Legal Industry Software

This post and others like it relate back to an introductory post that explains the point. This is an edited variant of something I wrote in 2007, in this case relating my experience and associated history with legal industry software. Juris products are excluded, as they were included here. In no particular order, the list as best I can remember…

West Publications Premise
West Publications LawDesk
Shepard’s Citations
Couch on Insurance
Amicus Attorney
Legal Files
Lawyer’s Diary PC Edition

Naturally I’ve worked with the legal research and associated software, mainly Premise 3.72 and 4.0. I helped with evaluation of Lexis-Nexis and Loislaw research.

Wintitle and are associated with real estate practice.

Lawyer’s Diary PC edition incorporates and expands upon the content of the annual bound Lawyer’s Diary. Most people prefer the book, but some are avid about the extra features in the (rather oddly designed, IMHO, at least when I supported it) software. Updating a network installation was… interesting.

I once had lunch with the guys behind Turbolaw. At the time, it was a package centering around templates and automation of Word and Excel to populate the appropriate forms you’d file in certain types of cases, like family law (divorce) and worker’s comp. One attorney needed it. I noticed the name of the company was Promethean Software, and I mentioned to them that we were working on law firm software named, or at least codenamed, Prometheus, so their name caught my eye. That led to a lunch meeting in Fitchburg between a few of them, me, and my partner who was primarily responsible for Prometheus, and the name. At first, on the phone, one of them thought the name was no big deal. Later they asked us not to use it, to avoid confusion. Oddly enough, despite some of us not having cared for ‘Prometheus,” and people jokingly referring to it as “Promiscuous,” we never did come up with a catchier name. We showed them some printouts of screens as it stood then, and talked about what it would do. They were terrified by it, because had we wanted, our product could easily have incorporated the functionality of their less comprehensive but more specialized product. There was some discussion of sending them a beta to play with when it was ready, and doing joint marketing of the two products. That would have been a huge boost. Subsequently my partner stopped working on it for a while, then started over from scratch. Prometheus went so far as to be used in a six-person law office until they ran up against its limitation of working only with Microsoft Office document types. Otherwise it was flawless, so there was little “support” involved beyond getting it setup. Unless you count that I looked into adding PDF support, but could not work it into the existing code.

Which brings me to the whole case/document manager thing. We did some evaluation of products in the genre, which is part of what led to Prometheus, as we thought we could do it better. Which when the iron was hot might have been true.

Winlaw was the reason we even knew about such things. Winlaw was software by a company named The Counsell Group, or TCG, which eventually dotcommed itself into being Breakaway Solutions and then defunct. The big client hired TCG to create Winlaw, as apparently nothing available “off the shelf’ at the time would do. TCG had plans to make a version for wider sale, and even trademarked the name Winlaw to reserve it for legal software purposes. It was a great name, especially when you consider it dates back to the days of prefixing software names with “Win” being all the rage.

There were problems. Mainly the problem was that it was a VB3 app using a shared Access 1.0 database as the backend. Access data was never meant to be shared by 40 – 50 users. It locked. A lot. To the point of being down something like 45 minutes per day per user.

We were hired to fix it. The client settled with the original vendor and got full and unfettered ownership of the code for the purpose. We improved performance, ported it to VB5 and later VB6, migrated them to SQL Server as the real way to eliminate any locking, and had it stable since the beginning of 1999. Subsequently we added a utility to enforce data gathering about each case at the time it closed. I improved the user interface, made it so some user defaults could be set, made it so searching could be done for exact or “like” (wildcard) matches, and that sort of thing. I also discovered and fixed a longstanding bug in the original code, whereby it could and did, fortunately rarely, overwrite a document with a new document of the same not-quite-random name. I also wrote a separate utility that could copy all the documents for a case to a specified location, or archive them, which was the same except for deleting the documents from the server if it copied them successfully.

My partner got it the majority of the way done, then decided it would be far better to write an all new program. We would offer the client a version specific to them to satisfy the project requirements, but also be able to market a generic release to other firms. That was Prometheus. The first incarnation of it, largely complete, was used by a couple people in a small firm. They stopped using it only because it was overly oriented toward the types of cases the big firm handled, and was overkill for them. When I pushed for a more complete version because we had someone else wanting to use it, who would test it more effectively, my partner quickly created a new (admittedly improved) but similarly undercooked version of Prometheus. I managed to clean up some loose ends and make it installable, so we had six people using it for a couple years. As mentioned, the main problem ended up being that it couldn’t handle PDF files, and I couldn’t rapidly enough make it do so.

It was kind of cool, but simple compared to most of the case/document/practice management software out there. I had wanted to put out a basic version, even just as freeware/shareware, as basic document management for anyone.

Besides Winlaw and Prometheus, I have actually supported Amicus Attorney, which didn’t impress me. I’ve played with Abacus, and possibly others I’m forgetting. Legal Files is the somewhat complicated, product the big client moved to from Winlaw. I helped them decide on it. I played with a demo version and worked with the sales and development people there on migrating data and documents from Winlaw. That was my last major work for the client, and left me impressed with what I’d done.

Have I forgotten any legal-oriented software? Perhaps, but it’s a limited range of titles. Next up, backup and compression software.

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