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Any Comments on ActionStep? (Time Matters Refugee)

I'm looking to switch to a cloud-based practice management system for a two-attorney general practice firm. I'm coming from about ten years on Time Matters, which I'm not unsatisfied with, but I am trying not to be chained to my desk anymore to get work done. I looked into Clio, RocketMatters, MyCase, Houdini Cosmolex and a few others, including AmicusOnline. I thought that I was going to settle on AmicusOnline because it seemed to have the most solid integration with Outlook, but the dated interface and limited modern features like text message reminders and a global activity monitor to track who is doing what. Also, I am a little concerned about what will become of it since Abacus bought out Gavel and Gown.

I've been looking at another product called ActionStep which seems to be somewhat "Times Matters like" in is configurability, and it seems to play nice with Outlook. I guess what I really want is something like a cloud version of Time Matters with some modern features bolted on. I gather that Time Matters is a love it or hate it proposition perhaps because it is more than a notion to get started with it. But once you figure it out it makes sense. Anyway, ActionStep seems less than well known, and it is rather more expensive than some of the other players in this space, so that concerns me, since I will likely spend many thousands of hours with whatever we go with. Any comments regarding ActionStep appreciated.


  • I took a brief look at Actionstep. It looks pretty cool but remember it was quite complex and needed a consultant. It also did not have a good mobile app as I recall, which is a dealbreaker for me. The price is not that high anymore as the prices of the competitors seem to be creeping up. I'm using PracticePanther which plays pretty nicely with outlook and has good feature set and a very nice daily digest email every morning that lists all your tasks and events.

    You may want to check out smokeball. It has the best outlook (and word) integration going, but it doesn't yet have time and billing (although the company has been stating for awhile that it's in the works). Also check out Zolasuite.

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    As part of your decision-making process, I think it is really important to question whether or not you really need Microsoft Outlook. More and more businesses and law firms are leaving it behind when they move to the cloud.

  • Thanks for your reply. I looked at PracticePanther and actually used it for awhile. The deal breaker for me was the quirky Outlook integration. It will create subdirectories in your Outlook folder structure and if you drop emails into the folder, eventually it will sync up and appear in PracticePanther, but it takes up to 24 hours to do so, so it didn't work for me if I wanted to deal with an email immediately. Alternatively, you can forward an incoming email to the system, but that didn't work either because then a lot of the emails appeared to be coming from me at random times and you had to drill down a little to figure out who really sent the email and when.

    However, a lot of people don't seem to run their email through their practice management system, so if that is the case, my "deal breakers" would be of no consequence. I did like the daily digest feature, although I was getting it in the form of a text message.

    ActionStep has a mobile app that seems to work ok as a subset of the full program. PracticePanther's mobile app I found to be a bit slow, although the mobile time billing bit of it worked well. Both ActionStep and Practice Panther will not automagically sync contacts with Outlook, although you can do it manually. I don't know about PracticePanther, but ActionStep will allow you to export contact created after x date, so you could add new contacts that way to Outlook periodically.

    I agree that ActionStep appears to require a bit of customization which may hinder some.
    If all this sounds like I'm trying to convince myself about ActionStep, I apologize. I'm trying to avoid spending a lot of time with it if there is some reason I haven't sussed out yet that would make it unsuitable for my particular practice.

  • samglover:

    you raise an interesting point. Everyone in the office has a Office365 subscription and therefore each person's email is using "MS Hosted Exchange" or whatever MS calls it now for calendaring and email across Windows 10, iOS, Android phones, tablets and Chromebooks.

    In this office, since it is only two attorneys, we have a common calendar with common contacts, unlike maybe a larger office where the Litigation Department may not care what's on the calendar of the Wills, Trusts and Estates department. Somewhere along the way in my test driving, and I'm not quite sure how it happened so I need to investigate this further, I ended up creating complications (read: duplicates) with multiple users with different Outlook accounts trying to sync up a common calendar and a common set of contacts. PracticePanter and ActionStep will sync to an Outlook Calendar, but not contacts, so any contacts, at least in those two platforms, will live in that sandbox only.

