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It is as true today as it was in the last century: the most crucial law office computerized functions are word processing, a general-ledger accounting system and software for recording time and expenses. I see word processing as number one, with time collections and general accounting as numbers two and three, in no particular order. For historic reasons, time and billing has mostly been considered a category separate from general accounting, but it is clear that the categories belong together. Popular time and billing programs like Timeslips have long had a method of transferring aggregate information for journal entries into various accounting programs with auxiliary modules like the Timeslips Accounting Link, but real integration is better. The object, as always, is to never being required to enter a piece of information more than once. It has been more than three years since I last reviewed Alumni Group’s PCLaw time-billing-accounting program. Since that time, Version 3 has been succeeded by Version 5, and the five-user junior edition has been eliminated, although PCLawPro now provides additional features for firms with 10 or more individuals recording client time. In addition, the vendor has added Palm OS and Web-based attachments which make it possible to deal with data entry and data analysis wherever you happen to be. INSTALLATION I installed PCLaw on my stand-alone PC from a CD-ROM to more than 120 megabytes for the program, help, tutorial and sample files. After installation I was requested to enter a registration number generated by the vendor’s product-support department over a toll-free telephone line. As part of the installation I set up a three-partner law firm using the modified cash basis accounting system that is typical for most non-corporate law firms. I elected to use the numeric chart of accounts that comes with the program and set up two bank regular bank accounts, a trust account and the standard petty-cash account, entering opening balances as of the selected start date for each account. (Obviously, the beginning of the year is a good time to start the program, although the beginning of the next month can do almost as well. As always, a month or two of operation in parallel with your current system is recommended.) Although I didn’t test it, I am told that the program will automatically convert Timeslips data files. A QuickBooks and QuickBooks Professional conversion utility is in the works; until the utility is issued, the vendor will convert QuickBooks files free of charge. PCLaw may be networked but is initially set for only one user at a time. Permissions for additional concurrent users run from $100 for a second concurrent user to $400 for 10. The program provides a 537-page, extensively indexed manual and excellent general and context-sensitive help. PCLaw comes with three months of free and toll-free telephone support, weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. I had good experience with support personnel. Support past the first three months has an annual costs of $130 for two to five timekeepers and $260 for up to 10 timekeepers. Any maintenance releases of the Version 5 issued during a support period are provided free of charge. PCLawPro has an initial six-month support period — and costs $50 per year per timekeeper thereafter — and includes any updates issued during the support period, even to a hypothetical Version 6. GETTING STARTED I didn’t bring in data from another program for my initial run, so had to enter information manually. Most time and billing systems are organized around clients and then around matters within clients. The matter is key to PCLaw. Each matter must have a unique 12-character identifier, and each client must have a unique six-character identifier. This means that identifiers must be some sort of arbitrary coding, rather than actual names. This isn’t quite the distraction as one might initially assume. Easy-to-use lookup tables pop up whenever you right-click on a blank data entry box that requires standardized data, be it client, matter, lawyer or activity type, and it is possible to customize a list a particular user sees. The screen also has room to note the introducing, responsible and assigned lawyer for the matter, presumably both for responsibility and for draw and salary negotiations at the end of the year. Finally there are fields for default task, default rate and date opened. A client-information area is appended to the bottom of the main matter screen. The first time you enter matter for a new client, you must enter the usual name/address/phone information about the client. (There is no space for business or corporate name, as such, although the last name works.) We concluded that using meaningful alphabetic names as client and matter designators often won’t work very well, and it is probably the better practice to let PCLaw assign such designators automatically. Other tabs in the new-client area permit entry of billing address, fee quotes, frequency of billing, physical location of files, opposing counsel, court and 15 user-defined fields. Each setup screen has a variety of data-entry fields, circles to click to choose options and submenus; it is often not easy to determine how to do exactly what you want to do. For example, I decided to bill a client with three existing matters. I went to the create-prebill screen and couldn’t figure out how to create a single invoices for that client, instead of three invoices, one for each matter. Technical support quickly had the answer, which was to choose the client rather than an option and check a box on a subscreen. Throughout my testing, I found that PCLaw let me change options to do about anything I wished to do; sometimes, however, neither manual nor online help led me to the correct solution, forcing me to rely on helpful telephone support to find the answer. SECURITY PCLaw has a sophisticated security system wherein lawyer or non-lawyer personnel can be given access to only certain matters and clients and only for certain purposes. Personnel can be grouped for such purposes, making it easy, for example, to permit a secretary to recreate a previously issued invoice but not to create a new invoice. ADD-ONS PCLaw provides time and billing, trust accounting, accounts receivable, general ledger, a variety of management reports and check writing, and reimbursements for up to 10 timekeepers; if you purchase PCLaw Pro you will not only be able to support more than 10 timekeepers with unlimited access to the network and all of the PCLaw features, but you also acquire software for bank reconciliation, past-due notices, accounts payable, diary and payroll. Electronic billing, cost recovery (a module that permits easy cost distribution to clients), remote data entry, Palm OS data entry (PCLawTE) and Web-based ePCLaw are extra-cost options under either version. PCLaw also claims to be able to share case-management and time and expense data with Time Matters and Amicus Attorney. SUMMARY PCLaw is a sophisticated, versatile integrated time/billing/accounting program designed for the small law firm. The program clearly should be considered for a firm considering a new system. 1 PCLaw, Version 5.03. Requires: IBM PC or compatible running Microsoft Windows 95/98/2000E or Microsoft Windows NT 4.0. Price: two timekeepers, $179; three to five timekeepers, $295; six to 10 timekeepers, $580. (PC Law Pro. Price: 10 timekeepers, $1795; 50 or more timekeepers, $6595.) Alumni Computer Group 300 Pearl St., Buffalo, N.Y. 14202 Phone: 800-387-9785 or 416-497-8400 Fax: 416-497-7607 Web: www.pclaw.com E-mail: [email protected] Barry D. Bayer practices law and writes about computers from his office in Homewood, Ill. You may send comments or questions to his e-mail address bayerlawtechreview.comor write c/oLaw Office Technology Review , P.O. Box 2577, Homewood, Ill. 60430.

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