Oregon State Bar Bulletin — AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2009
Managing Your Practice
SaaS in the Office:
Internet-Based Case Management and Billing Software
By Dee Crocker

Software as a Service (SaaS) is a growth industry in the legal field, and as programs become more complicated and expensive, people will increasingly move to a SaaS model for at least some of their software needs. What is SaaS? According to Wikipedia:

Software as a Service (SaaS, typically pronounced “sass”) is a model of software deployment whereby a provider licenses an application to customers for use as a service on demand. SaaS software vendors may host the application on their own web servers or download the application to the consumer device, disabling it after use or after the on-demand contract expires. The on-demand function may be handled internally to share licenses within a firm or by a third-party application service provider (ASP) sharing licenses between firms.

Examples of SaaS vendors include Microsoft, SAP Business ByDesign, Klopotek SaaS and Google Apps, which provide common business applications online, accessed from a web browser; the software and data are stored remotely on servers.

Application service providers (ASPs) were introduced in the late ’90s and quickly disappeared. SaaS is simply another attempt to get users to utilize software programs that are not loaded onto individual computers or servers but instead are accessed directly over the Internet. Not only is the program itself stored on the Internet, but all data is also stored at the Internet site. This process has its pros and cons.

Why Use SaaS?
There are many good reasons to use SaaS programs, including cost, ease of upgrades, absence of maintenance and easy accessibility. SaaS subscription services generally carry a set price per user per month. Traditional software, even for small businesses, can cost thousands to tens of thousands of dollars in implementation fees, hardware, maintenance, services and support. With zero maintenance, end-user support and administration costs, coupled with comparatively low implementation and customization costs, SaaS solutions offer a much better total cost of ownership than on-premises offerings. SaaS provides a way to quickly benefit without breaking the bank.

Updates are frequent and, for the customer, effortless. Because the software is delivered over the Internet, hosted providers have greater flexibility in upgrading the applications and rolling out changes to customers. Traditional software vendors, by contrast, might upgrade software once a year, if that, but the customers bear the burden of reconfiguring it and paying for the newer version. Using the hosted model means customers can do more to shape the application. Also, most companies provide online training and are generally receptive to suggestions for improvements and requests for changes. Another big benefit is that cost, staffing requirements and levels of service all become more predictable.

A shift towards browser-based systems not only lowers the total cost of ownership, but with the software installed on centralized servers, you also no longer have to maintain application software on individual workstations. The only thing to install on the user’s PC is the web browser. Having no client software installations means fewer headaches for administrators, no conflicts with other applications and nothing to install when you upgrade or add new modules. The ability to use different operating systems on different machines is also a plus — you can have your Mac, Linux and Windows equipment using the same application. This means that anyone with secure access to the system can use the system anywhere, any time. You can be up and going in less than 10 minutes; all you need is a username and password.

The biggest advantage of SaaS is that the vendor takes the responsibility for several tasks: managing the software and hardware components of the application; dealing with network issues such as data backup and disaster recovery planning; managing the data center that delivers the application; and upgrading the software automatically on a regular basis. Simply put, hosted software can save a firm the headaches of ongoing maintenance, time and money in IT support and equipment costs.

What Is the Downside to Using SaaS?
The drawbacks of SaaS include slower speed, lack of control, potential outages and lack of Internet access. Internet-based applications are comparatively slow. Many technologies such as AJAX (shorthand for asynchronous JavaScript and XML, a web development technique) and caching have helped increase performance, but needed security limitations and overall design will always put the speed of SaaS behind traditional software. An early criticism of SaaS was that it was produced as a solution for everyone and couldn’t be tailored to fit a firm’s business processes. In addition, extensibility and integration were cumbersome. However, some SaaS providers have closed this gap and now offer extremely robust customization platforms that make integration and extensibility as easy as point-and-click.

A recent problem with Google Docs highlights one of the potential problems with SaaS solutions: your documents are in someone else’s hands. Google reportedly admitted that .05 percent of its Google documents intended to be private were in fact treated as public. This incident underscores the importance of doing your research. When choosing a SaaS provider or when placing any of your documents in a remote location (typically over the Internet), investigate your provider carefully to make sure the company is taking adequate measures to protect your information and keep it confidential — and to ensure that if something does happen, it will act promptly to correct the problem.

