If you are still wondering about the difference between “old-school” practice management software and cloud-based practice management software, here it is in a nutshell. Clio, Rocket Matter, and MyCase all recently introduced document assembly to their software. (MyCase went and created an in-browser document editor, for crying out loud!) And that’s not even the most-recent round of updates.

PC Law, a stalwart of the old-school software offerings, is about to introduce what amounts to Clippy for timekeeping, a daily nagging popup to remind you to bill your time. This is so significant LexisNexis “embargoed” the feature until next week — and then went and posted this video on its public YouTube page:

Note the tired, old, unattractive interface hasn’t changed, maintaining the refusal of old-school practice management software vendors to involve user interface designers in any way.

So there’s the difference. Cloud software: introduces awesome new features constantly. PC Law: nags you.

Edit: It’s also telling, by the way, that when I asked Clio, Rocket Matter, and MyCase for access to their software to review it, they all gave me a test account right away. When I asked LexisNexis’s PR company for a copy of the software to test, she refused, but offered to let me watch someone demo it for me, instead, as if watching someone else use software could be an adequate substitute for trying it out myself.

20 responses to “PC Law vs. the Cloud”

  1. I find it strange that folks that are fond of cloud-based practice management software tout the recent addition of document assembly as some sort of great new feature. My prior version of AbacusLaw had this feature back in 2005, and it wasn’t even new back then. I do all of my own document drafting, so the lack of this feature in the past took cloud-based software out of serious consideration. Another feature that is still missing from the cloud solutions is accounting integration. Having my accounting integrated with my practice management makes running a one-person practice possible. I also found the one cloud-based software that I did actually try to be quite slow compared to my desktop software. I think some folks really like cloud-based software for some very good reasons, but for many of us who are in our offices more often than we are out, it just isn’t that impressive.

    • Sam Glover says:

      I’m using it as an example of the pace of development and refinement. While the old-school software is content to remain bloated and cumbersome, the cloud software options are constantly improving. Part of this is due to the need to add features, but lots of it is also due to the desire to improve user experiences — something that doesn’t seem to be on the radar of old software vendors at all.

  2. Shawn says:

    While I agree the cloud based programs have some neat features, I do like the accounting integration capabilities of my practice management software (pc-law). Also, most of the cloud programs charge on average a $50/monthly fee which I don’t have to pay with my software based program.

  3. Craig Bayer says:

    Most of this article is wrong. I wish we could get past the lame generalizations about the cloud versus traditional installed software. I have been a PCLaw consultant for over 10 years. I was the first Clio consultant. I have clients on both products and a couple that track time in Clio and bill in PCLaw. I also was part of Lexis’s Beta of PCLaw 12, which means I flew up to Toronto and used the product for a week with the developers. I guess that is almost as good as watching a two minute video on You Tube.

    Time Entry Advisor analyzes your Emails, Documents, Calendar Events, and warns you if you forgot to create a time entry. So for anyone that is an hourly billable attorney, this is an amazing feature. Amicus Attorney released their own Time Entry Assistant in the 2011 version and clients love it. This is something that the cloud based practice management software companies should seriously look into implementing.

    Also, the following statements were incorrect or misleading:
    • Time Entry Advisor does not Automatically Pop Up
    • Lexis is releasing it with PCLaw 12, it’s not embargoed
    • “Old School” Practice Management software has had document generation for years

    To be honest, some of the previous updates to PCLaw did not added that many new features and there was plenty of reason to complain to Lexis. This version actually has a ton of new features that attorneys will want to use.

    I suggest that next time you feel compelled to trash a feature, try using it, or at least talk to someone that has.

    • Sam Glover says:

      As I said, I asked to use the software. I was refused. The same PR person who refused to let me try PCLaw 12 told me the information was embargoed until June 12th, and then sent me a link to the video.

      I would be happy to get a review copy of PCLaw, but LexisNexis doesn’t seem to have enough confidence in its product to let me review it.

      • Craig Bayer says:

        PCLaw 12 is not going to be released to June 12th, so no one is going to get it to the 12th. I will be more than happy to demo the product to you, after the 12th, or give you remote access to test it out.

