Louisiana Comp Blog invited local attorney Bobby Truitt to address the features of case management software for law firms and adjusters and weigh in on the benefits afforded by the technology. Read on for Truitt’s take on the available options, with commentary from Lee Glickenhaus, President of T Lex, a provider of web-based case management tools for such companies as Sears and Kmart.
In today’s connected world, case management software for workers’ comp is nearly as common as attorneys and claims adjusters in the industry – and for good reason. These programs can greatly aid the management of litigation for both the attorney and claims professional.
But, “case management programs” may have different meanings depending on whether you ask the lawyer and law firm or the claims handler. Case management programs, such as Rocket Matter, My Case, Needles, ProLaw and Clio, are used by law firms to manage their own caseloads and to simplify the process of managing litigation from the beginning of a case to the end. However, some of these “law firm side” programs also allow collaboration with or access by the client within the framework of the program. As an example, My Case touts itself as a “social engagement” style of case management program that is akin to Facebook, albeit with bank-caliber security controls.
Stephen Babcock, managing partner of Babcock Partners located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a firm that does a wide variety of litigation, has been a big proponent of case management programs for law firms since the early days.
“Babcock Partners has been using Needles case management software for a decade, and we have handled about 4,000 matters through in that time period,” Babcock explained of his experience. “Needles is a non-cloud based software system that manages all aspects of our case files, and can be highly customized. We even have it set up to accommodate the preferences of individual insurance adjusters. It manages daily checklist items for each individual file, calendar items, party and counsel names, case/matter file information, conflict checking, statute tracking, and document management.”
The document tracking component has been a particular boon to Babcock’s internal processes. “The document management aspect has become one of the most valued features of our staff, and it allows us to generate documents and letters in a fraction of the time it would take without comparable software,” he said. “[Although] Needles lacks some of the bells and whistles of its competitors (such as IOS app access) and it looks a little dated, what Needles does, it does well. A new version of Needles is said to be released soon, but Needles is being ultra-secretive regarding the new features, if any, the new version 5.0 will have.”
Most of these programs reside in the cloud and offer security for your case files, a must when attorney-client privilege is tantamount. Some commentators or critics of these programs have questioned the ethics of such cloud-based programs, and question whether placing your client’s case files in the cloud does not, in and of itself, breach client confidentiality. This view implicitly assumes that the provider is rummaging through your case files, which is highly unlikely. As has been widely publicized, almost any data repository is susceptible to security breaches or hackers, so whether your client’s files reside on your own server or someone else’s server, as long as proper security protocols are used, the risk of a breach of confidentiality is, in the opinion of this author, limited.
Most case management programs have common features that are touted as making the lawyer’s life a bit easier. Calendar management is probably the biggest advantage, and some of the programs are customizable to allow for auto-population of key dates, such as statute of limitations, pleadings, motions, and discovery deadline dates. The programs also permit access by all team members, and since most systems are cloud-based, the access is available anywhere and at all times.
Document automation is also a feature of some of these case management tools. For lawyers who use the same pleadings over and over again for their workers’ comp cases, the programs will permit the building of templates that will fill based upon the case information input at the outset of the case. For example, once the client name, opposing counsel, judge’s name, and court district are entered when the case is set up, that information will auto-populate into a pleading such as an Answer. This feature surely saves time and is a God-send to most legal secretaries and paralegals.
Another key benefit to these programs is that they allow for collaboration among team members within the law firm, and even, as previously mentioned, the clients themselves. The administrator of the program can set permissions and grant access to certain data in the case file so that other attorneys or staff in the firm can work on the file at the same time and 24/7. The cloud-based nature of the program will also usually permit significant data storage for the client case files so that pleadings, discovery requests and responses, medical records, claims materials, depositions and the like, can be stored and accessed by all at any time of the day or night and anywhere that there is an internet connection. More so, almost all of these case management programs have mobile apps, compatible with Android or Apple IOS, so that the case information is even more acutely available.
Finally, probably the biggest benefit to implementing one of these programs to law firms is cost. Law firms need not invest their capital in locally-installed programs that require updating on an annual or more frequent basis. Usually, the programs charge a scaled, monthly charge, depending on the number of users, and the law firm obtains the benefit of any updates that the vendor may implement on an ongoing basis. Many developers have acquired a real knack for the needs of their end-users, so that if a lawyer floats a certain idea for improvement of the program, that novel change can be implemented almost immediately, and at no cost to the end-user law firm.
As Stephen Babcock noted, “a law firm that is not using case management programs is at an extreme disadvantage to those that do, and we could not do without it.” Importantly though, these law firm focused applications don’t tell the whole story. While the case management programs for lawyers are somewhat similar in what they bring to the table, the same cannot be said for the claims adjuster’s side.
With increasing frequency, clients now utilize case management tools that allow for the efficient management of claims and litigated matters among all of their outside counsel and claims professionals. These systems permit clients to standardize the format of much of the work that is done for them, and to provide a central repository for all of their electronic “case files.” Again, for the most part, these programs reside on external servers and are managed by outside vendors. Tymterix, T Lex, TVC, and Lawtrac are just a few of the systems that insurance companies and Fortune 500 companies use to manage their massive number of national claims and litigated matters.
While some of these programs do allow for “matter management,” (most insurance companies prefer to call cases “matters” rather than “cases”) some are also billing platforms, repositories for intellectual property, and communication vehicles. These features can be very useful as long as the complexity does not overwhelm the system. To be effective, matter management programs should be easy to use and allow for rapid collaboration by all of the parties to a claim or litigated case.
In addition, the cloud-based nature of these programs allows for frequent updates, and customization to the specific needs of the client. “Each client has unique needs for data gathering, communication, case-management and reporting. A good case management system will be modified to fit the way the client already works, rather than asking the adapt to the way the software is written” says Lee Glickenhaus, President of T Lex, a provider of web-based case management tools. Glickenhaus was a lawyer in a prestigious firm in Boston and formed T Lex due to his perception, over twenty years ago, that corporate matter management was a dire need. T Lex’s programs are utilized by major companies like Sears and Kmart.
One of the especially interesting features of two of the programs, T Lex and TVC, is that the program generates an email to all of the stakeholders in the case when there is a case update to the file. This is a tremendous benefit in that it does not require either the claims professional or the handling attorney to log on to the program to see what, if any, updates have been made to the case file. “Lawyers are busy so it’s helpful to bring relevant information to them instead of forcing them to seek it out,” says Glickenhaus. Providing real-time updates on files to both attorneys and claims professionals provides for more efficient case handling than any old fashioned approach could provide.
One thing seems clear – in this Internet age it’s a question of when, rather than if, every lawyer will find him or herself using a cloud-based case management program. The number of insurance companies, self-insured entities, and Fortune 500 companies relying on such programs and requiring their law firms to use them is a testament to their mutually beneficial features for 21st Century case management.
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