Although outages are rare, they are still possible. Consequently, many hosted providers build “uptime guarantees” into their service level agreements. Some vendors offer a “99.5 percent uptime or money back” or similar guarantee. With competition in the hosted space growing steadily, reliability will keep improving. Consider the presence or absence of an uptime guarantee when selecting an on-demand provider.

Accessibility can also be a con if one does not have access to an Internet

What’s Available for Lawyers?
Practice management and billing software are starting to make their way into the legal profession. A few of the better-known products include:

CLIO from Themis Solutions, Inc., www.goclio.com
Developed with the assistance of the Law Society of British Columbia, Clio includes a full suite of practice management tools targeted specifically at the administrative needs of sole practitioners and small firms. It provides features for calendaring, time tracking, note taking, trust accounting and management of retainers. It has SSL encryption and secured data storage and allows clients, with your permission, to log in to view documents and make comments. The current monthly subscription fee is $49 per attorney and $25 per support staff.

Rocket Matter, www.rocketmatter.com
According to its website, Rocket Matter includes calendaring, contact management, document management, accounting, billing, reporting and conflict checking functions, with availability for the iPhone. It provides internal messaging and searching. There is no setup fee, and online training videos are free. All data is passed through an encrypted channel and isolated in its own database. Your data is backed up daily, and there is a 30-day money-back guarantee. Current monthly subscription fees are determined by the number of users (both attorney and staff): $59.99 first user; $49.99 per user 2-6; and $39.99 per user 7-20.

Bill4Time from Broadway Billing www.bill4time.com
Bill4Time’s time tracking software is designed to handle time and expense tracking and billing, project management, document filing and scheduling for firms who bill for their attorneys’ time. The flexible billing options allow you to define unlimited billing rates, as well as a mix of hourly, flat-fee and contingency billing. Strict security settings let you control who can do what within the system, as well as define which employees can access which client files. The report library allows you to see your firm’s billable time any way you need to see it and quickly determine who is and isn’t billing their time. With project management, you can easily see everything you need to know about a case or matter from start to finish, including billed and non-billed time, notes, file attachments, appointments and deadlines, and see an audit trail of exactly who did what and when. The program integrates with QuickBooks and provides a filing cabinet for attachment of files to any case. The company offers 128-bit data encryption and daily off-site data backups. Current monthly subscription fees are: Free (one user, three clients, five projects); $19.99 (two users, 20 clients, 30 projects); $39.99 per user (unlimited clients and projects). A 30-day free trial is available.

Interbill, www.interbill.biz
Interbill is an Internet billing service that allows you to record fees, costs, payments, and trust and retainer activity using its web-based software, PC-based software or handwritten paper forms. You can access, print and e-mail clients’ statements online using the VeriSign-secured website. The company will print and deliver your statements to you or directly to your clients, and your entire billing history is stored for as long as you want. The price for electronic timesheets is $90 per month for the first timekeeper and $45 per month for each additional timekeeper. There is no charge for additional office staff use under 20 hours per month. The price for paper timesheets is $90 per month, plus $0.35 per line of data keyed; there is no per-timekeeper charge.

Time59, www.time59.com
Time59 is a billing program for solo practitioners. You can record your time and expenses, create invoices and e-mail them to your clients, record payments from clients, view real-time client balances, and view and print lists and management reports. The program provides both trust accounting and LEDES (Legal Electronic Data Exchange Standard) invoicing for lawyers, and data can be accessed from many mobile devices, including the iPhone. It has secure access, and data is automatically backed up. The cost is $49.95 per year for unlimited use, with a free 30-day trial available.

The rapid increase in law firms adopting SaaS is an indication that the pros are outweighing the cons for a growing number of firms. To compete in a global market, solo practitioners and small firms require the resources that have traditionally been available only to megafirms. SaaS provides these resources at an affordable price.


The author is a practice management adviser at the OSB Professional Liability Fund.

© 2009 Dee Crocker

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