Friday, October 12, 2012

Big Law Firms need to use technology to cut costs

I used to work for Thompson Coburn, LLP in Saint Louis Missouri. I had developed a Docket Calendar and integrated it with a Practice Area Information System with several other programmer / analysts. It was a web based Intranet system based on Microsoft Active Server Pages ASP around 1999-2000. The system had cut costs by millions because it also had an IN/Out board for each lawyer, partner, employee and so they can find when they are out of the office on vacation or sick days and reassign cases to other lawyers, partners, employees to avoid missing court dates and not getting work done on time. It was shown at a LawNet conference as commercial quality, and there wasn't anything like it at the time.

It had used Microsoft SQL Server and IIS with Windows NT 4.0 Server and later Windows 2000 Server. But in this day and age many law firms ought to look into free and open source options. The XAMP platform for example, is the Apache, MySQL, and PHP solution that runs on Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and etc. Rather than pay the thousands of dollars for Windows Server with SQL Server and IIS and Microsoft's high priced licensing fees, law firms out to consider a Linux based Server solution with Apache, MySQL, PHP. If I had to do it all over again, I'd do it differently.

Now when I developed software, management was in control with using all Microsoft based technology. I had to use VBScript, ActiveX, and develop for Internet Explorer. This is, of course, a mistake and can lead to higher expenses for more server licenses, and more Windows workstations. The problems we had were that when buying out other firms they used Macs, OS/2, Linux, and other non-Microsoft technology and it cost a lot of money to convert them to Windows and buy more Windows Server licenses. The XAMP technology does not require licenses and if written properly will be able to support the other platforms.

I feel bad that I left the company in 2001, I was doing good but ended up becoming too sick to work from all the stress. They no longer required my services. I eventually ended up on disability in 2003. I had planned on working on a new system called CAMELS (Client And Matter Electronic Litigation System) for legal practice management and prototyped a system in MS-Access and Visual BASIC 6.0 to look up some data. It was primitive and not a complete system, but I ended up being sick again and put it on the shelf. I heard that no system developed would be used by law firms because several commercial systems already existed and nobody would want to use one written by a small business or individual.

I quite wonder if I should start work on a XAMP version of CAMELS, open source it, and see if others want to contribute to it. See if it can be freely used as a way to cut costs by providing a skeleton of a bare minimum system that law firms can modify to their own system and use it as a standard to share data between law firms? If there is a primary system in place, there would be a business for contractors to migrate data from one system to another. I used to do that as well migrate from one database or programming language to another.

The thing is, I don't know if there is a market for it, or if law firms will even consider it an option. I mean you have to cut costs, and when you are a big law firm locked into Microsoft's Server pricing you could end up spending millions of dollars to upgrade everyone to the newest technology be it hardware, software, server, training, and support and debugging costs just to get to the next level, and then repeat that every three years when new technology comes out. Perhaps I seem a bit crazy here, but an open sourced XAMP solution would save those millions every three years and cut it down to thousands. When you are pricing your services down to "Suicide Prices" you have to find more ways to cut costs and expenses. Putting all your eggs into the Microsoft basket will cost you dearly, putting them into other areas might not cost you as much.

Everyone is always looking for the killer app for the open source crowd, I think legal practice management software would be a good killer app. You'll have to excuse XAMP for not having Exchange and Sharepoint technologies, they are proprietary to Microsoft and Microsoft does not share them with others. Consider alternatives to MS-Office like LibreOffice and OpenOffice.Org, they still work with the old MS-Office format with some support for the new MS-Office format. Microsoft is going to try and make people and businesses use a "rental software" of moving MS-Office to Office 365 in the Cloud and paying on a per-year basis. There used to be a time when Wordperfect was the standard with legal documents, and then MS-Office took over. Well LibreOffice and OpenOffice.Org can still use your Word and Excel templates.

It is possible to manage a legal office with Linux based systems but the trick is tying together the systems to integrate them into a more user friendly system. If anyone is interested in doing that and would like to help me start up a legal practice management open source solution on XAMP or Linux please let me know at and what you would like to do. I think we as a community can pull together here to develop something to help cut costs and expenses.


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