4-Step Computer Security Upgrade
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MerusCase launched in 2008, but made it onto our radar only recently. Merus is a software development company that provides information technology consulting and builds web applications, and MerusCase is their practice management software. The software was built with California workers’ compensation attorneys in mind, but Merus is clearly making a play for the tech-savvy lawyer who wants a flexible practice management software package.
However, MerusCase is missing some features that are common among its chief competition; it doesn’t offer apps for iOS or Android, and it doesn’t integrate with external services like Dropbox or accounting software like Quickbooks.
Here’s what you need to know to make a decision about MerusCase.
Getting Started With MerusCase
As is the case with most cloud software, you can begin using MerusCase by signing up via its website. MerusCase also gives you the option of calling to get things started or schedule a demo. The latter two options may be useful for someone who feels a bit worried about setting up cloud-based practice management software on their own.
Migrating to MerusCase
MerusCase boasts that it can migrate data from any system, including Outlook, Rocket Matter, Abacus, and Clio. That may very well be true, but you will not know unless you contact them, as the only migration option is to have MerusCase do a custom import. MerusCase does not disclose its prices anywhere on its website — and that should make you suspicious. In fact, you could pay around $2,000 just to get set up. That’s $2,000 more than competitors like Clio and MyCase charge for setup.
MerusCase does have an option to bulk import .csv files, which would allow you to import things like your Outlook contacts or your Google calendar directly into MerusCase without paying that huge setup fee, but that will not be as smooth as a complete migration.
Like a lot of practice management software, MerusCase opens into a dashboard designed to give you a high-level overview of your cases and deadlines.
From there, you can choose to look at your cases, your contacts, your calendar, your task list, your messages, or your documents.
Unfortunately, the user experience is not particularly smooth. When starting a new case, for example, the Save button is at the top of the input form, but by the time you are finished completing the form, it may not be on the screen any longer. After you create your new case, you’re presented with this screen without much explanation:
Task setup fares a bit better, as the system allows for easy creation of both tasks and subtasks without having to jump around.
The calendar feature should be familiar to anyone who has used any sort of computer-based calendar, with options to view daily, weekly, and monthly calendars and the ability to quickly create a new calendar matter just by clicking into the date of your event. MerusCase also gives the option to set up related events or follow up dates at the time you create your event.
MerusCase has invoicing capabilities built in, and the program will create a rudimentary but functional invoice for you. You will either need to use its built-in invoicing or export your billing, as MerusCase does not directly integrate with other billing software. It does, however, export to a number of standardized billing formats, including LEDES, ESIS, and Chubb.
MerusCase also has integrated email and will help you set up a macro that will allow you to save directly to MerusCase from Word, which is a nice touch for lawyers wedded to Word (i.e., most of us.
Mobile Apps and Extensions
MerusCase has no mobile apps. You can sync your calendar and contacts to your Android or iDevice via the CalDAV protocol. It is not a highly technical or difficult process, but it is a good deal more complicated than simply opening a mobile app.
MerusCase also does not integrate with Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, or any other external data storage service. At first glance, this may be easy to ignore if you do not currently use any sort of cloud data service. However, the time is fast approaching when you will likely have cloud data stored somewhere whether you wish to or not, and being wedded to case management software that will not play nice with those services may be limiting.
MerusCase has been around for several years, and its website certainly displays a level of tech savvy that would normally indicate the development of a robust app and extension ecosystem. Their opposition to external integrations may be part of their security-mindedness, but the lack of convenience might be a tough tradeoff for a lot of lawyers.
MerusCase is browser-based and uses SSL encryption end-to-end, meaning that all data passed between you and the MerusCase cloud is encrypted at bank-grade security levels. Data like passwords, social security numbers, and tax ID numbers are stored in 256-bit encrypted databases. Therefore, even if MerusCase’s first layers of security are hacked, only names and telephone numbers would be available in plain text.
