Does “Most Popular” Mean “Best?”: Taking a Closer Look at Clio

By Lisa


Category: Productivity

For most lawyers, choosing a new case management software is a catch-22.

On the one hand, picking the right program should (in theory) make your life easier.

On the other, the process of picking isn’t easy at all… rather, it’s tedious, boring, frustrating, and a huge time sucker.

Earlier this year, we presented our Top 10 picks from the best legal management software options for 2017.

Today, we’re homing in on one case management system in particular: Clio.

Why Clio? Well, it was our #1 pick this year, for starters. It’s also most lawyers’ top pick. Clio is the most widely purchased and utilized case software for attorneys in the United States, and that fact alone makes it the default choice for firms considering a switch from their current/aging systems (which might be anything from a pre-cloud CD-ROM system or a cheaper Clio knock-off to a physical filing cabinet).

Still, even if Clio is the best and most popular program, it isn’t perfect, and it probably isn’t right for every firm.

As a general matter, we think the best process for choosing a new legal management software looks like this:

  • Before you read any of the Clio reviews out there, grab a pad of paper and jot down a simple list of the case management features you absolutely have to have.
  • Now, drop down a line and list the features you’d like to have. This gives you two lists of assets. Focus on those features alone and don’t get distracted by bells & whistles you’ll never use.
  • Look at your budget and arrive at a general ballpark figure for how much money you can spend on the software. Remember: this is one of the most important expenditures your firm will make. But it can’t overshadow the others (things like office space, payroll, marketing, malpractice insurance, employee benefits, and your legal research expenses).

With that process in mind, let’s look more closely at Clio and see how well it fits your firm’s needs.

(And just to dispel any suspicions: while we are generally fans of Clio as a practical, all-purpose, universal case management solution, we don’t get any kickbacks for recommending them, and we aren’t on their payroll or otherwise in cahoots. We just work with a lot of lawyers, and they ask us this question all the time, so we’re sharing our insight from the industry.)

Clio: A General Overview

Clio launched in 2008, when cloud computing was really only starting to catch on in the mainstream as a viable software alternative for companies of every size (even small business). It didn’t take long for the company to claim dominance in the field.

Consider this: a student who entered law school in 2008 was very likely using Clio at his or her first job upon graduation 2012 — and maybe even in their summer internships prior to that. And its prevalence has only multiplied in the years since.

The fact that Clio comes from Canada didn’t stop it from sweeping firms in America, whose version of the program is primed and ready for the procedural idiosyncrasies of U.S. law. In fact, Clio’s customer base now includes more than 90 countries, making it an ideal choice for firms with an international purview, as well.

The program aims for “comprehensive” case management, meaning it’s much more than just a cloud-based storage center for client contact information and document scans.

In its own verbiage, Clio is designed to “ease the processes of time tracking, billing, administration, and collaboration for law firms of all sizes.” That’s a lot of processes! Truth be told, it probably handles some of those processes better than others (we’ll get to that in a minute), but the sheer number of services rolled into one is enough to make it a power player in the industry.

Indeed, “power player” seems to be exactly the status Clio clamors for. With an annual industry conference built around slick keynote presentations and big product-and-service reveals, it’s clear that Clio sees itself as the Apple of lawyerdom, complete with a fan culture building up around the brand in recent years.

Of course, as with Apple, Clio has no shortage of competitors hot on its heels, and plenty of detractors who prefer them. We still think Clio’s the way to go, though, all things considered. Below, we lay out why.

Top Benefits of Choosing Clio as Your Case Management Software

User-Friendly Functionality

If there is a common theme in Clio reviews online, it’s this: the system is easy to use. That’s important to the legal services market, because in any given firm, the attorneys and paralegals’ tech skills can vary considerably. The company is known for taking user feedback into account each time it releases a new version.

Easy, Installation-Free Migration

One of the big advantages of a cloud-based practice management system is that you never have to install anything. This instantly alleviates concerns about backup and storage space. (That goes for any of the cloud-based programs out there, not just Clio.) It also makes migration simple. In fact, if your office is currently using different case management software, Clio reps can help you migrate from that one to theirs.   

Reusable Task Templates

Do checklists get you through your day? We can relate. Most Type-A personalities can. Clio allows you to create task templates that automatically cross off to-do items for you. For example, you can create a task flow for new and incoming clients that will remind you when to follow up with them and/or file specific documents relating to their court case.

Secure Client Portals

Emailing sensitive documents to clients is both annoying and worrisome, given email’s inherent security vulnerabilities. (It’s all too easy to accidentally email the wrong person, as the bar is constantly reminding you.)

