Starting a solo practice or small law firm can be an expensive proposition for an attorney. If you’re starting a law firm on a budget, fear not. There are several free alternatives to your usual law firm tools we’re recommending. We have free software that can replace Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat, hosted email, your law firm case management software, legal research, and your timekeeping / billing.
Free Law Firm Case Management – Houdiniesq
Houdiniesq is law firm case management software, free for solos to use on your desktop for a single user. This may be a deal-breaker if you have a legal secretary or staff who would need shared access to your client database and documents. But, for a solo user, it works pretty well.
Related: Houdiniesq Review
So as to not be so duplicative, we previously reviewed HoudiniEsq. It works fine. You can manage your contacts, billing, calendars, and documents, just like with any other case management software. HoudiniEsq is very user-friendly and has a completely unique feature of allowing users to view multiple workspaces. For example, you can have several screens with different matters opened up, and can toggle between them.
Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint – Open Office / Google Docs
Here you get the double bonus of getting free software, and also the ability to claim you’re an open-source software advocate. Open Office offers a free suite of software for your law firm to help you with word processing, spreadsheet editing, and multimedia presentation creation. To the uninitiated, the interface may look a little unusual (since you’re likely used to Word and Excel); it takes some getting used to.
Google Docs is also an alternative to Microsoft Office. Google has a suite of software for taking care of word processing and spreadsheets. It’s completely web-based, so your work is saved online and can be accessed from any computer (as long as you remembered your password).
With that being said, ultimately, while we recommend Open Office or Google Docs if you’re looking for a free Microsoft Office alternative, Microsoft Office is the one piece of software I’d recommend paying for. Most other firms are using Word and it’s what you’re probably used to.
Adobe PDF Editing – PDF Escape
PDF Escape has a lot of the features you’ll be looking for in a PDF editor. It’s the free alternative to Adobe Acrobat. It allows you to fill forms, combine documents, edit PDF files, and annotate existing PDFs. Upload your PDF or document to PDF Escape, make your edits and notations on your document, and download the document as a fresh, edited PDF.
Timekeeping – Toggl
Keep track of your billable hours with Toggl. Toggl is free online-based timekeeping software, enabling you to, well, keep time. There’s not really a whole lot more to say about it. It works as advertised. You can create projects (i.e. client matters) and start running your clock. Once you stop the clock, your time entries go into a timesheet. Toggl integrates with third-party billing services like Freshbooks, enabling you to more fully integrate your timekeeping software with your lawyer workflow.
Billing, Invoicing, Timekeeping – Freshbooks
Freshbooks is cloud-based invoicing, billing, and timekeeping software. With Freshbooks, you can invoice clients related to matters and accept payments with a third-party payment gateway like Paypal or Stripe.
Freshbooks is free for up to 1 client (it used to be 3, but they’ve since updated). While not helpful in the long-term, it will help you get started.
Email – Zoho
If you’re looking to get an @yourlawfirm.com domain email address (and you should if you don’t have one already – it’s 1,000x more professional), Zoho has the free solution for you. Zoho is a free email client, like Gmail, Hotmail, or AOL (please don’t ever use AOL for professional emails), that you can either access online through Zoho’s website, your Microsoft Outlook, or your mobile phone. Zoho is free for you and up to 5 total users for your domain. So, if you’ve got a legal secretary, paralegal, partner, and an associate, they can all come on-board for free too.
Legal Research – Fastcase, Google Scholar
Fastcase offers access to free legal research. Take that Westlaw and Lexis! While Fastcase isn’t free on its own, you can get free access to Fastcase through your local bar association. In fact, if you’re not a member of your local bar association, this one perk will likely be worth the price of membership. Fastcase provides access to case law, statutes, regulations, court rules, newspapers, and federal filings.
Google Scholar has access to all federal as well as state appellate-level case law. You can use Google Scholar to look up relevant cases. The one drawback is that it doesn’t have the headnotes, treatises, or secondary sources that you may be used to with Westlaw and Lexis. With Google Scholar, you kind of have to know what you’re looking for when you search.
As free alternatives, Fastcase and Google Scholar certainly beat what you’d be paying for case law searches with Westlaw and Lexis.
So, I hope these free law firm practice resources help you hit the ground running. Starting a law practice doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition if you know what great free resources are available to you.
If you have any recommendations on free software helpful for law firms, let us know in the comments below.