When we last caught up with Firm Central, a cloud practice management program created by our corporate cousins in Minnesota, we came away impressed with its debut, calling it amazing, especially for those who love WestLaw and Outlook. To put it simply, it was more robust than any other platform we had ever tried, almost to a fault.
The fault was this: a lot of features, some only loosely integrated from other West products, that could be a bit overwhelming without a training session. Fortunately, the fine Firm Central folks helped me with a remote install and training session last time -- and did the same this time, both as a refresher course and to show off the big new feature, Deadline Assistant.
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This is the Big. New. Feature., one that is intended to differentiate Firm Central from all of the competition: rules-based court calendaring.
Let's say you just jumped into a case and filed an answer. Obviously, there are a ton of deadlines you need to worry about: discovery, case management conferences, possible alternative dispute resolution hearings, etc. Instead of looking up every single deadline or relying on your own outdated notes, Firm Central has a built-in deadline calculator, one that is updated by the Firm Central team and notifies you if your local county court tweaks its rules.
Click a rule set, add a reference point (such as the date you filed the answer), and the rest of the dates should fill in automagically... emphasis on should.
When we demoed the pre-release version, certain rule sets (California criminal law, for example), weren't available just yet. Representatives from the Firm Central team assured us that they are working to add more sets to the current list of covered jurisdictions, as well as a compelling (and necessary) feature: the ability to create your own rule sets, just in case.
To put it simply, everything just felt smoother than I remembered from last time. There are a handful of user-interface tweaks -- for example, the ability to move, expand, or remove widgets (such as the calendar, recent forms and research, or the Reuters News box) from one's home screen. Altogether, this time it felt a lot less like a "Version 1.0" then it did last year.
And my pet peeve from last time, the calendar, is set for a necessary update in the near future. As is, Firm Central's calendar uses one-way syncing, so if you enable Outlook integration, you'd better make your changes in Outlook. Two-way sync is on the way, which is a must for anyone who will access Firm Central on a tablet, phone, or friend's computer -- you can edit your calendar both in Outlook and from the Firm Central platform.
Finally, one other feature was added, which brings Firm Central in line with some of its competitors: The team added a client portal where clients can securely exchange documents and send messages back-and-forth. Add in the fact that West has its own data servers, rather than storing user data with Google, Amazon, or Microsoft, and there's a lot of peace of mind for the security-conscious.
Firm Central is like that first-round draft pick with sloppy mechanics -- it has more tools and more potential than anyone else, but it still needs a little bit of work.
And much like first-rounders require large signing bonuses, Firm Central isn't exactly cheap. Sure it integrates with WestlawNext, Form Builder, eBillity, Deadline Assistant, and more, but every single feature adds another monthly fee -- Deadline Assistant alone is $40 per month for the first user and $20 per user after that, on top of the $40 per month per user to use Firm Central itself. Add in a WestlawNext subscription, eBillity subscription, and Form Builder subscription, and those robust features translate into mighty overhead.
It's not cheap. And it's not perfect. But man, does it have potential.
(Disclosure: Firm Central is a Thomson Reuters Product. FindLaw is a Thomson Reuters company. We're related, but not obligated, if you get my drift -- we review everything as objectively as possible.)
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