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:
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.
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: