses and notes about the client or member. Access by clients. A client can login and access only his/her data in the database.
(image: Mobile Phone App - client search screen Once you find the client's data you can easily phone, email etc directly from the phone screen using details on the screen. The following actions will work:
Touching client's email address will open the phone's email screen with the email address already populated. Touching phone number will open phone's call screen with the phone number already there Touching web address will open the client's web site Touching View Map link will open a map showing the client location
(image: member details page) The Phone App provides you with several key benefits:
Your employees will be able to access data while on move Your can provide access to your clients to view their data You will embrace the latest mobile technology
Phone App works with all of major mobile phone platforms: iPhone, Android and Windows 7. Our Phone App provides a simple and efficient way to access your data when out of office. There are various scenarios that you can implement with the Phone App: access by your employees, access by clients to manage their data and even by general public if required. It will allow you to use the power of the modern mobile technology to help you run your business more efficiently.
Testimonials The software (Legal Studio) is user friendly and records all the information that is required. You are able to look at any time of the day to see the hours recorded per staff member and the Work in Progress. Additional reports can also be customised to your needs. The support received from Timemark is excellent and usually the response time is immediate or within a couple of hours. Legal Studio would be beneficial to any small to medium size law office because it can be customised and therefore has more flexibility that an off the shelf product. Indemnity Corporation Wendy Kelly | Director / Office Manager p
02 9034 5520