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Legal Project Management: Thoughts, tips, and discoveries related to the management of legal projects.

SharePoint "Killers"

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In a recent post, I showed how SharePoint is a powerful tool for legal and litigation support teams to manage their legal projects.[1] I began using SharePoint five years ago, which is a lifetime in social-media development. In this post I look at a number of applications that may become SharePoint Killers. 

I exaggerate. I say "SharePoint Killer" in the same way folks throw around the term "iPhone killer." These are viable alternatives to the SharePoint platform, giving much of the same functionality, and they will keep/take some marketshare away from SharePoint in the legal environment, but they'll no more kill SharePoint in law firms and corporate legal departments than Android phones will kill iPhones. 

Google Apps

http://www.google.com/apps/

Google Apps seeks to provide a complete alternative to the Microsoft ecosystem. Gmail and Google Calendar replace Exchange and Google offers on-line word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation applications. The "SharePoint killer" in the apps mix is Google Sites. Google Apps, especially with a premium subscription, is a great suite of products. I love Gmail with Postini and I prefer Google Calendar over Outlook (the only thing I miss from Outlook is being able to specify a timezone when creating events).  Google Docs/Spreadsheets/Presentations are nowhere near a Microsoft Office replacement, but offer superior collaborative editing features.

As for Google Sites, I like it. Google Sites are even easier to set-up than SharePoint sites and the ability to add widgets to your site makes it very extensible. The lack of tight integration with Microsoft Office is an issue if you are a heavy user of Microsoft Office documents (which includes nearly all law firms and corporate legal departments). My main complaint with Google Sites is how poor the integration with other Google Apps is. The fact that you cannot include a Google Doc in a Google Site file cabinet and edit that file by clicking on a link from that file cabinet is just dumb.  I find that opening documents from SharePoint is a bit slow, but at least you can open from and save to a SharePoint document list directly from any Microsoft Office 2003 or 2007 application.

Zoho Suite

http://www.zoho.com/

Zoho offers a very impressive range of applications. It seeks to provide small businesses with "cloud" versions of the most commonly used business applications.  The products I've tested are well-designed, but I was disappointed at how poorly they were integrated. For example, you can't create a central contacts database to draw from within all applications, meaning that you have to import from and manually update contacts in multiple applications in the same suite.

 

Practice/Case Management Applications

While practice and case management applications have limited project-management features, they are probably still the best place to manage most traditional legal work. Especially for smaller, less complex matters that do not have large numbers of people working on them. Most firms still use perpetual-license software that they install and manage on their own internal networks. A few of the more popular applications include Lexis Nexis Time Matters, Thomson Reuter's Prolaw, Gavel & Gown Software's Amicus Attorny, and Software Technology Inc's PracticeMaster.

These are powerful applications to be sure. I used to use Time Matters and was a fan. But these tools tend to be slow to adapt to new collaborative technologies and they integrate poorly with mobile devices. The future, I believe, rests with the new SaaS practice/case management solutions, such as Rocket Matter and Clio. These sites do not have robust project-management capabilities and are currently not as feature-rich as locally-installed practice management applications, but they'll work just fine for managing your calendars, client information, time entry, and billing, without overlooking features important to lawyers, such as managing trust accounts. 

The SaaS practice-management solutions I've looked at excel at ease of use and they leverage collaborative technologies such as status feeds and discussions in a way that makes more established practice-management applications look dowdy. Also, like many other cloud-based applications, they seem to offer much better mobile applications for smartphones that will keep you in sync, over the air, when you are on the road.


Project Management Tools Specifically for Litigation Support


Why reinvent the wheel? The following SaaS providers offer feature-rich legal hold and litigation-support project-management applications that you can tie up with your data archive, HR management, and other enterprise systems. Note that these are mainly aimed at managing e-discovery projects. They are not really SharePoint replacements, but offer much more functionality for managing e-discovery projects than most legal departments could build themselves using SharePoint.


Professional Project Management Tools

The following are two full-featured, professional, project-management tools. They are really more competitors to Microsoft's Project Server than they are a replacement for SharePoint. They are not specifically configured for legal or litigation-support work, but they offer the most sophisticated set of project-management tools and might be appropriate for certain litigation-support or legal-project-management-office users. 

Genius Project

http://www.geniusinside.com/

Originally designed as a project-management application for Lotus Notes users, they now offer a Web-bases SaaS version. Disclaimer: Genius Inside is a paid sponsor of this blog.

Serena

http://www.serena.com/

Serena offers a number of project management SaaS offerings, both for traditional project management and for Agile project management. Serena also offers OpenProj for your desktop for free. OpenProj is an open source MS Project replacement.


General Project Management/Collaboration Tools

Personally, these always fall short of my needs, but some lawyers use them. For general team collaboration, I think they can be very useful, but they lack sophisticated project management features and are not tailored for legal use. 

Zoho Projects

http://projects.zoho.com/home.na

I like the direction Zoho is taking their project-management application, but currently it's  features are too basic and its integration with other Zoho and Microsoft products is lacking. Even its touted integration with Google Apps was disappointing when I tested it recently.

Basecamp

http://basecamphq.com/

I first learned of Basecamp in the Technolawyer Community, the publishers use (or at least used to use) it to manage their work and have recommended it. I don't, however, know of any legal or litigation support teams who use Basecamp for legal projects.

Project Open is an open source software system that fully integrates project management with enterprise resource planning (ERP). You can host it on your own servers for free. Project Open also offers an SaaS solution as do a number of third-parties. While it does not have the prettiest interface nor the most sophisticated project management features, it does an impressive job at providing contact management, project management, knowledge management, time-sheet management, invoicing, and human-resource management all in one well-integrated system. 

Unlike most other ERP systems that focus on manufacturers and retailers, Project Open was built for the service industries and therefore is fairly easy to adapt to litigation support and even legal work. The finance and timesheet modules, however, will likely not meet the needs of most lawyers and it would take a lot of effort to customize the tool to specific practice areas. Most lawyers would be better of with practice-management solutions. 

One concern is that although the developers seem active, regularly releasing updates and patches and participating in the lively discussion boards on SourceForge.com, I've spoken with some users and hosting companies that are concerned about the company's long-term viability. Some hosting providers are hedging their bets with other open-source ERP systems such as OpenBravo, which is unfortunate, because I have not seen an open-source ERP system as well-tailored to the service and consulting industries as Project Open.


Conclusion

The above is not an attempt to provide a comprehensive list of team-collaboration and project-management applications for lawyers and legal-support staff. Rather it was mean to point out that SharePoint is not the only game in town and give a glimpse at what other players are offering.

 

[1] Paul C. Easton, SharePoint for Legal Project Management--A Retrospective, Legal Project Management, Jan. 7, 2010, available at http://legalprojectmanagement.info/2010/01/sharepoint-for-legal-project-management--a-retrospective.html (last visited on Jan. 7, 2010).

2 TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://legalprojectmanagement.info/cgi-sys/cgiwrap/peaston/managed-mt/mt-tb.cgi/102

This recent Dilbert cartoon is a fun reminder that It is important to create triggers and develop habits to force you to keep in touch with you client/vendor contacts.  try{for(var lastpass_iter=0; lastpass_iter For both lawyers and project manage... Read More

In part 8 of his series on legal project management on his Legal Business Development blog, Jim Hassett reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun and highlights McDermott Will & Emery's Deal Dashboard as evidence that legal ... Read More

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This page contains a single entry by Paul C. Easton published on January 10, 2010 10:00 PM.

Social Networking & Project Management (and the blahness of LinkedIn Polling) was the previous entry in this blog.

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