This is a solid approach to security and a user of MerusCase could feel reasonably sanguine that their data is safe. It’s worth noting, though, that MerusCase takes an oddly hectoring approach to data safety, explaining (without any backup information) that it is safer than their competitors who store things in plain text, it is safer than your office, which might get robbed, and the only possible weak security link is you and your own weak password. It’s a bit more like getting lectured by a surly IT worker than the helpful tone you might expect from a company that is trying to sell you a thing to simplify your life.
Backing Up Your MerusCase Data
MerusCase will deliver a full backup of your data and documents for any media you’d like at any interval you choose. However, you will pay a “modest fee” to cover the cost of the media. Unfortunately, that is the only way for you to get a full backup of your data, which is particularly troubling as the actual fee is not divulged anywhere.
You can also download a document archive of individual cases — one case at a time — directly from MerusCase via the Files menu. However, when we tried to request document archives of some of the test cases in MerusCase, it took three tries. One try led to a 404 error message, another led to a message that the file we requested was taking too long to prepare because of its size and that Merus had queued the job and would send us a message when it was done. Twenty minutes later, it still wasn’t done. Thirty-six hours later, still no message. Finally, a third attempt got us a .zip archive with all the case material sorted into dated subfolders. Even if every attempt had worked, this is a clunky way to get your data out of MerusCase, particularly if you have a lot of cases.
Evaluating MerusCase for Your Practice
When you consider purchasing case management software, the most important thing to keep in mind is whether it will fit your unique practice needs. MerusCase was originally designed specifically for workers’ compensation cases in California, so it might be the best choice if that is your niche. Additionally, if you are tech savvy and looking for a practice management solution that runs swiftly and securely in the cloud and you are not overly concerned about mobile apps or integration, MerusCase may be a great pick. On the other hand, if you are already using Quickbooks or Dropbox or crave a feature-rich mobile platform, MerusCase probably will not work for you.
Normally, we provide a selection of reviews of each piece of case management software. However, in this case there only appears to be one review of MerusCase currently available:
If you want to pay on a month-to-month basis, MerusCase costs $40/user/month. If you agree to a year-long commitment, that drops to $30/user/month. That makes MerusCase substantially cheaper than Rocket Matter or Clio and slightly less than even MyCase. However, measure that potential savings against the setup fee, which could be a couple thousand dollars if you need to migrate a lot of data.
Further, that savings is only worthwhile if you find MerusCase useful for your practice. The lack of mobile apps and integrations are limiting, especially if you want something that “just works.”
What MerusCase Does Well
MerusCase has a lot of nice little features, like the ability to print an envelope from any contact form and the ability to drag and drop documents into an e-filing packet for California courts. It lets you automate some key parts of your workflow in an “if this, then that” fashion. Mousing over documents or contact info brings up a preview, so you do not need to go hopping in and out of files to see if that is the thing you were looking for.
MerusCase is very clearly designed for the California attorney who practices personal injury law or workers’ compensation, and if you are that attorney, this software might feel purpose-built for you, with easy access to California e-filing, deadlines, and similar information.
Where MerusCase Needs Work
Overall, MerusCase feels like a piece of software that is still finding its way, even though it is several years old. MerusCase may be in the cloud, but it is decidedly old-school-feeling. It feels like using a database from ten years ago. That may not be an issue for many people, but if you crave an aesthetically pleasing piece of case management software, this is not it.
That aesthetic failure is not just cosmetic. It makes it difficult to find and use all of MerusCase’s features. I spent quite some time trying to figure out what type of billing software MerusCase might support, and finally decided it did not support anything because I could not find anything. I only figured out that MerusCase could export standardized billing formats from reading the company blog.
The lack of mobile apps presents a real problem for most practicing attorneys. MerusCase’s concerns about security with respect to integrations are well-founded, but most every lawyer seeks out practice management software to simplify their lives and increase their access to their case material. For a modern lawyer, that means robust mobile access.
Finally, MerusCase should be more up-front about its pricing, particularly the migration fee. It is tough to recommend MerusCase when the cost to get up and running is so obscure.
MerusCase may be a good option for some lawyers, but its lack of mobile access, opacity on pricing, and dated user interface mean there are better options.
Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)
MerusCase, reviewed by Lisa Needham on .
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