        • Sam Glover says:

          I don’t do demos or remote access. If LexisNexis wants to give me a copy I can test on my own computer, I will review it. I don’t see the point in reviewing something unless I can install, configure, and use it myself. A demo (even a long one) is no comparison. Remote access doesn’t cover installation (and probably not configuration), and I won’t be able to assess the performance.

  4. Very interesting developments. But for the solo like me who uses certain software that I am very comfortable with, is it something I should still think about employing. I still use Word Perfect as crazy as that seems; but it works for me. I also have tax return prep programs and Outlook. If it ain’t broke……………….

    I also use an older version of timeslips that is no longer supported, but I love it. Can you suggest something similar as I do not like their newer versions and their restrictive use and pricing?

    • Sam Glover says:

      While I think that it is generally okay to follow the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” advice, it’s also important to take a larger view of broke. Is your technology holding you back? Is it eating up your time? If not, keep it. If so, find something better.

      For timekeeping and billing, I prefer Freshbooks. I haven’t found anything else that works so well, and I’ve been a (very) happy customer for years. It’s great whether you are solo or have a team, although I think it might get unwieldy with more than a dozen or so people billing time.

    • It’s great to know that there are still some other folks using WordPerfect. It’s a much better program than Word. The only argument I ever hear for using Word is “everyone else uses it.” I’m getting ready to upgrade to WordPerfect X6, and I’ll keep using it as long as I’m able to.

      • Sam Glover says:

        I used to use OpenOffice.org/LibreOffice, but now I use Word because I sometimes need to share documents with my clients, and it is important to me that they see the document formatted exactly (or as closely as possible) as intended, and most people use Word. Or so I thought.

        I find that many people (or many of my clients, at least) no longer use Word, but instead use Pages, Google Docs, LibreOffice, or even WordPerfect. So I don’t think there is any compelling reason to use Word if you prefer something else. I am likely to move everything to Google Docs, eventually, so that I can be totally platform-agnostic.

  5. Great post Craig. Sam has a valid point but it’s completely lost in the off-handed generalizations and misleading implications. Many of the ‘legacy’ vendors have truly failed to adopt their platforms and user interfaces to improve their products and keep pace with the newer players on the market. On the other hand, more recent vendors such as Clio and Advologix have only just begun to develop their products and have many functional limitations as compared with the original stalwarts such as PCLaw and Time Matters. Cloud features offer many appealing attributes as does the integration and in-depth functional capabilities of the older, client/server applications. As is always the case, we should try to recognize that the needs of the client or firm should truly determine which product is the best fit and – most importantly – will offer the greatest return on investment.

  6. Shawn Gaspar says:

    I am a little confused by this blog post. At first I was surprised and excited to see an article comparing PCLaw to The Cloud. Being in the legal consulting world I am dedicated to find the perfect legal specific accounting solution to fit the need for clients with the desire to go completely cloud based. So far I have found nothing as a complete accounting solution for Attorneys that lives in the Cloud let alone a product that compares to PCLaw based on the cost and functionality of the product.

    Yes the PCLaw interface looks old and sure Lexis should put a few more features or offer a better cloud portal for the software. But, when it comes down to entering time, running bills, and sending/receiving checks PCLaw works and it works well.

    I have been searching for an alternative cloud solution to PCLaw as our clients are increasingly inquiring of a cloud solution but I can’t find anything I would recommend. Actually, reading the responses to this blog post FreshBooks piqued my interest. A Google search for FreshBooks tells me this is my solution for online bookkeeping and tax accounting, but when digging through the website the effortless bookkeeping is misleading and will only work if you bill less than 300k per year. So if you bill over 300k per year you need to sync through an API to another accounting system. Nothing sounds more accurate and secure then numbers traveling over an internet connection to an internally stored database.

    Cloud software seems to be in an interesting spot right now. Sure everything looks Awesome when you browse the websites and talk to the salesmen, but I think a lot of the product is just bright lights and nonsense. There are many cloud offerings available now, and every one of them is set out to be better than the next. I think this is where the cloud vendors are faltering, they seem to be focusing on having a cool factor and providing more for less. Do attorneys need more for less? Do they care that they can see a pie graph on their cell phone?