    If not Outlook, then what? And why? I've been using some form of Outlook for what: 15, 20 years? Am I a dinosaur in the age of the Cloud?

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    Not a dinosaur, exactly, but Outlook is heading that way. If it were me I would use G Suite (f/k/a Google Apps), because I prefer the web apps. But Outlook Online is pretty great, too, and I'd rather use it in the browser.

    But the bigger question is whether you really need to have all your emails attached to your practice management software, or just some of them.

  • nbklawnbklaw US
    edited October 2016

    As far as the emails go, my inclination (I suppose partially due to my law-practice induced OCD*) is to attach every case-related email to a matter primarily because for our particular office, both of us work on all the files, so anything case-related coming in on an email really needs to be attached so we can both be up to date on each matter. I would agree that if you work solo that really wouldn't be an issue, and saving emails in a Google Mail folder system would probably work just fine. I suppose you could have some sort of google mail folder sharing system as well for multiple co-workers.

    As for Web Apps, I appreciate you mentioning that because it reminds me to take a step back and take a fresh look at what I'm doing and why to avoid the dreaded "we have always done it that way" problem. Office365 gives you five instances of each application, so you can have the latest version of Word on your desktop machine, your laptop, your desktop at home, etc. That makes me less interested in web versions of those apps. I've used the web versions of the Microsoft apps, as well as the Google versions, and I've found them to be something like subsets of the full version of Word installed on a desktop. I will say that was a little while back, and I assume that will change over time.

    [* We have a little sign above the kitchen sink in the office: "If it's not in writing, it didn't happen"]

  • I am currently using Actionstep, and am really enjoying it. I have used it since August, and don't have any complaints at the moment.

    Customization - what is a negative for some I suppose is a plus for me. The workflows are customized according to your particular practice area. I focus primarily in two related, but different areas of law (auto fraud and lemon law). Each has its own requirements, procedures, document requirements, etc. With the workflows you can break down each type of claim into sections (for example, pre-litigation, litigation, discovery, pre-trial, trial, etc). Within each 'step' you have certain tasks that can be customized according to your needs. Each task has to be completed before moving to the next step. Yes it is a bit complicated at first but they have a great series of tutorial videos and a guide that answers pretty much any question. For the questions that aren't answered, they have a customer support number that is pretty helpful.

    Cost - a bit on the high side ($60.00/user, regardless of type (paralegal and attorney cost the same). However, for what you get, I am telling myself now it is worth it.

    Knowledge Base/Wiki - this is huge in my opinion. Each step or task you make can have a corresponding 'wiki' entry that can help a new user. This is big for bringing new staff up to speed. The knowledge base is similar to the wiki, except for it is in one place on the program, and is basically a repository for all firm information, research, procedures, etc. This is accessible firmwide, or limited to certain users, as the case may be.

    Doc assembly - this is where the program shines in my opinion. My problem with clio was the delay between clicking 'generate' and the actual doc being formed. Sometimes it could be a long time (in relative terms of course). AS's assembly is pretty quick, requiring you to wait, at most, three seconds or so. The assembly is also very customizable, giving you the ability to create gender based if/then documents, so the doc can create the right pronouns each time. Same with number of parties ("plaintiff has" becomes "plaintiffs have", etc). The assembly can upload and be divided according to practice area, or used across each area.

    I am slowly building my doc template library, but i have a few that creates, for example, a letter to the clerk, a pleading, notice of hearing, certificate of service, and letter to opposing counsel, all with the click of a button. The setup time is arduous at times but the end result is well worth it.

    Client portal - much better than clio. The only one that is saw that was better was mycase. Allows a two way message feature that is easy to follow. You can set up folders in the documents section that clearly designate which folder is for the client to download documents, and which one houses the uploads. Each folder has drag/drop capability.

    Integrations - integrates well with gmail, which is what i use. no experience with outlook.

