The Best Law Firm Case Management Software – An In-Depth Comparison

Over drinks recently, a friend and public interest lawyer expressed uncertainty over which new case management software his organization would migrate to in the near-future. There’s a lot of information out there. I wanted to try and help provide some insight. There are some key differences between the major players in the case management software market these days. They are not all created equally, or even similarly. Some are server-based while some are web-based / cloud-based (big difference). Some play well with third-party software like Quickbooks, Microsoft Word, and Google or Apple calendars.

Here’s a quick primer on the main differentiating points between software to help you decide which to go with:

Cloud-Based / Web-Based

Web or cloud based (interchangeable terms) basically means that your software, case data, calendars, and information are not stored locally on your computer but rather on servers on the Internet, maintained by the service provider. I’ve known many lawyers to be hesitant about having their confidential client information in the cloud, afraid of it being compromised or there being an ethical violation issue to having client data on the Internet (even though it is secured).

First, let’s address the protection of your information. I personally feel secure with cloud-based services. If my data is stored locally on my laptop hard drive alone and my computer crashes, I’ve lost all that information unless I am consistently making backups of my drives. Cloud computer servers often have redundant, duplicate storage (aka RAID) of all files to ensure they aren’t lost if any drive fails. Just imagine the liability a host would face if they stored all your client data and lost it.

Related Article: Review of Clio Law Practice Management Software

That being said, security is definitely very important to many of the cloud-based services. High-level data encryption is crucial. Call up your prospective website and ask specifics on their data security policies. Sometimes their websites will neglect mentioning details about data security.

On the ethics of cloud-based services, many state bar ethics committees have released reports (see e.g. Massachusetts Ethics Opinion 12-o3, Oregon Formal Opinion 2011-188) generally permitting attorneys to use web-based storage services (like Google Docs and Dropbox) provided that the attorneys take reasonable steps to ensure their information is secure and not shared with third-parties. Summary – don’t share your password or your files with third-parties. Regarding cloud-based case management software, the Iowa State Bar addresses that more attorneys are using cloud-based services and goes through a discussion of the potential legal issues that may arise when using these services. The committee concluded:

[A lawyer] must take reasonable precautions to prevent the information from coming into the hands of unintended recipients. This duty, however, does not require that the lawyer use special security measures if the method of communication affords a reasonable expectation of privacy. Special circumstances, however, may warrant special precautions. Factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of the lawyer’s expectation of confidentiality include the sensitivity of the information and the extent to which the privacy of the communication is protected by law or by a confidentiality agreement.

Since cloud-based services are ethically permissible, the main question you’re left with as a lawyer is whether you feel comfortable with a cloud-based service. More software is moving into the cloud and I don’t think this trend will decline in the near future. Cloud software is easily accessible from any computer or device, including mobile devices, and does not suffer from downtime issues and the virus threats that traditional computer servers have. In the past, I have used case management software that had its databases and information stored on a local server, and in an office with about 20-30 simultaneous users, it was slow to access our information. The server probably needed an upgrade, but that would have disrupted the practice.

Billing and Accounting Integration

When comparing case management software, look to see if the software has its own billing system with invoice generation, or whether it works with a third-party like Quickbooks. Many lawyers use Quickbooks for their accounting, and want their invoicing and billing to play nicely with their accounting software. Some services will work well with Quickbooks. Some won’t. Some are also helpful for IOLTA support when billing clients.

Third-Party Software Integration

All of the major software providers available work with Microsoft Word and Outlook. Only a few, though, can integrate with Google / Apple calendars and Google Docs. It should be noted that some services charge for “plug-ins” that allow you to integrate your third-party software apps.

Pricing

The cloud-based services you’ll see mostly charge per-lawyer per-month. Pricing usually is around $50-$70 per user per month. Some offer discounts if you pay annually instead of monthly. You may also be able to get a discount through your local bar association.

Feel free to share any thoughts and opinions on case management software.

Case Management Software Comparison

Updated: April 21, 2014

I have personally reviewed several law firm case management software offerings. I have tested them out thoroughly so you don’t have to. You can check each of the reviews in the links below:

Andrew Cabasso
About the Author: Andrew Cabasso
Andrew Cabasso is a practicing attorney and VP of Web Services at Uptime Legal where he runs 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 LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.

21 comments on “The Best Law Firm Case Management Software – An In-Depth Comparison”

      • Andrew, SAGA wasn’t a cloud based system, so it was possible to transfer the data from it (including documents and document templates) to new system (SmartAdvocate in our case). With the pure cloud solution I would advise to make sure that you can get all your data when making a local back-up. Also, if you have large practice the back-up (if it includes all your documents) might get pretty big.

