Digital law firm toolkit: legal practice management in the cloud

Matters.Cloud Legal Practice Management for Small to Mid-Size Firms

Legal Practice Management Software Review

│ Software review & digital law firm best practice tips by Chuck Henrich

A good cloud-based practice management system enables small to mid-size law firms and solo practitioners to run their practices efficiently and with business intelligence. Moving legal practice management to the cloud especially suits small to mid-size firms and individuals who lack the time, money, skills (and interest) to manage their own IT themselves.

When selecting a cloud-based legal practice management solution, lawyers need to assess how well a vendor understands how to support digital legal services; simplifies the tasks involved in digitally managing clients, matters, finances, and documents; and handles data security. InvestCEE selected Matters.Cloud to feature on their LegalTech Marketplace because it meets those requirements especially for the smaller firms in their legal innovation ecosystem.


Editor’s note: Matters.Cloud have asked InvestCEE to prepare a detailed overview of their cloud-based legal practice management solution. This Part 1 (below) and Part 2 (to be released on July 28) of the Matters.Cloud software review series was prepared by InvestCEE consultant Chuck Henrich. All opinions reflected below are his own. InvestCEE software reviews focus only on legal technology vendors and products that we believe demonstrate quality, thoughtfulness, responsiveness, and legal innovation. 


Business functions of legal practice management systems

Law firms are businesses. Successful lawyers and firms manage their practices and generate profits with streamlined, repeatable processes. This article highlights how Matters.Cloud can help solo practitioners or smaller legal teams operate as a digital law firm and achieve greater efficiency and profitability across all the key business functions in every law practice: 

  • client and matter management, workflow mapping and tracking with templates, timelines, milestones, tasks, reminders, commitments
  • finance and time recording
  • document management
  • business intelligence about client and matter status, resource allocation, and profitability
  • managing business development and converting opportunities to revenue-generating matters
  • security and resilience.

matters.Cloud Package for InvestCEE Clients

↠ Special Discount – 50% off for six months
€12.50 per user per month for the first 6 months, then just €25 afterwards. No minimum users and rolling 30 day term applies.
↠ Free Initial Configuration Session
We will work with new clients to configure the solution to meet their particular needs. During this session we will cover aspects including setting up matter types, creating activity and expense code sets relevant to your work types, inviting additional users, configuring invoice details and more.
↠ Free Data Transfer Assistance
We will work in partnership with you to import existing data (eg Clients, Matters and Un-billed time lines) into the matters.Cloud system.

Client and matter management

Managing clients and matters properly is the core of every law practice. Some matters follow predictable, sometimes even regulated, workflows. Other matters can generate many types of tasks. A good practice management system facilitates any matter—standardised or free-flowing. 

As an example, the Matters.Cloud matter dashboard visualises a matter’s real-time status, key financial indicators, and provides one-click access to all categories of information about a matter, including tasks and documents (files):

Digital Law Firm InvestCEE Legaltech marketplace
The Matters.Cloud matter view shows key indicators and enables one-click access to all essential matter information.

Usability should feature high on your must-have list for any software. Lots of white space, colour coding, and minimal clicks and mouse movements all contribute to ease-of-use.

The Tasks Timeline view lists categorised tasks and statuses and allows easy export for reporting:

Digital law firm InvestCEE Legaltech marketplace
Matters.Cloud helps capture data to prove the demonstrate the value of legal services

A legal practice management solution that includes built-in workflow templates for standard/mandated tasks and milestones helps ensure compliance with best practice. Standardising legal practice with workflow templates enhances client service by reducing the risk of missed deadlines and commitments.

The underlying legal technology should make it easy to tweak, copy, and create templates. Matters.Cloud’s workflow templates are a good example. Out of the box, Matters.Cloud includes the American Bar Association’s Uniform Task-Based Management System Litigation workflow template. You can create and modify as many Matters.Cloud workflow templates as you want.  


Finances

Every lawyer needs to maximise profit. That’s true for every billing model—by-the-hour, fixed fee, contingency, or any alternative. Working profitably means creating high-value client service with minimum effort, keeping track of costs and revenue, generating accurate and timely bills, and making sure bills get paid.

Every practice management service has strengths and weaknesses. Some are good at managing matters but not finances. Some manage finances well but manage documents less so. Others are too restrictive and force people into suboptimal workflows. 

Until recently, firms had to weigh the balance of strengths and weaknesses when choosing a legal practice management tool. But newer solutions, especially cloud-based services, can focus on their strengths and integrate seamlessly with other systems to complement areas where their technology partners will provide best value.

