In my last post, I looked to do an in-depth comparison of different law firm practice management software. Today, we’re going for an in-depth review of one of the more popular practice management software applications out there, Clio.
I’ve been meaning to try different law practice management software applications out there. In forums like/r/Lawyers on Reddit I’ve come across practicing attorneys who give glowing recommendations of Clio and other web-based practice management software.
October 2015 Update: Nearly two years since the original post and over one year since the last update, I’ve updated this review to include new developments. Clio now has more features than ever, is extremely user-friendly, and it integrates with most third-party apps you could possibly want.
Cloud-Based Law Practice Management
Here’s where I try to convince you (if you’re not convinced yet), that cloud-based law firm practice management software is the way to go. I am a big proponent of cloud-based software. While I consider myself paranoid about data privacy ever since having taken an information privacy course in law school, I believe that certain web apps have reliable data security and that your information might be more secure with them than having your data stored locally on a machine that may be just as vulnerable to get hacked or corrupted. The difference with information being stored on the cloud is that it will not likely go missing. With cloud-based software, it means you can access it from any computer or mobile device and you’re not just tied to one piece of equipment. I know too many people who have had their laptops either stolen or die on them and lose precious data.
This is probably the item you are most curious about, so we start here.
Clio has three tiers, a Starter, Boutique, and Elite tier. The Starter tier has all of the essential features many law firms need to streamline their practice including keeping track of matters and tasks, calendaring, timekeeping, and invoicing.
Up one level, the Boutique tier is geared towards law firms that want to further automate their practices and integrate with other software that they use every day. This tier allows you to do things like integrate with accounting platforms like Quickbooks and Xero (a must for a lot of law firms), and also add alternative fee arrangements. This tier also includes every feature of the Starter tier.
The step up from this tier is the Elite tier, which gets you priority support, court calendaring rules, and allows you to set matter budgets. And, this tier includes all the features from the other tiers as well.
Initially, I was hesitant about the $59 per month per user price point for the Boutique tier (the tier that most interested me). It seemed that $295 a month for 5 attorneys was a bit much for software, just on principle. But, if your attorneys are worth their salt, hopefully they’re worth this administrative expense.
Update: After comparing Clio with its competitors’ pricing (check out our other reviews) and seeing what Clio can do in terms of saving its users time, especially with the document merging feature, it’s well worth the cost. If I save 1 billable hour of time that would otherwise be spent on tedious invoicing and billing or pulling documents together, I’ve paid for Clio for the month and then some.
The free sign-up is a good draw for Clio. You don’t have to give them a credit card to sign up, which normally turns me away automatically. When I come across those sites that ask for a credit card but still offer a free trial, my thought is, “I am going to forget about this and you are going to charge me in a month and I will not be happy.” But, Clio isn’t even giving me the impression they’re going to charge me until the trial is up and I’ve fallen in love with their service.
So, I’ve signed up.
There used to be a somewhat-annoying required walkthrough when you first log in, but that’s now gone (possibly because we complained about it in our earlier review). Instead, you get the Clio dashboard and a couple of unintrusive pop-ups directing you where to go to set up your profile.
Aside from that, the user interface is pretty intuitive. The main dashboard gives a nice overview of your firm with tasks, your calendar and daily agenda, and your firm’s financial situation.
The first thing I’m going to want to do now is set up my firm name and set my billable hour, before I start importing my contacts and check out the rest.
Creating new matters and contacts is extremely easy. It’s also easy to merge client contacts from Outlook or Google to Clio. No complaints there. As I test this I get hesitant that as I add my contacts and start creating new matters in Clio I’ll get attached to Clio and never leave. I guess that’s what keeps them in business, offering free trials.
After testing several other competitor products and coming back to Clio, I have to say that Clio’s integration / merging of client contacts from Outlook and Google is seamless and perfect. Clio handles it the best.
Okay, so this is extremely easy to use. Some of the more appealing features include getting reports by client or revenue and tracking my bank account activity. I can even create a report that tracks my productivity by client.
