One of the easiest jokes to make for teenage characters in a sit-com is some variation of “a newspaper, what’s that?!” while the kid whips his fingers across some kind of tablet device. And yet, yesterday’s news are still being printed and distributed for lots of people on paper. In the same way, at one point a couple years ago I was working part-time for a law firm, and part-time for an e-commerce start-up. The law firm I worked with used an old-school project management suite by LexisNexis called Time Matters. It was full of all these boxy form fields and tabs that looked like something from the Windows 3.0 era. Yet it’s still out there being sold, and apparently it costs over 1000 dollars for the program and one year of maintenance!
When I would go to work with the e-commerce startup, I would use a web app called Asana. Instead of imposing a bland interface, Asana lets you create a much more pleasant environment to navigate through. Instead of everything seeming like a bunch of tabbed database records, Asana made work efforts seem like a friendly conversation piece with commenting features and breezy lists everywhere. And there’s a free plan for up to 15 people. It’s hard to believe that these are both team management apps, in the same way that it’s hard to believe that news still comes both from newspapers and iPad apps.
Now certainly there are many data types that are particular to legal case files which aren’t included in default templates in a web app like Asana. Is that customization for the legal field really worth 1000 dollars versus paying nothing? Especially if you’re a small firm that doesn’t need to fill out a dozen separate fields of information for each task, or works mostly on a flat-fee basis so that extreme documentation of all your work isn’t necessary, it makes more sense to look at the options the start-ups are producing.
The middle ground, as I’ll mention in the below interview, are web apps like goclio.com and mycase.com, which carry costs that are typically 30-100 dollars per user per month. These web apps are oriented for small law firms. However, there are also an abundance of other web apps like Asana that are generally free for small teams. They concentrate heavily on making communication between workers a priority, and there are lot of them that you can try out.
Edit: The site discussed below, yunite.co, no longer exists, but I thought I’d leave the text for insights on this software category.
I found one in development called yunite.co (screenshot below) particularly intriguing because it is also focusing on integrating communications with people and organizations outside your office. As you can see in the interview below with it’s CEO Bryn Jones, start-ups in the team management sector look to be way beyond clunky virtual file cabinets.
Frank: It looks like you’re just launching yunite.co. The home page describes it as an app to manage workers, tasks, and events. Looking at all the similar competition, what do you think will put you ahead of the pack?
Bryn (yunite.co): People aren’t searching for another web tool; they’re looking for a way to manage all of their commitments with one tool. Yunite consolidates your life; it lets you manage your teams, professional associations, and contacts from one platform with task management, contact management, and scheduling and communication tools.
Frank: As this site is geared to weaning attorneys over to start-up tools, let me bring up a few of their needs. Attorneys, especially old-school ones, like portability of information, or easy conversion, in that they like software that allows them to print out or make pdf’s of information they have stored in an app, or ways to easily send data in an app to other people that don’t have access to the app. How would you address the concern that with a new start-up’s app, information might be locked or trapped in the app’s particular interface or platform?
Bryn: The reason project management tools have not replaced e-mail is because most of these tools restrict communication to inside teams. Yunite provides organizational tools for teams looking to improve communication internally and externally. Our contact management system allows you to share information stored on our platform with external contacts and ad hoc teams via e-mail, or with other Yunite groups.
Frank: I come across many attorneys that still have aol and hotmail addresses for their e-mail, or try to manage projects through a long excel spreadsheet from a very old version of Office. They’re not the typical early adopters of technology, so even if there is an enterprise option for your app with advanced customer service, how could you quickly convince a law firm that integration and usage of your app will be an easy transition and easy to learn?
Bryn: People are busy, so we’ve made integration is easy. Users can automatically import all of your excel files and contact information onto our platform using .CSV files.
Frank: A selling point to lawyers might be that there are different levels of access, so that clients could have limited accounts to see certain information about the law firm or their own case. This would give the app more of the features of a virtual law firm platform, where clients can see their own files and so on. Would the user management features of your app be able to accommodate allowing limited access for clients?
Bryn: The ‘virtual office’ is exactly what we’re aiming to building! Exactly as you said, we understand that you may need to work with a client or even an external ad hoc team, so group administrators have the ability to assign and control permission settings within their group.
Frank: On a lighter note, the law firm’s staff that would have to look at this software all day might want ways to make it look nicer. How can you customize the look and feel of the app? Any plans to integrate social media like a feed of the firm’s Facebook posts, or communication widgets like chat?
Bryn: Our newsfeed works like an internal social network, so it allows staff to stay up to date on what’s happening inside their group. Users can communicate with a team or an individual about projects and deadlines. For users that depend on e-mails, reminders can be sent via e-mail and users can respond to discussions or tasks directly from their inbox.
Frank: It seems that very few team management tools meant for start-ups are marketed to lawyers, even though most of these tools are relatively inexpensive and usually offer a great deal of functionality. There are some solutions for law firms, like goclio.com or mycase.com, but there certainly seems to room for a budget alternative, like a Google Apps for Lawyers. As the mantra of startups is to find a “pain point” or a “problem to solve”, why do think this problem is only attracting limited attempts at solutions?
Bryn: This is a great question. There are actually a lot of solutions that solve specific solutions for different verticals and the reason you haven’t heard of them is purely economic.
For the last few years it’s been more profitable for software companies to sell ‘customized solutions’ to large enterprise. I use the term ‘customized solutions,’ lightly because software companies have been repackaging old solutions, calling it custom, and charging enterprise customers a premium. The result is that a lot of organizations use ‘legacy software,’ which over the next 10 years will become very expensive to maintain.
So to answer your question, I believe you’ll begin seeing more specialized solutions when enterprise consumers realize that the opportunity-cost to adopt new cloud software is less than the cost of maintaining expensive legacy software.
Frank: Finally, do you have any general online marketing tips or content creation tools you particular recommend as you made and promote your app? What types of groups or organizations are you focusing your marketing efforts on and why?
Bryn: Our team is big on track tools – it’s our belief that if you can’t measure it’s not real. The three tools we use are: Buffer, a social media publishing tool; Reeder, a RSS newsfeed that help consume content; and Hubspot a platform that helps track and analyze web traffic.
We focus our marketing efforts on professional associations; companies that have strong commitments to their communities, and other active social groups. These types of organizations work in clusters and require a platform that allows them to work together. Additionally, this helps us grow because in an effort to consolidate their team management tools users invite the other groups that they contribute towards onto our platform – thereby creating a network.
Frank: Looking forward to your launch. Thanks for your time!