Take Matters.Cloud’s approach to finance. They provide built-in time recording, expense capture, and invoicing, multi-currency support and tax compliance. They also integrate with FreeAgent and Xero cloud-based accounting platforms to enhance a firm’s financial management with additional capabilities like payroll and tax compliance.

Digital Law Firm InvestCEE Legaltech marketplace
As a browser application, Matters.Cloud mobile time entry works on any device—iOS or Android

InvestCEE best practice tip #1: Look for a legal practice management vendor with flexibility and integrations in mind. That indicates a platform that’s built to evolve, without locking users into an inflexible system that might limit lawyers as their digital legal practice grows.


Document management integration

Almost every solo practitioner and small to mid-size firm struggles with document management: storing electronic files so they’re easy to find, hard to lose, and secure. 

Maybe they don’t have the time or money to find a dedicated document management system (DMS). Or they think they don’t need one until they realise their document folders are chaotic and people move or delete files by mistake (or malice). By the time they realise they’ve got serious document storage and risk management problems, it’s too late to sort them out easily. I’ve worked with firms who tackled that challenge at great expense; I’ve also seen firms that close their eyes and hope for the best but suffer ongoing everyday wasted time trying to find documents they need.

Managing your documents properly from the start of any matter is just good business. You find documents quickly and protect your clients’ and your firm’s assets and confidentiality without having to work hard. You also ensure that you comply with professional and statutory obligations around document retention.

Some legal practice management solutions come with their own proprietary document management system built-in, but that can be quirky or even buggy. A smarter approach integrates digital law firm management with an affordable cloud-based document storage system that enables people to access files anywhere (like during pandemic lockdowns). That way, the legal practice management provider can focus on what they do best and avoid reinventing something other vendors already do well.

Matters.Cloud focuses on its core competency—flexible, innovative matter and practice management. It leverages Dropbox and Google Drive for document storage. 

matters.Cloud Package for InvestCEE Clients

When you create a matter in Matters.Cloud, it automatically generates a dedicated matter folder in either Dropbox or Google Drive (you choose), with whatever standard subfolders you prefer as a starting point (eg, Correspondence, Emails, Documents, etc, all configurable). Matters.Cloud links those folders to the matter automatically. You don’t need to switch applications or do anything else. It’s a streamlined approach that helps start you off on the right foot with every matter. 

Both Dropbox and Google Drive can be used safely in digital legal services if lawyers practice good security hygiene including: 

  • use unique passwords and never share them, 
  • only share access to files and folders with specific people,
  • regularly review access rights provided to team members and clients,
  • use two-factor authentication whenever possible (like password plus one-time SMS code or authenticator app), and
  • identify phishing attempts and ignore/report them.

Those are all essential practices everyone should follow without exception. If you’d like to learn more about law firm data security, InvestCEE collaborates with Octantus Associates to train legal teams about key security best-practices.


Business intelligence

Every firm and solo practitioner needs solid data to support their business decisions: which clients and matters will be worth their while, and what resources they’ll need to serve those clients well. The legal practice management system needs to capture and manage matter data across the entire lifetime of a matter, from potential opportunity all the way to final invoice and closure. It should expose that data in user-friendly views that enable intelligent decisions.

Digital Law Firm InvestCEE Legaltech marketplace
The Matters.Cloud dashboard shows key practice data clearly

Matters.Cloud includes essential reporting on key performance indicators, like time and resource expenditures, billing, profitability, etc. Those metrics can surprise a lawyer who moves from zero visibility to a holistic, flexible view. A clean, simple approach like with Matters.Cloud helps make business intelligence user-friendly. Often it changes a lawyer’s perspective on where they need to focus. Integrating matter management with finance and reporting is a massive relief for lawyers who’ve manually managed their finances in spreadsheets or an accounting program that doesn’t integrate with their legal work. 


Converting opportunities to revenue-generating matters

Legal practice management solutions often don’t include business development among supported features. Yet ignoring the exploration phase can make it hard for lawyers to track the valuable work it takes to land a new client or matter, and to leverage the information gathered pre-engagement. 

Business intelligence starts at the opportunity stage: whether a client or matter makes business sense. If it won’t generate profit or bankable goodwill, then it’s not a good bet. Lawyers and secretaries aren’t natural sales or marketing professionals who normally handle opportunities and business pipelines. So the practice management system must make it easy by guiding them through the business development process.


InvestCEE best practice tip #2: Lawyers and firms without marketing or business development resources need a system that helps them create, track, and convert opportunities.


The Matters.Cloud approach to configuring online forms demonstrates a clear, simplified approach to capture essential data:

Digital Law Firm InvestCEE Legaltech marketplace
A new opportunity in Matters.Cloud needs only a few key data points

On the Matters.Cloud platform, all key data points are immediately available with minimal clicks. Data-entry forms are designed for rapid data entry. Selection fields like activity codes link to configured lists that law firms create or ready-made lists that come with the product. 