As for documents, Clio lets you upload your own documents and assign them by matter, integrating with third-party online storage sites like Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, and now Microsoft OneDrive. It also lets you create auto-forms so if you have a lot of cases that require the same type of document, you can quickly fill it in and send it. Clio also works with revision history, so you can have multiple versions of a document and see the changes made from one version to another (a necessity, I think).
I personally am a big fan of Dropbox and Google Drive. The fact that Clio integrates with both of them is a big plus for me.
Clio has some features for e-mail correspondence, allowing you to have outgoing e-mails BCCing Clio and then have them automatically sorted into matter folders. But, to get to that point I initially needed assistance, as it wasn’t clearly spelled out how to do it.
This is one of my favorite features, and a must for law firm practice management software. Say you have a document / form that you use over and over again – for example, a real estate closing form, a summons, or a particular type of agreement, where everything is the same except for the client’s name and contact information. Clio can automate this for you. Clio lets you upload a form / template document and create fields in the document. So, later, when you want to use the form document for a specific client, the document is automatically created with the data fields populated from your client’s stored contact information. It’s so easy to do and a huge time-saver. This one feature alone can be worth the entire package.
You know how a lot of cases require you to do the same things over and over again? Do client intake. Get this information. File this document. Wait X days. So much so that you sometimes feel like you’re just running off of checklists? For those matters where you find yourself running off of checklists, creating those checklists every single time can be time-consuming and draining. Thankfully, Clio lets you create a “task template” allowing you to create a reusable task flow.
Client Portal and Online Payments
If you want to share files and bills securely with your clients, Clio Connect lets you do that in a secure portal. You can share whatever files or bills you’d like with specific email addresses. The portal can even display your firm’s logo and branding. From a client perspective, it’s really impressive.
If you use Clio’s integration with Lawpay or Paypal, clients can pay their bills through the portal.
Update: Launched in October 2015 at the Clio Cloud Conference, Clio now has Clio Payments, its own payment tool that allows you to quickly and easily accept credit cards from clients.
APPS AND INTEGRATIONS
I’m not always in front of a computer, so I need to be able to access my practice management software on the go. Clio has apps for both iPhone and Android.
Where Clio absolutely crushes its competitors, hands-down, is in third-party app integrations. The thought process behind this seems to be “You already probably use a lot of different pieces of software in your practice. Clio shouldn’t disrupt what’s working well for you currently.” So, Clio plays well with your email and calendars (Gmail, Outlook, Office365), document management (Dropbox, Box, OneDrive), accounting (Xero, Quickbooks), research (Fastcase), payments (Paypal, Lawpay), and just about everything else (Zapier, Chrometa, Clicktofile, Lexicata, netdocuments, gUnify, Lawdingo, altLegal, and more).
Support is one of those overlooked features: You assume that customer support should be good; and, you assume that you should probably not have to need to use customer support. However, while tinkering with Clio, I didn’t know everything there was to know about Clio, so I gave their support line a call. They took my call immediately and walked me through how to use Clio. Really excellent customer service. Very patient and friendly. They wanted to help me out.
It wasn’t immediately apparent that Clio even had any features involving e-mail accounts. It took awhile of chatting with a rep to learn that. Same goes for Dropbox integration. I’m not sure if I missed that in the tutorial though.
I previously used Time Matters and appreciated that I could draft and send e-mails from the Time Matters software and Time Matters would log my correspondence with each client, separated by matter. Other competitor software does this. Clio needs to get on this. Overall, not a huge problem though.
Clio is a useful law practice management tool. It has many great features a law firm can use to maintain its clients and matters. At the end of the day, it’s a database of your clients, matters, acts as a timekeeper, and bills. It’s a decent offering, possibly the best available in the market, but it does have room for improvement (as do all of Clio’s competitors).
Clio is currently the most widely-used law practice management tool for good reason: it is very easy to use, the interface is clean, the pricing is affordable, and their support is fantastic.
About the Author: Andrew Cabasso Andrew Cabasso is a practicing attorney and co-founder of JurisPage, an Internet Marketing firm specializing in online presence solutions for law firms including website design, SEO, and search marketing. He has given many lectures and CLEs on website design and Internet marketing to legal professionals. He is the author of Search Engine Optimization for Lawyers and The Complete Guide to Attorney PPC. Follow Andrew on Google+ or Twitter.
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