    • CaseFox provides automatic backup of your data every night. The backup is either emailed to you or copied to your Dropbox account. CaseFox also has a button to download all data including trust transactions into an Excel workbook.

  • I haven’t tried out Direct Law but I’m surprised Needles or PayPanther haven’t made this list. Both are great options as well.

    There is an even more in depth list at the American Bar website:
    http://www.americanbar.org/groups/departments_offices/legal_technology_resources/resources/charts_fyis/casemanagementcomparison.html

    I do agree with Andrew that we have felt much safer migrating over from our old (and costly) servers to a cloud-based solution as we no longer have to worry about backing up data and calling an IT person in every other week. Great article and reviews, thank you.

  • I have to say generally that I am simply flat out disappointed with the offerings by these companies. It’s like the lawyers never actually practiced. For example, document storage on their dedicated servers sounds like a great idea, but since they have no desktop sharing capacity (except for the ones that integrate Dropbox or Google Drive), document trails are a mess. I have successful transactional practice, meaning lots and lots of documents, versions and versions of documents. I need my work and my office’s work to be seamless with the system.

    Also, there is a huge over emphasis on “client portals”. I don’t have a single client who cares about a “portal”. So I am left with either a system like Mycase that is incredibly helpful on office management (not so much on invoicing though) and has no real document solution OR I go with Clio which is very clunky, but has document integration with Dropbox and great invoicing software OR do I go with TotalAttorney or DirectLaw that really just want to sell me their website/SEO services OR go with someone like Casefox, who doesn’t have all the bells and whistles but customizes to an extent.

    It’s actually a real shame that with all the available services, not a single one comes through as a anything but mediocre. Remember, we are trying to replace spreadsheets, invoicing software, manual document management, time keeping (admittedly not important to me), trust accounting, and contact management. Why pay $50-$200/month when I can have my assistant just do it all manually, the way I want to.

    Sorry this just frustrates me to no end.

    • I completely agree with William. There is nothing great out there for a solo practitioner or small law office. I use Google Apps and would love to find a program that integrates well with Google Apps, including email and calendar. And, I would prefer a desktop version. Cloud solutions are great initially, but then the costs just doesn’t make sense for a solo practitioner.

    • William,

      I suggest you give Lawsa – http://wfishllc.com a try its a cost effective solution starting at only $14.99 a month, it cuts out all the fancy crap others have in their app and it just simply works.

      Document storage is also in the cloud so anyone/anywhere in the firm can access documents uploaded into the app from your computer, phone, tablet etc …

    • I completely agree. All of these software options have their limitations, and are yet another expense. I’ve researched all of these companies, and I’ve been using Prolaw (a Thompson West Product) for three years. We have new dell servers, desk stations, etc., all updated software and still prolaw crashes twice a day, every day… .the docketing doesn’t work, add-ins don’t work, on and on… customer support is good – but after three years of being on the phone and still not having fixes, I’m searching for another solution… I’m most tempted now to just create my own system as the products on the market appear to each have limitations, very frustrating…

  • Anyone heard of practice panther? I just started using it..it’s pretty easy to use but I want to compare with other software like it. Thanks

  • Great article. What are your thoughts on buying a Mac or PC laptop if you’re starting from scratch and want the best user experience with Clio or one of the others?. Thanks!

  • There’s also http://www.saascase.com – we specialize in making our Case Management solution fit our customers’ exact needs, we have a really flexible on-boarding process that allows our customers to get the most from their solution – we know our customers are busy, so we’re happy to roll up our sleeves and help out.

    Come have a chat with us, arrange a no-obligation demo or just have a play around with the system.

  • Hey Andrew, Great article on your comparison you did about the best law firm managements tools out there. You did a good job by comparing them to 4 main categories: Cloud-based, billing and accounting integration, third-party software integration, and pricing. It’s definitely important that it be cloud based so I can access any files on the go but it’s also important that they either have a mobile app or that the site is mobile responsive. You should probably mention in the update of this article if any of these tools are mobile ready or have an app. you also mentioned that the pricing for all these options was between $50-70. I’m wondering how much of a discount we could get that you made mention of because I think I’ve seen a few cheaper options like abicus, or practicepanther that have all the same features as the one’s you mentioned above. it would be great to get an updated list of tools that do the same functions but are cheaper than $50.

  • Has anyone used Co-Counselor? It’s new. Also, I am looking for the best practice management for solo firm, mostly Personal Injury. Any suggestions? Co-Counselor says it made for Plaintiff firms only but it’s new and so I don’t know much about it or what to even look for.

    Also, it appears that most of the software listed really are geared towards defense firms or hourly billing firms? Is this accurate.

    I was hoping I could find a review page like this one specifically geared towards plaintiff firms.

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