The Matters.Cloud Opportunity view incorporates good design, with all functions easy to find and understand: time, expenses, tasks, and milestones:

Digital law firm InvestCEE Legaltech marketplace
A clear view of all stages of client origination: from opportunity to registering a new client in Matters.Cloud

When lawyers win an opportunity, they should be able to convert it to a matter with minimum clicks. The Opportunity view demonstrates best practice by making this easy with a clear, simple “Convert to matter” button.

Further, the Matters.Cloud Pipeline view displays all opportunities in colour-coded cards you can drag and drop between stages. You can dive deeper into a specific opportunity by double-clicking on its card. This simplified design enables lawyers to manage business development themselves. And when it comes time to hire a marketing person, they can hit the ground running with minimal training.

Digital Law Firm InvestCEE Legaltech marketplace
A clear view of all opportunities in the pipeline enables managing them visually within Matters.Cloud

InvestCEE best practice tip #3: Well-designed legal technology enables easy, flexible pipeline management and the key tasks around any opportunity: time and expense entry, adding tasks to the timeline, and converting the opportunity to a live matter. 


Security

Security and resilience deserve as much attention as usability and feature sets. You may assume a cloud-based legal practice management solution is secure because the vendor says so. But it’s essential to read the fine print and ask questions:

  • Where is your data stored—in a dedicated database or in a shared database? A shared database increases the risk that someone could access your data, if they breach the security of another firm sharing that database.
  • Is your data encrypted whenever it travels and wherever it’s stored, and how secure is the encryption? Unencrypted data or encryption with a back door presents an unacceptable risk that unauthorised people would view, steal, or ransom your data.
  • How are logins managed with external systems like Dropbox or Google Drive? The practice management platform shouldn’t store those credentials.

Matters.Cloud incorporates “security by design”: each firm’s data is stored in a dedicated database, not shared; data is encrypted both in motion and at rest. For more information about data security in a digital law firm environment, please reach out to us or contact Matters.Cloud directly.

The dedicated database approach is essential. Providers who use shared databases for their customers expose their customers to unnecessary risk. A case in point is the TrialWorks fiasco in 2019, where 2,500 small firms lost access to their case management system for days due to a ransomware attack against TrialWorks. The Matters.Cloud approach on the other hand eliminates that particular vulnerability: each firm’s database is isolated from all others. 


InvestCEE best practice tip #4: Security-mindedness and best-practice are must-haves in any practice management system. 


Resilience

COVID-19 has opened everyone’s eyes to the importance of business resilience: the ability to keep functioning seamlessly whatever the circumstances. Yet the pandemic also created a unique opportunity for legal practitioners and law firms to shift away from non-efficient working models to client-centric, digital legal services that integrate legal technology appropriately.

Cloud-based platforms like Matters.Cloud have proven their resilience-value during the first half of 2020. Firms with some or all of their legal technology applications in the cloud faced fewer transition issues and experienced less stress moving their people to work from home. They continued working without major interruption when authorities imposed lockdowns. 


Legal innovation

The business of law is changing quickly. Digital law firms and digital legal services have pioneered moving operations to the cloud. Cloud-based legal tech can level the legal services playing field provided that it’s well designed and makes working easier and more enjoyable than traditional ways of working. Cloud solutions can enable small firms and solo practitioners to provide “NewLaw” services and business models cost-effectively, at the expense of traditional law firms. 

When shifting to digital legal services, smaller and mid-size firms may find that equipped with the right cloud-based legal technology, they can offer a combination of innovative and traditional legal services that they couldn’t aspire to previously. Cloud-based legal tech reduces the gap between small and mid-size firms vs global firms despite the fact that larger firms enjoy bigger budgets and in-house tech support.

matters.Cloud Package for InvestCEE Clients


Conclusion

Now is a great time for small firms and solo lawyers to invest in cloud-based practice management. Many vendors have learned the value of simplicity and integrations. Best-practice security is available to anyone. The Matters.Cloud team have developed a solid, flexible solution aimed at small  / mid-size firms and solo practitioners, to streamline the business of law so they can focus on client service and enhance their profitability. Opt in for the Matters.Cloud Package for InvestCEE clients to test key features or contact the Matters.Cloud team to learn more.

And remember, when evaluating any system or provider, you need to ask the right questions and have an advocate on your side to help you evaluate the answers so you can find the right solution for your needs. InvestCEE Legal Tech Consultancy is nurturing an ecosystem of tools and services, including collaborators like Octantus Associates. We advise and assist from vendor vetting to implementation.

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