    Internally, we have moved to cloud based practice management software which includes billing and entering time. It has taken me a substantial amount of time to get my time captured daily compared to the days of using PCLaw. I found my stride with using PCLaw quick timers running every time the phone rang and in return was capturing time more efficiently than I ever had. I could request bills and checks and understand the services my colleagues and I have performed easily. I am sure I will get there with this cloud offering we installed, but it has been a significant time investment for what seems like minimal gains.

    Are there great cloud product practice management offerings out there? Yes. As for a Cloud accounting software offering, I am up for suggestions. But, when it comes for bookkeeping for professional service firms, until I find a solution that has the proper controls and completeness of PCLaw I can’t suggest anything else.

    • Sam Glover says:

      Freshbooks is most certainly not bookkeeping and tax accounting software. It is timekeeping and billing software, and that’s it. See Freshbooks.com.

      One of the main things offered by the cloud is simplicity. I don’t need or want all the complicated features and options offered by most of the legacy software options. I want to spend my time serving clients, not wrestling with configuration options. When I sign in to Clio, Rocket Matter, or MyCase, I can start working immediately. I don’t have to configure anything or click through multiple menus just to enter time or add a note to a matter record. The software is smart all on its own; I don’t have to teach it anything.

      Sure, it doesn’t do everything PCLaw does. I don’t want it to. I see no advantage in having to sort through options, configuration screens, and learn obscure UI conventions. I want to log in and be productive.

      • Shawn Gaspar says:

        I agree with you that FreshBooks is not a billing and tax accounting software, I was simply quoting their web page header “Online Bookkeeping and Tax Accounting Made Easy”. When I browsed their website, on the front page “Better Bookkeeping” was one of the features. Digging deeper into the manage your books section of the tour I realized the statements from their website were a bit misleading. Like i said when i searched FreshBooks it piqued my interest as a web based accounting system only to be let down in the end.

        Productivity and efficiency is everything when it comes to providing a professional services. How can I provide efficient services that will not get written down and capture my time effectively? There are cloud offerings out there that do a pretty good job of this. I am concerned some of these cloud offerings think of billing and accounting as an afterthought.

        What about that next step? Managing your business. Solos and small-mid sized practices should be concerned about what their P&L statement says and having a simple and effective billing system. Productivity and efficiency mean nothing if a Firm doesn’t have an idea of their financial standing when making business decisions. Even worse, imagine the interruption of cash flow because of downtime time due to an obtuse or slow billing system.

        All of these factors need to be considered when making a decision of your core business software applications regardless of being in the cloud or on a client server platform.

        • Sam Glover says:

          You must have been looking at the QuickBooks website. Very different software. I use both. Freshbooks does not claim to be bookkeeping or accounting software — at least not anywhere I have ever seen.

  7. joanie mann says:

    The problem is that there is no single solution that everyone can agree upon, so the opinions around benefits and features will always conflict. The thing I think we can all agree on, however, is that mobility, security, agility, and controls are important elements. If you like the “legacy” applications, then perhaps having those apps hosted makes sense (see what cloud9realtime.com offers in this area). If you like the SaaS solutions, then maybe it makes sense to go that route. MyCase is a pretty darned cool (hey Niki!).

    It’s exactly the same conversation accountants are having… is ERP dead, or is it just being extended to take advantage of new methods while preserving the features/functionality of the app folks rely on? I think that a little of both -the hybrid approach – is proving to be the most valuable at this point.

  8. Saying an application is too complicated and therefore ineffective is sort of like saying an attorney that only works on simple wills is a better attorney than one who does full estate plans. Because you don’t understand it (i.e., requires ‘configuration’) probably means it can do more than you realize. If all you want to do it replicate basic manual procedures on your computer…stick with the simple stuff. If you want to automate your business and drive ROI, look a little deeper.

  9. Dan McKillop says:

    I use PC Law because I want accounting integration and I need to provide a platform for all of my staff. I’ve wanted to replace it for years.
    PC Law is the worst legal software available . . . other than all the other options, and I’ve tried RM and Clio, hoping they wouldn’t disappoint. They did. And $2,400.00 a year for cloud based software that doesn’t do accounting is not worth the price. For a solo or duo cloud options might get the job done, but paying more $$ for less functions is not what works for my business.

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