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[Note: This column was originally published by the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section of the American Bar Association in Probate & Property, Vol. 11, No. 4 (July/August 1997).]
By Daniel B. Evans, Technology-Probate Editor
In the past, "case management" has been for litigators, particularly personal injury lawyers who had hundreds of active cases and needed a system to keep track of filing deadlines for all those cases.
Case management has also been a concern of large firms, which needed a way to keep track of which lawyers and paralegals were working on which cases, as well as to track potential conflicts of interest and filing deadlines. Within the past two years, case management programs (particularly the Windows-based programs listed at the end of this column) have become more powerful and more useful, and several programs have become general and flexible enough to be useful to an estate and trust practice. This column reviews some of the general developments in case management software with comments about two programs, Amicus Attorney and Jr. Partner.
The increased usefulness of case management software can be summed up in one word: integration. Case management programs can now: Share information among different parts of the program, such as to- do lists, calendars and case records. A new task entered on the to-do list also appears in the user's calendar for the target date and in the status report for that case. Share information with time and billing software. When a task is marked "done," the software can automatically generate a time entry, using the task description the user originally created for the to-do list, and transfer the time entry to the user's time and billing software so the task can be billed to the client. Share information with word processing software. Data about clients and cases can be exported to Windows word processing programs like WordPerfect and Word and used to create form letters, notices and other relatively simple documents. Two of the products listed below, Amicus Attorney and Time Matters, can also export information to the HotDocs document assembly program, so that information in the case management software can be used to create documents using HotDocs templates. These developments in case management software make it something to consider for estate and trust lawyers as well as litigators, and for solo practitioners and small firms as well as large firms. Case Management Functions Generally, case management software is designed to keep track of the following kinds of information and perform the fol- lowing functions: Names, addresses and telephone numbers. In its most rudi-mentary form, case management software can be nothing more than an automated Rolodex. Case management software can also reorganize and apply that information in more useful ways. For example, a program should be able to organize names by case and show the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all the fiduciaries or beneficiaries involved with a particular estate. The software should also be able to apply those names and addresses to generate letters, notices and other documents. Case information. In addition to the names of parties, litigators have used case management programs to save other types of information about a case, such as the nature of the litigation, critical dates regarding accidents or injuries, the amounts in dispute, the court in which the claim has been filed and other notes about the issues in the case and the evidence available. The newer, more flexible programs can be modified to save the information needed for an estate planning or estate administration practice, such as the domicile of the client, the size of the estate, the date of the will or codicils, the date of death and tax issues to be noted (e.g., marital deduction issues or generation-skipping elections to be made). To-do lists. Keeping track of filing deadlines and other lists of things to do was one of the original purposes of case management software. In addition to showing the case, type of task and due date, programs can assign priorities to tasks and identify the lawyer or staff member responsible for the task. A lawyer can therefore see all of his or her to-do list, sorted by priority, or just the to-do list for a particular client or estate. Appointments and calendars. Keeping an appointment calendar on a computer often seems to be more trouble than it is worth. Larger firms with networked calendar systems, however, can benefit from the ability to search through calendars of different lawyers to find open times for meetings and can use the software to schedule common resources like meeting rooms. There is also some benefit in software that "beeps" or otherwise reminds the user of appointments during the day. The calendar function becomes more useful when the calendar automatically displays the due dates of tasks from the to-do list, as the newer case management programs are doing. Amicus Attorney and Jr. Partner I have been trying to adapt Amicus Attorney (Gavel and Gown Software, Inc.) for my own practice, have briefly looked at Jr. Partner (Millennium Software) and have the following comments about them. User interface. The programmers of Amicus Attorney have spent a considerable amount of time and effort to make the user interface colorful and attractive, and the results also make the program easy to use. The program modules (e.g., Rolodex, case file, calendar) are designed to look like what they are supposed to be. These visual clues help me remember where I am and what I am doing and also help me find important information or icons more quickly. Precedents and roadmaps. Both programs allow the user to save a set of related tasks and then apply them to a particular type of case. In Jr. Partner, this set is called a "roadmap," and in Amicus Attorney it is called a "precedent." In Jr. Partner, this feature allows the user to save critical dates in the administration of a typical estate, so the program knows (for example) that the inventory is due six months after the grant of letters and the federal estate tax return is due nine months from death. When the user applies this roadmap to a new case, all of the pre-programmed tasks and due dates are automatically entered into the to-do list and calendar, and the user is automatically reminded of each filing date as it approaches. (Tasks not needed for a particular estate, such as a federal estate tax return for a small estate, can be deleted.) The "precedents" feature of Amicus Attorney is similar, except that the current version of the program can schedule tasks only by a number of days, and so due dates measured by months do not come out quite right. Document creation. Amicus Attorney now allows the user to put a task on the to-do list that includes not only a description of the document that needs to be created but also exact information on which form to use. The task listing will then have a "do" button. When the user clicks on that button, the program automatically sends the information it has to the user's word processing (or document assembly) program with instructions on which form or template to use. Jr. Partner also includes the ability to merge information from the program into a word processing merge form. Document inventories. Most lawyers want to save and organize information about the wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents signed by their clients. Amicus Attorney allows the user to save a certain amount of special information about clients and cases, such as the date of a will and type of marital deduction formula used, but the software is limited in its ability to record information on (for example) multiple trusts, codicils or trust amendments. Jr. Partner appears to be more flexible in its ability to save information about multiple documents but less flexible in letting the user customize other data to be saved. I have not reviewed Time Matters but understand that it shares many of the features of Amicus Attorney and Jr. Partner. For additional information on these programs, contact:
Gavel & Gown Software, Inc.
184 Pearl St., Suite 304
Toronto, ON M5H 1L5
(800) 472-2289/(416) 977-6633
Fax: (416) 977-2563
Millennium Software, Ltd
208 Bayard Bldg.
3411 Silverside Rd.
Wilmington, DE 19810
(800) 577-2786/(302) 479-7555
Fax: (302) 479-9222
6800 Bird Rd., Ste. 501
Miami, FL 33155
(800) 328-2898/(305) 663-8968
Fax: (305) 663-8338
The Section's ABA-PTL e-mail discussion list has moved to a new domain and a new listserver. Subscription messages should now be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and should be in the form: subscribe aba-ptl . Messages sent to the list should now be sent to email@example.com. The e-mail discussion list also has a web page at www.lsoft.com. Through that web page, one can subscribe, get infor-mation about the list, contact the list owner or even view archives of past list discussions, located at http://184.108.40.206/ archives/aba-ptl.html. The Section's web pages have also been updated and improved and now include information on committees, publications and meetings, as well as past editions of this column and other maga- zine articles. See http://www.abanet.org/rppt/home.html.
TrustWise is a new Windows-based estate planning program with graphs and charts available from OSI Software, 3914 Little Cottonwood Lane, Sandy, UT 84092, (801) 944-6250, (800) 432-6947, Fax: (801) 944-6251. Two new document assembly programs have been released: 2emPower from VTI America, Inc., 201 Main St., #1550, Fort Worth, TX 76102, (817) 878-4202, (800) 661-4633, Fax (817) 878-4226; and NovaDocs for Windows from Novation Corporation, 1550 East Thunderbird, #2070, Phoenix, AZ 85022, (602) 493-2177.
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