In this day and age fully functional case management systems are a critical tool to have in the field of indigent defense.  The strain of huge caseloads compounded with busy schedules and ever increasing electronic discovery, public defenders need all the help they can get.  But how does your organization choose a case management system? What functions do you need, what would you like to have?  Do you buy one off the shelf and learn to live within its capabilities or do you hire someone to create your own and hope that person never leaves your organization?  

I spent 2 years researching case management systems with the help of our firm’s IT specialist.  We were looking for a system that would do what I would like it to do from a user perspective but that could be managed within our budget and IT resources.  The IT Committee has put together a comparison guide of five of the case management systems used in Public Defense around the country. Each participant was asked to grade their system on a stoplight color system and provide comments regarding their system from a list of commonly asked for features. This data was gathered and put into a streamlined, easy to read document as a side by side comparison of all five systems.  We covered information such as;

  • Web  vs Server based
  • Pricing Structure
  • Document management
  • Customization
  • Timekeeping
  • And much more

Comments for all areas provided by the subject matter experts in each organization will help you to determine if a system might be right for you. Or maybe you will see a system that you had not heard of before and want to ask more about that. Maybe it will eliminate a system because it does not have the one thing you really want. In any circumstance our hope is that this document will help you by saving you time and helping you to find the best Case Management System that works for your organization and therefore helps your staff continue to do the hard work they do but at the same time maybe make it a little easier.  NAPD contact information is provided for each system included in this comparison and our hope is that you will reach out to your fellow members with any questions you may have.

Who should be involved in this process of selection? My experience has found that the best balance is to have someone within your organization with strong IT knowledge as well as a person from the user and business process perspective. By including both of these roles during the research and selection you will have a broader base of knowledge if a system will work for you. I would caution against having a large group during this time as sometimes too many opinions are not always helpful.  Have your research group talk to other PD offices that are similar in structure to yours and see what they like and especially do not like about their product.  Schedule demos with the sales department and always ask for references to call from each company you are working with. When asking for a reference make sure to get both an IT reference and a high level user so that you can get both perspectives.  Sometimes what seems like a great idea from a business process side will not work within your IT department and vice versa.

  • During the reference checks ask not only how the system works for them but how the migration and data conversion experience was.
  • Ask the user how the company’s tech support was.
  • Were there any surprise costs that were incurred?
  • Does the company offer training and if so at what cost?
  • Be sure to ask about custom reports or changes to a system; can they be done by user or does the vendor have to make them and is there an additional charge for that? 
  • Ask about hardware costs that had to be incurred; are new servers needed, will staff need updated computers, etc.

Don’t be in too big of a hurry to get a system in place. This is something that your organization will have to live with for a while and you want to be sure it is the right one for you. Take the time to look at all of your options and spend the time to do the research. And pick the system that is right for you.

You can view the IT Committe's CMS 2015 Comparison Document at: