Amicus Attorney IV

January 1, 2000

Yet whilst the great majority of readers of this journal may be unable to imagine such a practice, in the real world they are common, perhaps a majority. The question might be whether those firms will have such a system in five years time; but it might equally be whether those firms will be around then at all.

For the traditional practice, there may be some serious obstacles. If you don’t have a screen on every desk, you can’t do it. If your staff – meaning everyone, and not least the partners – won’t do it, you can’t do it. And if you think when you’ve paid out your money you will immediately reap a windfall benefit as soon as the metaphorical box is open, you’ll be disappointed, no-one will use it, and you’ll retreat from the fray with burnt fingers.

And so, once again, to Amicus Attorney. In October 1998 Berwin Bloomer went live with Amicus Attorney III; I wrote an early evaluation for this journal on that variant of the product last year (Feb/March 1999, vol9, issue 6). We are now a 30-person firm, on two sites, with 25 people in Harrogate, and 5 in Ilkley. Then we were a 19-person outfit, split 15/4 – so we have been doing more than just trialling Amicus for the last year. The past year has been a learning process with case management, not only for us, but also for Gavel & Gown, the proprietors of the product, and very recently we installed Amicus Attorney IV. My intention is to chart the learning process with Amicus, describing difficulties we have encountered with the product and our use of it, and then considering how with the new release of the product, the issues have been addressed. At the same time I will sketch some of the features of Amicus.

Amicus Attorney is, globally, a major seller with a claimed userbase of some 120,000 individuals (not firms). It is Canadian in origin, and Gavel & Gown Inc have their head office in Toronto. Its main market is North American, and our use of AAIII suggested that its origin was as a small-practice – perhaps sole practitioner – assistant. Certain of its features betrayed this, but the new product appears to have disposed of that legacy effectively. In the UK the resellers are Gavel & Gown Limited, based in Lincolnshire, and packaged with the accounts system Solace Millennium, appear on the Law Society’s Approved Supplier’s list. We do not use Solace, but Gavel & Gown have created a time-recording link with our system, Cognito, which we are about to implement. Links have also been created or are being created with other packages.

Amicus is considerably cheaper than most other case management products on the market, and typically sells at »399 per user. It is non-modular, and therefore the issue of bolting on and paying for separate elements for different aspects of practice do not arise. It is however up to the user firms to set up its facilities to achieve the desired result, and doing this requires time, planning, and the acquisition of familiarity with the product. Charles Christian has described Amicus as a species of case management ‘lite’, but my feeling is that Amicus has grown up and fairly has an honourable place in the ranks of serious case management. However it does need that investment of resources if it is to do for you what you would expect from case management. This, however, is no different with other competitor products. The recent formation of a user group should be a significant benefit in promoting the most effective usage of Amicus, without which we have sometimes felt ourselves to be reinventing that round thing.

Amicus IV comes in three versions: Organiser, which is still ‘lite’; Advanced, which is for up to 29 users; and Client Server, which we have, and which is for up to 200 users, and capable of WAN installation and remote upgrade. One of our major concerns and disappointments with Amicus IIIï was in its speed in accessing its database. In using the product we needed to draw information, particularly file and client information, into other fields such as phone calls, appointments and tasks. We were frustrated to find ourselves waiting impatiently for a search to be made, and had staff asking to abandon those functions which required this kind of search. We were told that Amicus IV was five times faster – but in fact it is better than that, because the retrieval is now instant. Our other major concern was the shortage of data fields available in two areas – firstly for information about cases and contacts, in areas of the product which we wanted to customise to match different work areas; and then in terms of communication date, such as phone numbers, where we were only provided with room for a limited number of fields for phone and other numbers. We are satisfied that these have been addressed comprehensively, so that we no longer have to come up with creative solutions simply to attribute a mobile phone number to a contact. No doubt we will find other items as our use of the product continues to develop, but we have been impressed to find that customer feedback has evolved Amicus in ways which have met substantive concerns.

For those who have not seen Amicus, I will attempt a walkround of it, but ultimately you need to see it to know if it will suit your practice. A fully functional 30-day demonstration version is available from Gavel & Gown, and as I recall our interest developed from that facility. The product revolves around seven areas, all of which link and share and record data:

The office, which contains a picture of an office – tacky, but you can substitute other pictures or logos, or a different office more to your taste in interior design. Maybe North Americans like this kind of thing. From here through icons you can access the other areas.
Phone calls – record details of all calls made and received, linked to and recorded on files and specific contacts and files, and timed. These make excellent file notes.
Time records, to download to your accounts system, and the charging rates for which can be customised to, for instance, private, legal aid or whatever rates and categories are needed
Contacts, where all clients, solicitors and anyone whose existence you need to recall are recorded – together with all details of the files they appear on and other detail.
>Call centre (new to Amicus IV) which can be used to pass messages and again link to specific contacts and files; if you are using an effective internal e-mail system you may decide not to use this. One of our offices uses Outlook and isn’t using Call Centre, and the other doesn’t, and is.
Calendar – superficially similar to an Outlook-style diary but with appointments and tasks linked to files and in some cases being generated by events emanating from the files. Within this area there is a facility to select others in the practice and check and insert in their diaries.
Files – where, of course, all the file details are held. Different types of files can be configured in different ways in terms of the information displayed, and can be set to generate workflows for different worktypes. These workflows can either simply generate reminders for the diary, or can have specific tasks linked to them such as the generation of particular documents, drawing information from the data fields within the file or the contact details. The workflows and file configurations, as well as the mergeable documents, are amongst the elements that the firm must customise to gain their intended benefit. There are at present no standard modules for this, which can be either a benefit, since all firms have different practices, or a hindrance if time is not found to do the necessary groundwork. The concept of proven best practice is, I expect, an area which the user group will be keen to address.
New to Amicus IV is a report-generating facility which we are yet to explore other than cursorily. First impressions are favourable.

Amicus Attorney is, then, a flexible, effective and good-value product, but one which, in its previous release, had some significant defects which were liable to obstruct full implementation. In Version IV, however, I am pleased to be able to confirm that these concerns have been overcome, and the ‘lite’ sobriquet, in functionality and effectiveness, has been fully ditched. It is now a cornerstone of our practice, and one which we are comfortable in commending.

Paul Berwin is Managing Partner with Berwin Bloomer, 2 North Park Road, Harrogate HG1 5PA and can be contacted on 01423 509000 or