In Clio, you can create secure logins for your clients that allow them to access their sensitive and confidential documents — any document you want them to see (and only those documents).

Online Payments

That same secure client portal also allows them to log in and pay your bills. That’s good for them and you. Many of the law firms we work with find that when their clients can make quick and easy electronic payments, the firm doesn’t have to spend as much time chasing after past-due balances.

Smartphone & Mobile Apps

While most lawyers tell us they still don’t do a lot of high-end casework on their smartphones, there will inevitably be times when you need to quickly log in and check something in a client’s files. A smartphone app makes that incalculably easier.

Clio’s mobile apps are smooth and easy to use, which matters a lot when time counts. (When you’re rushing into court or get a fifteen-minute recess, for instance).

Plugins Are Available

Clio’s case management program is built around API, meaning third parties can develop plugins and other customization tools. There’s even an app directory, so if Clio doesn’t give you what you need, you can browse for an add-on that does. (You can even develop your own integrations if you’re so inclined.) Some of the big names in the software world offer Clio integration, too:

  • Microsoft Outlook and Office365
  • Microsoft OneDrive
  • Gmail
  • QuickBooks
  • Xero
  • Fastcase
  • PayPal
  • LawPay
  • Box and Dropbox
  • Zapier
  • Chrometa
  • Lexicata
  • altLegal
  • Lawdingo
  • Many more

Reliable Customer Support

Clio’s customer support reps consistently get high marks in the reviews. The company’s size helps here. They’re big enough to keep adequate support personnel on hand but not so big that you can’t ever get anyone on the phone.

Frequent Updates

Clio is quick to identify problems and release fixes for any bugs that might arise. They just recently released an all-new version of their legal management software, too. New features include:

  • Single-page design. Everything you need is accessible within the same easy user interface. No constant loading and reloading.
  • Overall facelift, which has fared well in the Clio reviews so far.
  • Improved API design, meaning it’s easier for developers to offer their custom plugins (and it’s easier for you to integrate them).   

Reasonable Pricing

Clio is a mid-priced case management solution that firms of just about any size can find affordable, with options starting at $39 a month (per user, assuming an annual contract). Most firms end up paying around $59 per user per month to meet their needs.

There are less expensive options out there, but time is money, and the difference between Clio and less functional alternatives can come to less than a billable hour each month.

Good for Firms of All Sizes

It isn’t just Clio’s pricing that makes sense for law firms of every size and shape. Its capabilities do, too. Generally speaking, the program can do as much or as little as you want it to.

In other words, if you’re looking for straightforward case management and nothing more, Clio isn’t so cumbersome that it’ll overwhelm you.

But at the same time, if you want a powerful machine to run your practice from the cloud, you won’t find yourself running into a lot of limitations. In that sense, it’s very much a “practice management” system, not just a “case management” one.

Clio Cons: The Biggest Drawbacks of the Top Practice Management Program

Limited Accounting Features

The single biggest complaint registered against Clio is that it lacks comprehensive accounting features. Sure, you’ll find a few basic accounting measures in place, and the company touts those in its marketing. But you can’t use the system as a complete replacement for your current accounting software.

But here’s the thing, programs like QuickBooks do a better job of accounting than any case management software does. And QuickBooks offers Clio integration (as do many other accounting programs). So you don’t have to miss out on anything.

API Security Concerns  

As with any program that allows third-party developers to submit add-on apps and options, there’s always a concern about security vulnerabilities in the API. The best answer for this is to make sure you’re only using plugins from reliable developers you can trust to be secure. (This is no different than any other open-source or API-based web program.)

General Concerns About Cloud Case Management

Even though cloud-based case management has quickly become the norm in contemporary legal practice, there are still those attorneys out there who are uncomfortable with the whole thing.

To cloud or not to cloud? If you’re still stuck on that question, take a look at our answer from a few months. You’ll need to make sure you’re ready to join the clouds before you sign up for Clio.

The One Thing Clio Can’t Do for You

Clio makes a lot of sense as an easy, affordable, and universal client management software solution. But there’s at least thing one thing it won’t do for you: marketing.

Clio won’t:

  • Get you to the first page in Google
  • Write SEO-strategic content for your website and blog
  • Run Pay-Per-Click ads to get you new clients
  • Manage your social media
  • Make your website faster
  • Put out press releases to promote your firm in the community

But at Black Fin, we do all those things. We are a legal marketing agency obsessed with one goal: getting bigger and better cases for lawyers by marketing them on the web.

We know how to do that, and we’ve even done it for ourselves. (Black Fin has commanded some of the top spots on Google for attorney SEO for years.)

Need help growing your firm? Contact Black Fin and learn more about our services today.


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