What are your experiences with regard to computerising your law firm in general, and more specifically with regard to CICERO LawPack?
Advocate Piet D’HOOGHE established the law firm in 1986, and already in 1988 he started using CICERO LawPack. Ever since, the practice has grown steadily, to become the present co-operation of 6 co-workers, 3 account managers for debt collecting, and 4 administrative employees, all of whom have a Windows desktop with CICERO LawPack.
Within the office, I am the IT manager, responsible for the set-up and maintenance of the network, the servers and the software that runs on them.
Up until some months ago, the program was used in a network that consisted exclusively of Windows computers, running Windows operating systems and applications. For some months now, the network of the office in Brugge also has two Linux computers that are used as servers offering the following services to the 12 other computers in the network: routing, firewall, intrusion detection, web cache (web acceleration), VPN\IPSEC (remote access), network monitoring, DNS, DHCP, time server, Windows file sharing, ftp … The use of Linux will be increased, and we may start using FreeBSD, as well.
In the office in Brugge MS SQL (database server) and MS Exchange (mail server) are still running on a WinNT4-SBS-server, but this will change in the near future. The site in Oostende, for the time being, only uses one Windows server (SBS2000). The whole set-up performs really well and is extremely stable, even though the server-hardware by now is five years old.
Within the law firm, using CICERO LawPack has resulted in standardising the operational processes, as well as the actions taken in each case. The whole process has become more transparent, too. Any co-worker, account manager or administrative employee can at any moment verify what the current state of affairs is in any case. They can check what the next action is that has to be taken, and who will have to take it and when. This does not only apply to the cases: for every co-worker, as well, it is possible to check in the agenda what action will have to be taken, in what case, and at what time. There are almost 1,5 00 templates for correspondence and legal documents, that are available in several languages, and into which case-specific data are automatically merged. Furthermore, all of this also automatically ties into the timesheet management, so administrative interventions are reduced to a minimum.
Experience with new co-workers has taught that it is easy to master the program because it is quite self-evident. New co-workers have always adopted the system remarkably fast, and without any problems. All modules of the software share a common approach, which allows for an intuitive interaction with the program.
The system is very flexible in letting one customise its set-up to the specific needs of one’s practice, but requires a uniform and methodical approach. Once this has been designed and implemented, one can easily reap the rewards.
CICERO LawPack also allows for remote working, which we have first implemented some months ago. Using VPN\IPSEC broadband connections one can access the database in the office from home. In the past, one had to make a local copy of the database on a laptop, if one wanted to work with Cicero LawPack outside of the office. The disadvantage of that approach was that one could not modify any data in the database in the office. But now, with remote working, all of that is possible.
What, in your opinion, are the main assets of CICERO LawPack?
The database is well structured and very stable. It runs on a MS SQL-server, which also has proven its reliability.
Rather than re-inventing functionalities, the programmers have taken the existing functionalities of MS Windows and MS Office/MS Exchange, and integrated them in a reasonable way into CICERO LawPack.
This way, all the functionality that MS offers in its OS and its Office suite, remains available.
Working in several languages with the program is simple once the necessary attention has been given to its multilingual configuration options.
For the users, the program is self-evident because of its common approach throughout the different modules.
The integration of the different modules is exemplary. The program has, e.g., a comprehensive accounting module that seamlessly ties into other modules: booking a payment, e.g, in the accounting module, automatically updates the module for debt collection. If a practice specialises in debt collection, this dramatically simplifies the operational organisation because one does not have to do things twice.
The program is very flexible in the options it offers, and can be tailored to handle practice-specific requirements. The “People and Case Management” modules, e.g., allow one to add extra fields to the database tables that can then be used by the law firm to keep track of any additional information it wants to. There also is a high degree of freedom when one wants to merge data from the databases into the templates for correspondence and for legal documents. It is clear that from its very inception, sufficient attention has been paid to the flexibility and customisability of the program.
The system allows one to implement a security policy on a user level. Not everybody within the law firm needs access to, e.g., all information of a case, or to the accounting modules.
The program offers the possibility to perform queries in which search criteria can be combined that relate to the parties involved, to co-workers, to cases, or even to specific tasks. This way, relevant information can quickly be retrieved, analyses can be made, and lists can be compiled. The latter is particularly useful, e.g., if one wants to automatically generate reports for customers for whom one handles a multitude of cases.
Where there any requirements the program had to meet that were specific to your law firm?
The practice deals with thousands of debt collection cases per year. Obviously the program had to simplify the account management of those cases.
Where did you learn about CICERO LawPack?
I was first introduced to CICERO LawPack at a trade fair in Brussels, somewhere in the ’80s.
What feedback can you give on your co-operation with Informa Europe with regard to the implementation of CICERO LawPack?
The comprehensive help section of the program, in combination with the support from Informa’s helpdesk, allow for the in-house maintenance of the software, as well as the implementation of new or modified functionalities. We do not need the services of any external IT suppliers. Upgrades of the software can easily be installed, as with any other Windows application. Even when additional workstations are added to the network, the system offers the required tools to automate the process.
Within the law firm, any request for support lands on my desk first, before the help desk is contacted. Most questions, however, can be resolved with the help section, which is updated with every upgrade and gives an overview of the added or modified functionalities of the program.
We hardly ever encounter technical problems. In fact, we contact the helpdesk more often for ‘feature requests’ than for actual technical problems. Some of these feature requests are then implemented at a later date, while others aren’t.
Updates to the software can be downloaded from the Internet. Our firm has the habit of readily installing them when they become available. An update in early May 2005 handled the integration of MS Outlook (Agenda, Task management and Messaging) into CICERO LawPack, and was installed without any problems.
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