A Busy Lawyer’s Guide to Putting Your Practice in the Cloud (…Or Not)

By The Black Fin Team

Posted:

Category: Digital Awesomeness Uncategorized


Lawyers have to do many things they’d rather not. Researching case management software options is up there on that list.

You probably didn’t go to law school because of your love for cloud computing. And you’re probably more interested in getting through your current mountain of case files than you are in deciding how to upload them all online (perhaps for the umpteenth time).

Nevertheless, case management software has emerged as one of the most important parts of modern-day lawyering. We live in a digital world, and that means attorneys have to plug in… and plug in carefully.

Why so carefully? Well, the digital world isn’t foolproof, and mistakes are easy to make.

All the age-old dangers of computing are still here: spilling soda on your desktop, a hard drive that crashes out of nowhere, a laptop that gets swiped from your backseat while you’re shopping in a store, etc.

But there are web-specific client security concerns too: hacking, unauthorized access, viruses, third-party app integration, the weird things that can happen when one of your programs auto-updates to a new version, clumsy fingers from that first-year associate you just hired, and so on.

On top of it all, your state bar has very little tolerance for technical errors. Ethics boards expect attorneys to be experts in seemingly everything, and that includes the very latest in information technology.

So if you choose the wrong case management software and end up losing crucial documents in a case — or, even worse, allow privileged information to fall into the wrong hands — the bar isn’t going to care that back in your day (like, ten years ago) lawyers used these things called filing cabinets.

Many attorneys find themselves trapped between three unfortunate facts:

  • You know you need a new case management program.
  • You don’t have the time, interest, or experience for picking the right program.
  • Your state bar expects you to know as much about software development as you do about stare decisis.

As an old pop song said, “Why do I have to wear so many things on my head?”

Complicating matters: there are so many options out there.

But, hey, this stuff really is important. You care about your clients and their cases, so digital security is serious stuff, however frustrating it might be.

We’re not going to pretend that picking a case management solution for your law firm will be easy, nor will we suggest a one-size-fits-all solution. Different options exist for different reasons, and the right fit depends on how your firm functions.

We can, however, point you in the right direction. In this article, we’re going to weigh the pros and cons of ten top case management software programs. At the very least, you should be able to narrow your search to only a few options by the end — and in a world as convoluted as case management has become, that’s quite a head start.

To Cloud or Not to Cloud?

…That really is the question. Attorney case management programs are generally divided into two categories: those that are cloud-based and those that aren’t. Right up front, you’ll need to decide which one you prefer.

Using cloud-based case management software means your firm’s files won’t be stored locally (though you can certainly download backups). Instead, they are stored on the service provider’s servers.

We talk to a lot of lawyers who are fundamentally uncomfortable with the idea of cloud computing — especially when client security and bar sanctions are both on the line.

That’s entirely understandable. But make sure that your apprehension is rooted in facts rather than emotion. Cloud computing has improved substantially in recent years, and it’s also grown wildly popular — even among lawyers. Current trends indicate that the cloud will become something of a legal practices standard in the future. Resistance might someday be futile.

As far as your ethical duties are concerned, most state bars have given a green light to cloud-based attorney storage and communications. Note, though, that some jurisdictions require a few extra precautions, so we strongly advise giving your bar’s office a call before pulling the trigger.

In many ways, cloud computing might actually be more secure than the alternative. That’s because most top-rated lawyer case management solutions have excellent backup systems in place… probably much more excellent than the USB plug-and-play external hard drive you’d set up for yourself.

Still, no one is telling you that your firm must set up shop on a cloud. If you prefer to do your lawyering at ground level, there are some top-notch options out there for you. We’ll consider both kinds here.

What to Look For

In an article about technology, it might seem redundant to remind you to think about the future. But we’ll say it again. Law practice case management software is a big investment (in terms of time, training, dollars, etc.), so be sure it’s a good fit for the long term.

Here are a few things to look for:

  • Can the program handle a much bigger case load than what your office currently has?
  • Can the program handle a much bigger case load than what your office currently has? Is the interface easy for everyone in your firm to use? (Not just lawyers, but paralegals, receptionists, etc.)
  • Is the interface easy for everyone in your firm to use? (Not just lawyers, but paralegals, receptionists, etc.) Does it offer the security provisions your jurisdiction requires?
  • Does it offer the security provisions your jurisdiction requires? What kind of protection do they offer against major n
  • What kind of protection do they offer against major national/natural disasters?
  • How are its reviews among other attorneys? (An online computing magazine article written by non-lawyers can only tell you so much.)

