In a recent post, I showed how SharePoint is a powerful tool for legal and litigation support teams to manage their legal projects. 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 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 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
- Exterro Fusion suite
- PSS Systems Atlas suite
- Digital Strata Discovery Agent
- iDS Tech i-Framework
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
ConclusionThe 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.
 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).