I took a cursory look at two really good options for small-firm practice management. While the best value is still owning and hosting your own software, these two products are helpful for startups that are tight on cash but still want to do things smarter. Let’s take a look.

Gavel and Gown Credenza

Credenza – Home Screen

Credenza

When you launch Outlook, it’s just like any other day. You have your tabs for Mail, Calendar, Contacts and Tasks. Now, take a closer look.

 

 

Gavel and Gown Credenza - Matter

Credenza – Mark Dyson Matter

Credenza adds Matters, Time Sheets and Phone Calls (to name a few features). Since I don’t want to keep you here all day I’m going to open up a Matter, since it’s usually the most important feature of these systems. Let’s look at Mark Dyson’s case:

 

As you can see, Credenza is a practice management system by definition; it’s matter-centric rather than contact-centric. Credenza is quick, intuitive and easy to learn because of its simple integration into something we already know and use – MS Outlook. With this centralized console you control everything in a single window.

Firm Manager

LexisNexis Firm Manager

Firm Manager – Home Screen

A similar concept but different. Instead of an Outlook integration, LexisNexis hosts this program via a web browser. Take a look at the home screen.

 

As you can see, the home screen is cut into four equal sections, Calendar, Tasks, Matters and Memos, and tabs run along the top. This is a cool way to give loads of information without the need to look around.

 

LexisNexis Firm Manager Matter Screenshot

Firm Manager – Roger Snyder

Let’s take a look at Roger Snyder’s case. Okay, so we see the same matter-centric content: details, billing, notes, time, documents, etc. Notice, to the right we also have upcoming appointments and tasks, as well as overdue tasks associated with this matter. All of this information is available by just double clicking one matter. Lexis has deployed a solid product here gives you a few, key deliverables: lots of space for information, full functionality of major practice management features, and a digestible format to get that information back out quicker. Remember, you can have volumes of information stored in these systems but it does you no good if you can’t get to it quicker than you would have with a paper file.

 

So who wins?

It’s not an easy one to call. Both have a lot of unique features that are just slam-dunks. I’ll call a few of those winners by category:

Ease of Use

  • Winner: Credenza
  • Why: With it integrating into Outlook, there is less of a learning curve. It is set up in a very logical, utilitarian kind of way. From the first second, you just get how it works. Firm Manager, while not difficult, takes a little more time to learn. Also, due to it being hosted on the web and there being a slight time-delay between your command and the subsequent response, sometimes you’re left guessing if the command you entered was allowed or not. It can leave you scratching your head for a few seconds.

Clean Interface

  • Winner: Firm Manager
  • Why: You might wonder how I can award Ease of Use to Credenza and Clean Interface to Firm Manager. It’s simple: Credenza, while easy to use, has your Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, Matters, etc., tabs all running down the left column as is common in Outlook. Accordingly, when you have even just one of the tabs open (i.e., Mail), because there’s not much room when the tab expands, you’re forced to do a quite a bit of scrolling in a bunch of tiny windows. With Firm Manager being broken into four sections and having tabs run the length of the screen on top, everything is more clean-cut and there’s less scrolling.

Accessibility

  • Winner: Firm Manager
  • Why: The primary reason Firm Manager wins is because it’s a more mobile platform. Firm Manager, which is accessed via a web browser, can be accessed by any mobile phone, iPod, iPad, laptop, desktop or television. In essence, if you have access to a decent browser, you have access to Firm Manager. It is truly a ‘cloud’ system. Furthermore, I think this platform will be the new industry standard on a moving forward basis. Manufacturers are finally beginning to realize that they don’t have to create four applications each time they want to sell one product (i.e., RIM, Android, iOS and Windows). By making it browser-based, they can focus their time and resources in product development, rather than creating multiple platforms. This results in better products that cost less.

Global Search

  • Winner: Firm Manager
  • Why: It’s really close but with Firm Manager there is a global search bar which is visible everywhere. With Credenza, you have to search for the “Search Credenza” icon, click it, then it comes up, then you have to edit the search to look through “All Common Fields”, and then you have to do your search. It’s easier with Firm Manager – just go the global search bar, type and go. It also offers a “Google Instant” like search result so if you just enter “b” you get a drop-down of results.

Cost

  • Winner: Credenza
  • Why: Credenza is only $10 per month for a single user, or $20 per user per month if there are multiple users on the account that all want to share information from a joint database. Firm Manager’s lowest entry point is $60 per month per user (with an intro price of $45).

Each offering has its own unique advantages as well as its own unique nuances. Both do the same thing: contact, calendar and matter management – but they do it in different ways. Accordingly, in deciding which is right for you, a large part of your decision is based on your current IT knowledge, what you have used in the past and how you currently like doing things. I look at both solutions and say each is headed in the right direction.

Next week, I’ll take a closer look at Credenza, and the following week I’ll take a closer look at Firm Manager. Screenshots, features, how-to’s, etc. Until then, if you’ve used one of these systems, what are your thoughts? Is there anything missing? Leave it here or keep on just reading Legal Loudspeaker.