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The Legal Assistant

By Kim Plonsky

March/April 2008 Table of Contents


With the many fine software solutions on the market today designed and tailored to manage all aspects of the practice of law, another similar product coming down the pike, such as The Legal Assistant, is rarely big news. While those who follow my software reviews know that I am a big fan of practice management software, my experience has been that many busy law firms, particularly the smaller ones, simply can’t bear even a few weeks’ decrease in productivity and profits necessary to implement new practice management software.

It’s more than a little ironic, then, that a small, start-up software company based out of Garfield, N.J., a little more than a year old, would have discovered the precise com­ponent missing from the equation. Originally conceived and designed by New Jersey lawyer Gary Zalarick for his own use when he could not find suitable law practice management software available on the market, TLA benefits from having been designed and perfected by a practicing lawyer, and it works the way that most lawyers do. While the software comes pre-configured for use in New Jersey, with current state-
specific data such as courts, counties and judges, this is more of a boon for New Jersey lawyers than a drawback for lawyers in other states. TLA easily can be customized for use in any state by simply modifying the appropriate database.

By merging its powerful and detailed database — names, addresses of all pertinent parties, deadlines, important or “trigger” dates, and all manner of reminders — with an array of common legal forms included with the program and grouped by practice area, TLA has the amazing capability to automatically generate and transmit the documents necessary to complete many routine but important time-consuming tasks by e-mail or fax. Using TLA to automate follow-up matters, the busy legal professional is able to focus more on substantive matters with the peace of mind that results from structure, organization and routine. Clearly, this translates into reduction of support staff needs, and thus increased productivity and profits.

As does TLA, most practice management programs include standard features such as contact, client, and case management; time-tracking and billing; and document management, docketing, calendaring, and reminders. TLA’s real innovations lie in its component design, featuring practice area-specific modules (the personal injury and real estate modules currently are available, with family law, criminal law, bankruptcy law and immigration law slated for release in 2008). Each module is designed in conjunction with a practicing lawyer in that specialty, and it shows. For example, the personal injury module features databases for doctors, insurance companies and county courts, as well as handy tools for settlement statement generation and trust account reconciliation. The Real Estate module automatically generates completed RESPA/HUD forms and payout ledgers from the databases that include real estate brokers and real estate agents, banks and mortgage brokers, surveyors, title agencies, municipalities, pest inspectors and house in­spectors. An added benefit: once data is entered into any TLA module, it’s available across all other TLA modules.

Once pertinent case data is entered, generating flawless correspondence, including pleadings and documents, for delivery by e-mail, fax or U.S. mail, can be as easy as choosing the recipients and delivery methods from drop-down lists and checkboxes from one simple dialog box. Then, the e-mail or fax is sent, the letter or document printed, and the time is billed to the file at the appropriate rate. TLA is electronically updated to reflect the transactions and the item is marked off of your to-do list. Moreover, because all data is universally available across TLA modules, redundant entry of data is minimized. Source data and information is easy to keep current and accurate so that it’s uniformly applied to quickly and easily compose e-mails, letters and other documents. 

TLA’s “Control Run” feature takes this process to the ultimate level — true automation — by polling the trigger dates in TLA data fields, as well as those manually entered via its powerful tickler center, to instantly generate not only printable reports of upcoming warnings, reminders of letters to be sent, and tasks on a to-do list, but actually and uniquely accomplish those tasks, record their occurrence and bill the client as part of that one simple process. For example, in a personal injury case, the Control Run report might show that a trial date notification letter is due to a client in one case and a settlement conference notification letter is due to another in a different matter. Immediately upon exiting the report, the user has the option to either act upon those reminders by simply choosing recipients and delivery methods for the letters, or disregard them for the time being since they will continue to be reported until completed or removed as a reminder or trigger.

By performing a Control Run every morning, each day can start off productively and on track. Even today many firms still use the cut-and-paste method of recycling and reusing content (including both snippets of text and whole letters and documents), which is error-prone and time-consuming when reviewing for accuracy. This method results in the loss of otherwise productive time by having to verify minutiae such as the spellings of each and every name and address, in each and every document, each and every time. With TLA, proofreading routine correspondence and documents for typos becomes a thing of the past since cut-and-paste errors are completely avoided. The use of names and addresses entered in and generated from the database are consistently applied and are easily kept current and accurate. Since TLA data is available across its various modules, changes are instantly available to all users. Also, many of the dialog boxes and entry screens feature extra large text, which is both easy on the eyes and pleasingly unexpected.

I see great things in store for TLA in the coming year, and it has my enthusiastic support and recommendation. So aptly, albeit ubiquitously, named competitors large and small should take note: TLA has all of the bells and whistles, and it might just be driving the train.



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