    Back Office - it has its own back office program, so no need to integrate with quickbooks. Admittedly, i have not used this feature, as i still use quickbooks, and the cost-benefit of switching at this point isn't worth it. From what i have seen it is pretty decent, with a full chart of accounts, billing, trust accounting, check printing, etc. I was contemplating trying to start from scratch at the beginning of the year. I have a few days to decide i guess.

    Billing - timekeeping is fairly low maintenance. my biggest peeve with cloud services is 'clicks' needed to accomplish a goal. Clio, in my opinion, is the biggest offender, followed by Mycase. Practice Panther wasn't too bad, but it has a lot of limitations that I couldn't deal with, especially when i saw AS in action. Each time entry takes at most about 8-9 clicks (from, for example, a logged phone call). Clio/mycase could require as many as 15-20.

    Contact management - customizable; easy to follow - doesn't take long to enter a given contact. One neat feature is the 'relationships' that allow you to link different contacts. So a lawyer with firm X would show "Lawyer is an employee of Firm X". Firm X would show "Firm X is the employer of Lawyer". You can do this with virtually any contact. husband/wife, brother sister, clerk of court to courthouse, etc.

    There is other stuff I am probably leaving out, but i am a big fan at the moment.

    The only thing that i think would be better is if it could come out with more prefigured workflows to minimize the work time to get the program up and running. it has a few that you can purchase or download for free, but a wider selection would be nice (or the ability for users to share workflows - ie. i could share my workflow with another lemon law attorney and vice versa if i saw something that i liked).

    I would also like to hear anyone else's views on the program.

  • I've been using Actionstep for about two years and tried out MyCase and Clio before deciding on Actionstep. There is no question that Actionstep - because of the degree of customization possible - is more difficult to use out of the box than other CM software. This is not a negative, if your goal is to develop a highly automated workflow to coordinate multiple team members.

    The killer feature of Actionstep is the workflow feature. It allows you to build an enterprise level workflow that provides a high level of automation, project management and controls currently not possible with the workflow features of Clio, MyCase and Smokeball.

    As mentioned in one of the other comments, Actionstep allows you to pairs the workflow steps with a Wiki, so you give your employee easy access to the process, procedures, videos, checklists and other resources that are pertinent to that step of the workflow.

    Actionstep uses custom "roles" to allow you to assign contacts to those roles. This is once of the secrets that allows a high level of automation in the workflows.

    Each matter type you create can have its custom steps, wiki, etc.

    If you don't plan on having a high volume of cases and don't need to coordinate multiple team members, then the other solutions may be a better choice than Actionstep.

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin
    edited December 2016

    The wiki sounds very cool. I'm big on procedures manuals, and it would be extra nice to be able to have that information right where it will be most useful.

  • @samglover said:
    The wiki sounds very cool. I'm big on procedures manuals, and it would be extra nice to be able to have that information right where it will be most useful.

    I agree with this. The wiki/knowledge base has a lot of potential that is really up to the imagination of the user. As David said, videos, articles (written by you or linked to a pdf document), pictures, etc. can all be added.

    You can make the wiki available for each step that you develop for your workflow so the user only sees it (unless otherwise actively searching for it), when that step comes up.

    Another cool feature is that you can also link document assembly to those same steps. So, for example, you need to file a dismissal at the settlement of a case. One task that I have made is "file dismissal" when i reach the 'settlement' step. One clickable link for the task actually creates the dismissal form from the template so it literally takes seconds to see the task, click the link, and have a full document ready for printing without ever leaving the tasks page.

    Emails are also directly linked to the program, so you can send and receive emails from AS, and each is routed to the correct matter. From the email page there are email templates that you can create and select if needed. This is head and shoulders above the capability of the other competitors.

    I have used every one of them (clio, mycase, rocketmatter, and practicepanther). As a solo with only part time support staff, the automation capability of AS is second to none. It takes a long time and lot of patience to create the templates, craft the steps and tasks, and tweak everything as you go along, but the end result is worth it.

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