Do you use a practice management system? If yes, which one? If no, how do you manage your case files?
AP: I use Clio.
DC: Inprotech (CPA Global) for docketing.
WG: I use the original version of Clio.
GT: At our business, we use Teamwork Projects for project management. I have heard of lawyers also using this tool for project management. One alternative that some of our clients are using, and that I have recently been impressed with, is Filevine.
We manage clients by individual project in Teamwork. Some key features that are essential to us include:
- Google Suite Integration (email, calendar, drive, etc.)
- Native Time Tracking (with Harvest integration)
- Task lists and tasks
GS: Case management software is critical for immigration lawyers and we use it. We’re using software called BlueDot that’s designed for immigration lawyers and includes the ability to populate the many government forms applicable to our matters, the ability to track deadlines in our cases, process steps, and reports customized for immigration, etc. With that said, we use other software products that broader-market case management products sometimes include, such as software for document and email management as well as time and billing. We are currently considering a general product (like Clio or Practice Panther) that can integrate with our immigration product.
How did you come to use the system or process identified above?
AP: When I first worked as an associate after graduating law school, I was forced to work in an environment which relied on paper files (and lots of filing cabinets) and a spreadsheet with too many columns on it that had a single line entry for each matter. It was a mess. So when I opened my own practice, I tried out multiple practice management systems to find one that integrated as much into itself as possible, so as to have everything centralized and digitized, with as many functions as possible built right in.
DC: RFP process (>5 years ago) with a cross-functional team (though mostly staff) that evaluated and selected the system.
WG: The original version of Clio was the only one that was accessible to voice dictation technology. Unfortunately, the new version is not. However, they are letting me use the old version until when—if ever—the new version becomes accessible to voice dictation technology.
GT: We’ve tried most of the major CRM and project management tools. We stopped at Teamwork because it has most of the essential features that we need. With respect to Filevine, one of their competitive advantages seems to be their reporting.
GS: As is often the case for boutique specialized practices, it’s a relatively small world and there are a limited number of software products available. The half dozen or so major immigration case management vendors always exhibit at our bar’s major annual conference and it is not hard to get the opinions of colleagues using each of the products. I also conducted a survey last spring of about 200 firms and wrote an article about this geared toward the immigration bar, so now I know a lot more about this space.
How do you track your hours and what do you use to issue bills? Are your invoices shared with your clients electronically and can your clients pay their bills through a link and a web portal? If they can, how do you then maintain records of invoices and payments?
AP: Nowadays, all of it is integrated into Clio for me, so I can put my hours (and expenses) into the matter in Clio. I then generate bills from Clio at the end of each month and electronically share them with my clients. The invoice emails have links for my clients to pay via credit/debit card, on my custom-branded LawPay portal. LawPay integrates right into Clio, so once a payment is made, the relevant record-keeping is automatically done into Clio. Before I had full practice management integration, my hours would be entered into QuickBooks, where an invoice would be generated. The PDF of the invoice would be emailed to the client, with a link to our Square portal. The client could make a payment with their credit/debit card in Square (though unlike today, they would have to manually populate multiple fields—such as invoice number and amount being paid). Once they made payment through Square, I received an email as to the payment having been made and then had to manually update QuickBooks to reflect the paid invoice…
- Hours are tracked individually by attorney using a variety of methods, either paper (Daytimer) or electronic (Excel Spreadsheet) that are then entered into the practice management
- We use the invoicing application that is integrated with Inprotech.
- Some invoices are transmitted to clients electronically (they all use a variety of systems).
- Clients cannot pay via a link and web portal.
WG: Clio does this and, yes, invoices are shared with my clients electronically and they can pay their bills through a link and a web portal. If they pay through Clio, then Clio takes care of it automatically. If they pay by check, then you have to manually do it yourself within Clio.
GT: Most of our clients are not billed hourly. However, we use Teamwork and Harvest to track time for resource allocation internally. We use Freshbooks to invoice clients electronically and most clients pay their bills online. Freshbooks handles records.
GS: We’re currently using Clockify and Quickbooks. Our firm is 25 years old and has billed on a flat fee basis for that entire time. We actually didn’t do timesheets for most of those years except in very unusual circumstances. We are now tracking time mainly to measure our costs and not for billing. We do send our clients our invoices electronically and a high percent pay us online via a web portal.
How do you maintain your documents? Do you use paper files?
AP: I have avoided using paper files for the last seven years in practice. As soon as any paper document comes into my office, it gets instantly digitized and dropped into Google Drive (which synchronizes with Clio and makes the document accessible from within the matter screens). The actual paper gets returned to the client, third party or whoever, or destroyed. My entire firm has less than 3 cubic feet (one filing cabinet drawer) of paper files, which consists solely of inked originals that I am required to maintain for one reason or another. All other paper in my office is for production, service and filing purposes only…
- We have gradually shifted to electronic files only. However, this can vary by practice group and attorney. Some attorneys refuse to give up their paper files.
- Document management system for electronic files is Perfect Law.
WG: As a solo, I used ShareFile. Now that I am with Kitchens New Cleghorn, I am using OneDrive. The firm uses NetDocuments. I keep paper files to a bare minimum.
GT: Teamwork has document handling capabilities. We avoid paper at all costs. Most major project management, case management, and CRM tools have some features that assist with document handling in differing degrees.
GS: We use Worldox and Symphony and are in the process of moving to a paperless system (as much as possible). We’re in the middle of a multi-year project to scan all of our files from the last 25 years. We’re about 18 months away from completion and will save a lot of money not having to utilize offsite storage and also will have the benefit of attorneys having instant access to the contents of all of our files—new and old. Also, by using Symphony, all of these files are being “OCR’d” and will be searchable.
How do you calendar appointments and log incoming communications?
AP: My incoming calls are handled by Ruby Receptionists, an outside receptionist service. My client scheduling is handled through Calendly, which allows the Ruby staff to see my available client scheduling opportunities and schedule clients when they call in. Clients can also use the link on my website to schedule themselves for an appointment with me. Calendly integrates with Google Calendar, which integrates with Clio, so all of the scheduled meetings appear in my system and on my smartphone instantly. Ruby also integrates with Clio, allowing me to always have a log of all incoming calls right on my practice management home screen.
- Appointments calendared via Outlook.
- Incoming communications are logged via an email that is profiled into the DMS.
WG: Mobile phone for calendar appointments. I don’t log incoming communications, especially now that I am with a firm.
GT: We use Helpscout for incoming communications. We use calendar invites and some of the team members use Calendly for calendar appointments.