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Guest post by Bryan Lober.
Investing in practice management software is an investment in the future of your firm. While it is true that a certain percentage of startup firms will fail, you must plan on being at least reasonably successful lest you create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.
As has been mentioned in countless ‘how to start’ books, you should, ideally, have a good amount of money saved up and set aside in order to allow for your new firm to go from initially being a cost burden to becoming profitable. In the current climate, this may realistically take no less than several months to occur. If you’ve saved up enough money to hunker down and get by, you may wish to consider purchasing practice management software outright instead of paying monthly for a program you will continue to use for years to come.
I have been told time and time again, by successful attorneys, that the easiest way to better ensure profitability is to reduce your expenses.
Purchasing AbacusLaw outright, the “classic” flavor runs $1097 and the “gold” version (which includes built in time, billing, and accounting features) runs $1597. If you are a member of the ABA, you qualify for a 15% discount, which brings the prices down to roughly $900 and $1400, respectively. Purchasing the software outright comes with a year of free tech support and updates.
If you were to pay in monthly installments, the “classic” runs $45 per month and the “gold” costs $62 per month. With the 15% ABA discount, these numbers drop to roughly $38 and $53 monthly. At the end of three years, you own the current version of the software, having had free tech support and product updates for the entire duration of the installment plan.
Doing the math, if you were to opt for the “classic” version, as an ABA member, you would end up spending in the area of $1400 over the course of that time. The “gold” version would run ABA members around $1900 over the 36 month installment period.
Without getting into the time value of money or opportunity costs, it is clear that the outright purchase option may be better for many practitioners.
If you use Quickbooks for accounting, as I do, you may not require the additional functionality offered by the “gold” version. I opted for the “classic” flavor of AbacusLaw when I recently purchased it.
You will undoubtedly have a question or ten that AbacusLaw’s online knowledge base will not answer. The good news is that English speaking tech support is readily available. The support telephone number is displayed on Abacus’ website and they have, from what I can tell, thirteen or so native English speaking tech support reps. Your hold times are reasonable and the tech support reps are willing and able to remote connect to your machine if needed.
That said, the software does the basics and does them quite well. Calendaring is easy. Inputting new cases is simple (despite there being a somewhat short character limit on case numbers). Adding a client and associated contact info is a breeze. Associating particular documents with particular cases is simple. You can learn the basics of Abacus necessary to incorporate it into your practice very quickly.
The Bad: The Need for Workarounds
Some advertised functionality costs extra. Some advertised functionality should include an asterisk.
One of the reasons I picked AbacusLaw out of the slew of practice management offerings floating out there is for the calendar tie in with my smartphone. After installing the software and getting in touch with Abacus for help synchronizing my smartphone to AbacusLaw, I was informed that this service is provided at an additional cost (70-something or 90-something dollars annually). I was less than pleased to find that the software I spent my hard earned money on does not include this functionality out of the box. Part of the reason I bought this software was to avoid incessant billing.
I was able to find a workaround for this, though. Abacus does offer free synchronization to my Outlook calendar. This synchronization can even be automated so that it is truly hassle free. Fieldston Software makes a product called gSyncit which syncs your Outlook calendar to your Google (gMail) calendar, enabling it to be read on an Android smartphone. gSyncit runs about $20 for outright purchase and does the trick.
The ability to import templates from Microsoft Word was another selling point that I considered when deciding to purchase Abacus. When I found that this was not working properly for me, I called up AbacusLaw tech support. They quickly pointed out that this functionality does not work with 64-bit versions of Microsoft Word. It was suggested that I call Microsoft to obtain a 32-bit version of the product. Due to the fact that I have numerous plugins that are tied to this particular installation, I decided against this course of action.
I figured out a workaround for this issue as well. I am able to save my Word templates as PDFs and then, using Adobe Acrobat, create forms out of the PDFs. These forms can then be imported into AbacusLaw. This is much more time consuming for me and the spacing isn’t absolutely perfect but it seems to be a solution to the issue. If you don’t have a PDF editor capable of creating and editing forms or if you have tons of Word templates, this may not be a viable solution, given the time and software requirements.
If you provide your contact info to Abacus, prepare to be bombarded with marketing materials. I emailed them about this issue after getting two emails in the span of roughly four hours. They were apologetic and took me off the automated lists. The office manager for an attorney who rents space adjacent to me also indicated that she has received numerous calls and mailings from Abacus after expressing interest in their software. That said, in my experience, if you request that they stop, they do so.
The software is generally user friendly, with a few exceptions. If you try to update AbacusLaw from within the program, a popup window may open asking if you “want to force everyone out.” If you make the mistake of clicking yes, as I did, you will be unable to log back in to Abacus without either calling tech support or finding an obscure text file within the AbacusLaw program directory, editing it in notepad, and saving it. The user should never be presented with a selection where there is only one proper choice.
While AbacusLaw has certain flaws, it offers good functionality and the tech support is top notch. They offer a 100-day guarantee which seems to offer a degree insurance in case you are less than thrilled. If you require basic functionality, it’s great software. If you require more complex functionality, make sure that the functionality you require is included in your price quote and that any software you may wish to tie in is of the proper version.
Bryan Lober is a criminal defense and eminent domain lawyer in Melbourne, Florida.