Attorneys and their staff are always asking me what software they should use to help with their cases and to track important dates. They typically start by asking whether or not Microsoft (MS) Outlook can do what they want. I ask questions about their practice area and how they are doing things now. I talk to them about the differences between MS Outlook and case management software. It is important to understand what MS Outlook can and cannot do. Most attorneys would never consider using MS Excel as their time and billing program and for good reason. Well, the same holds true for using MS Outlook to try to do what a case management program can do.

It is easy to see why so many attorneys try to use MS Outlook for case management. They use MS Outlook as their email client to send and receive email throughout the day and it has a calendar section and also a contact section. So, it is only natural that they would think that it would be able to do a good job for them and their staff for case management which, includes contacts and calendaring. After all, MS Outlook can synchronize with a smartphone; i.e., Blackberry, iPhone, or Android, so it must be good to use. MS Outlook is great if you are one person and you just have general calendaring to do; however, if you want to share your calendar with your staff, be able to see what calendar events and to-do’s are related to a contact or a case, see emails that have been sent/received regarding a contact or a case in one location, then a case management software program is what you should use.

MS Outlook is a flat database, not a relational database like case management software; such as, Time Matters Practice Management Software. MS Outlook doesn’t relate the calendar items to the contact and there is nowhere to put a case record. So, if you wanted to see all of the events and todo’s for a particular client or case, you would have to go month by month, day by day, and look through all of your calendars to try to piece together what you have done for a contact or case. In Time Matters or any other case management software, you can click on a contact or case record and all of the events and to-do’s are listed for that record.

At the heart Time Matters is a sorted list of contacts and cases. One to many relationships between contacts and cases make it easy to view all cases associated with a particular client. Time Matters also supports having many contacts associated with one case. For example, the Smith matter could have several contacts, including your client John Smith, opposing counsel, experts, plus other related parties. In addition to offering an excellent Rolodex, this feature is vital for conflict searching.

When launched, Time Matters lists all upcoming appointments and critical dates. “Event” and “To- Do” items are scheduled against clients to avoid missing appointments and critical deadlines. Insurance carriers love this feature and often offer a discount on malpractice premiums when a law firm uses case management software. Time Matters’ built-in group scheduling feature is used to schedule multiple attorneys and staff. The otherwise daunting task of collecting a handful of attorneys together in an available conference room is a cinch. You simply drop down the attorney list, select applicable attorneys, staff, and resources (eg. conference room) then view available dates. You can also customize ad hoc groups of resources such as “partners” or “staff” to make group scheduling easier.

Time Matters also integrates with MS Outlook. When you are on an email regarding a matter, you can just click a button in MS Outlook and link the email to a contact or case in Time Matters. Everyone in your office will have access to the emails that are associated with a case, rather than having to print the emails to put into the files or have the person who received the email to be the only one to have access to it.

Timeslips users will be happy to know that Time Matters shares several data elements. As clients records are created in Time Matters they can be automatically entered into Timeslips. Case management software allows a law firm to quickly retrieve client/case information and track important dates. It keeps everyone singing from the same song sheet and can help to reduce malpractice exposure.

Read more about case management software and Microsoft Outlook here.

Published in the May 2012 issue of Pennsylvania Family Lawyer.