Unfortunately, law office software is too big a topic to cover comprehensively in a short article. That written, I will do my best to give you some key tools for making good decisions about software for your practice. I have been practicing law for (gulp!) nearly thirty years, most of it spent as a solo or in a small firm (5 or fewer attorneys). I have tried many products and continue to search for something newer and better. We have come a long way from those early word processors and DOS commands. The main thing I have learned over the years is that no software is ever going to do everything the way you want or think it should. All software comes with strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, lawyers must decide what works best for their practices.
The obvious starting point is to define what lawyers and law firms want from their software. What I am always looking for is ease of installation, use and reliability. The three categories of software I will focus on can be classified as billing software, case/practice management software and accounting software. The latest trends have been toward integration and cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) models.
I often find myself teaming up with other solos in litigation. My biggest pet peeve with billing software is the limitation on users/licenses. If Ted is helping me with a case and I need the client to see Ted’s time, do I really need to pay for a user license if Ted never uses that software? Unfortunately most time/billing software suffers from this limitation. Easy Time Bill is the one product that does not restrict the number of timekeepers. It is affordable and very easy to use. While billing is its focus, it does offer practice management features, including calendaring, task assignment and conflicts check. Other billing software includes TimeSlips, Tabs3 and Time Matters (Lexis), but these products will limit how you identify people working on a case. Most of these products allow you to enter time manually or to run a timer to track your time.
Another now common feature allows for electronic delivery to the client, which can save staff time, money and may even promote faster payments from our grateful clients.
There are also a number of cloud-based billing software options. Bill4Less is one billing-only cloud-based solution, but there are others. In addition, there are out-sourcing service solutions to have a third party prepare and transmit bills.
Billing is great, but as lawyers we need more than just billing software. We need to track contacts, cases, calendars and tasks. Many products integrate all of these features with time and billing software.
The major products in this category are Lexis’ Practice Advantage, Abacus and Amicus Attorney. Lexis even enables a direct tie-in to its legal research software (for a price!). I have used both Practice Advantage and Abacus in the past. Both are easy to use and like most software have the potential to do more than we as mere lawyers can learn or integrate into our daily practice.
The question I am often left pondering is, am I paying for more than I can use? When I look at my overhead can I honestly say that this program or that is really money well spent? Be wary of any product or bundle that includes long-term contracts.
Most of these products offer online demonstrations that will give you a chance to see how a product will work in your environment.
A relatively new type of product for attorneys to consider is SaaS (software as a service). The big 3 in this group seem to be Rocket Matters, Clio and MyCase. What makes these products unique is that they are cloud-based and can be accessed from any computer, anywhere you have internet service, even from a tablet or smart phone. Each of these charge a monthly fee per user and the fees vary from Rocket Matter at
the top down to MyCase as the least expensive. I have also been assured that I can have “inactive” users that
I will not be charged for if I want to show other attorneys on an invoice. Like all software products, they each have their strengths. Rocket Matter has taken a lead on document assembly whereas MyCase seems to be geared more toward client communication (enter an event and by clicking a box the client is automatically notified; click another box and they are notified that their attendance is required.). These cloud-based products also offer lawyers the holy grail of a paperless office. Documents can be uploaded and then accessed or shared with clients automatically. If one of these services sounds like it may be a good fit, many of the SaaS products offer a 30 day free trial.
Unfortunately there are too many products out there and not enough space here to discuss them all. Another hybrid product is Credenza which functions as an overlay on top of Outlook and provides billing and case management functions. One neat feature is the ability to link contacts with your e-mails. Credenza will prompt you to bill if you send an email to a client contact that you have forgotten to bill. It also is a monthly fee-based service.
A law office is a business. That’s just a fact of life. If you are going to run any business, then you must be able to track your finances. I can remember meeting with a client whose business was struggling (Ok, failing) and the client, while professing to be business savvy, knew nothing about QuickBooks. That explained everything.
While there are other products, QuickBooks dominates the field and is likely to be the product your CPA can most easily access for preparing your taxes. QuickBooks will run a variety of reports that will tell you instantly where you stand and how you compare to last year.
What QuickBooks does not do well is offer detailed time billing for invoicing clients. So you need both QuickBooks and a billing software program. QuickBooks also links with your bank account to easily reconcile your bank accounts.
Assessing the pros and cons of the myriad law office software available out there is like taking a trip down a rabbit hole. There are a multitude of products from which to choose. The process of sifting
through them is daunting, overwhelming and sometimes even exhilarating. It is hard not to be seduced by features that seem great, but which you may ultimately never use. The key is to look around at the options and at the same time look at your practice and your overhead to determine what products are the best fit for your office.
Aaron Feldman is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and Southwestern University law school. He has been practicing law in the Bay Area for 25 years, primarily as a solo. His practice emphasizes Special Needs Planning and Probate/Trust matters. His office is in Lafayette, CA.
Filed Under: Spotlight