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Immigration Law Software Pain Points

DankDank NYC
edited August 2016 in Legal Technology

I'm a lawyer in NYC, and I'm starting to work in immigration law. I'm currently trying to figure out what kind of software is best for handling petitions, particularly H-1B, perm and F-1 petitions. I've done demos of INSZoom and ILCSystems but neither seems that great. Does anyone have any experience with the software that's out there? Any thoughts about what's good and bad about the different systems?

Post edited by samglover on

Comments

  • TheoRandTheoRand Burbank, CA

    Hi, Dank:

    I know that there are some excellent pre-built tools out there. However, as I've mentioned here in the past I think it's worth looking at you're building a custom application that suits your needs. Think of putting yourself in the role of a product owner. Someone mentioned Microsoft Dynamics, I advocate for the force.com platform, and Zoho also offers a very configural platform for creating custom fields and workflow that will in my opinion, having done this for 10 years for GCs ( I work in house and have advised internal immigration/HR lawyers on exactly this issue), serve you much better then an off-the-shelf solution. I realize that this may not be the response you're looking for, since you are seeking a brand vendor solution. However, I am zealous in my views that platform applications are the wave of the future. ( and of course kickboxing is the sport of the future!) take it for what it's worth, and I certainly understand that my suggestion doesn't align with the usual paradigms for legal technology.

  • Thanks, that's useful information! You recommend Salesforce and Zoho? I haven't ever checked out Salesforce, but I've used Zoho in a previous job doing project management. It never crossed my mind to use it for legal work.

    Do you think those are good solutions for H-1B's and other immigration work?

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    One of the problems with a custom solution in this case is that, as I understand it, one of the primary values of immigration software is the ability to assemble and file the forms. As with bankruptcy software, you want a system that keeps pace with updates to the law and official forms and filing requirements.

    Building document assembly into a roll-your-own system that updates as regularly as the law, rules, filing requirements, etc., do is a huge job—huger if you don't have your own in-house development team.

    However, if document assembly and e-filing aren't your main concern, there are a ton of options for managing your practice, from legal-specific software to custom solutions. I generally think custom solutions are a bad idea unless you have the time and/or money to maintain a software development project in addition to practicing law. It takes somewhat less time/money if you build on a platform like Salesforce, but you've still got to invest those resources.

  • TheoRandTheoRand Burbank, CA
    edited August 2016

    @Dank I think "It never crossed my mind" is what I hear from attorneys who express surprise at the results of going "bespoke".

    Back to your original question: "...trying to figure out what kind of software is best for handling petitions, particularly H-1B, perm and F-1 petitions. I've done demos of INSZoom and ILCSystems but neither seems that great."

    I'm a technology generalist, so apologies for being a bit broad here. As much as I work on development of very specific legal apps, my mind always looks at processes.

    Your immigration filings, I'm guessing, need to be consistent with something like this checklist. (Very random choice on my part, but for argument's sake). I look at that and all I see is: What can one relate, automate and standardize so that the attorney can scale to volume of work without missing a beat and crack that Corona a bit earlier than s/he did yesterday. That's my metric. And I go: Custom. Custom. Custom.

    Random thoughts (and best of luck!):

    • Zoho, like other platforms, has some out-of-the-box solutions but then they also have Creator: The tagline, "Zoho Creator: Build custom business application in minutes," is truthful and accurate.

    • My preferred platform is SF for a variety of reasons (and I've built exclusively on that platform for legal departments at some of the largest companies in the US and the world) but Zoho is in lockstep and I'm eager to see how Microsoft evolves.

    • As @samglover suggests you ought be aware of your personal main concerns: Assuming the pre-built applications do some heavy lifting you absolutely hate to do, there could be pain there. On the other hand, only you know what your heavy lifting is -- you don't want a vendor to define it for you -- and it's possible (I'd say more likely) to make your pain go away with your own custom app.

    • On updating laws, rules, etc: I have keyword-specific RSS feeds running into my systems from various sources that display inline. Implementing a new rule or reg within a workflow takes minutes. Enough for some; perhaps not enough for you.

    • Regarding the viability and affordability of custom solutions: I aver that the process of going custom has payoffs beyond (and in addition to) cost and utility.

    • Regarding form assembly: Personally, and speaking from experience, I haven't seen my lawyers encounter limitations in generating and assembling forms. I haven't worked on automated filing, but I don't doubt that it's a slam dunk for a platform solution.

    • "Custom" takes into account personal work styles: Some folks think in terms of tasks, others think in more macro terms, still others think only in terms of people interactions. Others think purely in terms of calendars and events. Some lawyers get really annoyed if they have to click more than once to see what they want; others desperately want a ported mobile app that gets handed off everything on their laptop. All of these are addressed with custom.

    • In terms of a development team, I say, respectfully: old school. The legal sector needs more dedicated platform developers because a single dev can design, develop, deploy.

    • MVP: Minimum viable product. When you build your own, you decide the biggest pains you want to address and get rolling as you think about what features you want to add. (It will surprise no one here to know that for many lawyers, the biggest pain in simply digitizing their documents and having a place to put them.) You can then continue to build organically.

    When one leverages technology in a custom manner, it empowers one to think about how one works and prefers to work.

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    @TheoRand: Have you ever used immigration- or bankruptcy-specific software before? It doesn't sound like it.

    Building a system that can handle assembly and e-filing requires coordinating with administrative and bodies and courts. Building the necessary tests (which are always changing) into your system requires sophisticated scraping of rules and statutes, then baking the algorithms into your software.

    Rolling your own just isn't practical here.

  • TheoRandTheoRand Burbank, CA
    edited August 2016

    @samglover I don't have insight into the dissatisfaction @Dank has; he says he's looking for better ways for handling petitions, is dissatisfied with the off-the-shelf solutions he's looked at, and seemed intrigued by my original comment, so I expanded. @Dank -- if I'm off-point, mea culpa.

    Post edited by TheoRand on
  • Chiming in here as a former product manager for bankruptcy and immigration solutions (now practicing in neither bankruptcy or immigration law). @samglover raises valid points.

    Talk to your local AILA chapter members about what they use; you will get an ear-full. Pay attention to the feedback you get from what I will call the more reputable/successful practitioners. Those folks should provide good insight into what works or does not.

    From there narrow your choices down to two or three and set up demos. If a vendor cannot give you an opportunity for a 30 day free trial, don't talk to them any further. You should be able to kick the tires without hooks attached.

    The sales rep will make all sorts of promises about features that will likely not be reality. Take good notes (think of it as a cross-examination or depo). In fact, have a set list of features that you want to know about or expect the software to have. Ask about how the data is stored and whether you can get it from them should you decide to change vendors or even change computers. In other words, ask if you can easily export the data.

    This is kind of a brain-dump, so let me know if you want to talk further about this. I am open to discussing further by phone.

  • JoshuaLenonJoshuaLenon Canada
    edited August 2016

    Dank

    Take a look at PrimaFacie (http://primafacienow.com).

    They're a cloud-based product that takes current USCIS forms and builds a system around collecting and organizing the information needed to complete them quickly. They'll even automate the document creation for you.

    *Disclosure: I found PrimaFacie due to their integration work with Clio, my employer. You do not need Clio to use and get value out of PrimaFacie.

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