The Top 10 Law Firm Case Management Software Solutions

For your consideration: ten programs that might meet your law firm’s needs.

10. HoudiniEsq

The name is fun. The software itself, though? Well, fun might not quite be the word. Houdini is a solid option for more computer-savvy attorneys, but its interface isn’t the easiest or loveliest on the market. It also doesn’t offer a mobile app or a free cloud trial. But we like it for solo practitioners because, as long as you aren’t using the cloud version, it’s free. (Firms with multiple attorneys will need to pay higher fees and may want to look elsewhere.)

9. MerusCase

MerusCase might be the perfect attorney file management system. So why’s it only at #9? It was specifically designed for personal injury/worker’s compensation law firms in the state of California. If that’s you, look no further. From interrogatories and subpoenas to medical records and settlement negotiations, MerusCase isn’t just a software program, it’s a best friend. It even integrates directly with many of the official CA court and worker’s comp data systems.

8. Amicus

Think of Amicus as a beginner’s platform. You’ll find more robust features in other options, but it’s an easy way to get started with the basics of client management on day one. Be warned, though: it isn’t especially compatible with Google Docs or Apple iDevices. That can be a big problem for lawyers who do a lot of mobile work.

7. PracticePanther Legal Software

PracticePanther is unique because it offers an unlimited free trial for your first three clients/cases. It also scores well across the board — attorneys have consistently given it a 4-to-5-star score at top user review forums. It’s an easy-entry option that makes sense for firms of any size.

6. CosmoLex

Picking the right case management application can be especially overwhelming for young attorneys, new attorneys, solo practitioners, and smaller boutique firms. CosmoLex scores well among that set. It’s billed as a one-stop-shop… in addition to file management, it also includes powerful calendar, accounting, and email features (including IOLTA accounting, billable hours, and built-in LawPay with no monthly fee).

5. Prevail Case Management System

Prevail earns high marks on many counts, especially experience (the company has more than 24 years in the industry) and short-term ROI. Its interface may not be as slick as some, but it’s consistently reviewed as “easy to use” for every member of the legal office. It also offers QuickBooks integration, unique tools for medical cases, document scanning, settlement calculations, and more.

4. Zola Suite

Here’s a slick interface for you. Zola is pleasant to look at and easy to use. Your staff will have an easy time collaborating thanks to Zola’s streamlined suite of file, storage, accounting, and email capabilities. It’s ideal for small-to-mid-sized firms or solo practitioners.

3. RocketMatter

Strictly cloud-based, RocketMatter is designed with both efficiency and security in mind. It’s popular for its time management tools, which includes a stopwatch for tracking your billable hours, and its integration with virtually any major email, calendar, or accounting software.

2. MyCase

If your firm values an overall-competent system that’s easy to adopt (reasonable prices and a gentle learning curve) and offers a solid mobile application option, MyCase could be for you. We’re not sure many lawyers actually do a lot of case management on a mobile app, but if you travel or spend a lot of time in courtrooms, it’s a real benefit. MyCase gets good reviews from attorneys in just about every area of functionality.

1. Clio

Popularity counts for something, right? You’ve probably heard of Clio, and for good reason. A lot of law firms use it, and they use it because it works. It’s as intuitive to use as any highly capable software program can be. The features are endless. The pricing is flexible. The IT support is widely well reviewed. It also happens to be easy on the eyes, which matters when you’re working long, long hours — and who isn’t these days?

Figuring Out the Internet Isn’t Your Full-Time Job

A lawyer’s job is never done, it seems. Mastering the internet side of things could consume all your time if you let it. So don’t let it.

At Black Fin, we help law firms get big results online — especially when it comes to law firm SEO and getting on the first page in the Google results. We do that for your firm so your lawyers can be lawyers.

The internet is a powerful tool for growth. Just as case management software can revolutionize your in-office efforts, attorney web marketing can revolutionize your bottom line. Contact Black Fin and find out what we can do for you today.

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