What does it take to get started with legal practice management?
The vast majority of lawyers typically work alone or in a small team. They need a system that works straightaway, is easy to understand and simple without being simplistic. That allows them to focus on their profession, serving clients and making money, rather than figuring out how their software works.
“Often people starting out with a practice management system will use just a core set of features. They have constraints on their time that limit their ability to dive deep into advanced functionality. So we eliminate over-complexity in favor of the essentials.”
Donna Flanagan, Matters.Cloud
“User experience” plays a critical role in productivity. Software should be obvious and self-explanatory. It should automate common tasks as much as possible. That makes your experience lighter, easier, and more focused on value than clerical work.
Matters.Cloud have simplified the onboarding process. New customers just need to supply the name of their firm, their email address, and the language they’d like to operate in. (Matters.Cloud is available in 15 languages.)
Matters.Cloud includes template configuration for all EU VAT rates. For example, if you work with another lawyer in a different country, you can import that country’s VAT bands into your instance of Matters.Cloud so you can invoice correctly without having to research or calculate them yourself.
When you start using Matters.Cloud, the system automatically generates comprehensive time record activity code sets for you. So you can record time as soon as you create a matter, without having to configure activity codes yourself.
You may have used time recording and activity codes at another firm, but when you set up your own firm, you ask “what can I do better?” Matters.Cloud includes the American Bar Association (ABA) standard activity codes and translates them for you if you’re working in a language other than English. Even large firms can struggle with standardized activity codes and tax types, so having those already set up and ready to go gives solo lawyers and small firms a head start with no effort. And that’s just a solid starting point—you can amend and extend Matters.Cloud’s lists however works best for you.
Matters.Cloud standardizes on the ABA codes because over time, the legal industry has settled on the ABA codes as a generally accepted standard, whether or not people recognize those codes come from the ABA.
You can work with Matters.Cloud in your own language as long as it’s one of the 15 they support. That eliminates a subtle but ongoing friction where in other systems, your content is in your home language but the software operates in English.
Matters.Cloud have given a lot of thought to streamlining and automating clerical tasks that lawyers shouldn’t have to do themselves.
Can I use it on my phone and my desktop or laptop?
Flexibility and responsiveness to your clients depends on your ability to access their matters wherever you are. Whether you’re working at your desk or you’re taking care of personal errands, your matter management system should travel with you on your phone.
The best approach for a cloud legal practice management system is purely browser-based. Some vendors use your web browser when working on a laptop but offer a separate iOS or Android app for mobile phone work. Vendors who take that split approach often do so because they’ve provided a range of complex functionality in the browser that doesn’t fit the smaller form factor of phone, where fingers replace your trackpad or mouse.
Unfortunately mobile apps that differ from the full-featured desktop browser version introduce risk and difficulty. They increase the development work the vendor needs to do; that increases development costs they may pass on to their customers. Usually mobile apps only include reduced features because of limited screen space. They force you to work differently on your phone than you do on your laptop. They often lag behind their desktop browser versions in terms of features and bug fixes.
A better, more unified approach is a “responsive” design, where your legal practice management website automatically adjusts its appearance depending on the size of the browser window.
Matters.Cloud is a fully responsive web application. When full screen, it displays content horizontally, but when it’s narrowed down to the width of a mobile phone it moves content around to present it more vertically. It’s the same content and functionality, just in a layout appropriate for the device you’re working on. That’s best practice website development because it simplifies development and lets you work the same way on any device.
Responsive design encourages vendors to streamline and simplify their screens. Matters.Cloud take advantage of that discipline to focus their design on intuitive, self-explanatory screens. They avoid over-complexity, and present just the features you need in different contexts. Matters.Cloud’s data entry forms collect essential information out the box. You can extend them as you wish to adapt them to different matters.
Obvious, user-friendly design helps as your legal practice grows. When new people join the team, they can hit the ground running with little or no training.
“A simple, essential approach encourages lawyers to use the legal practice management system of their choice. The more complicated a screen, the less likely lawyers are to use it.”
Donna Flanagan, Matters.Cloud
Matters.Cloud leverages the mobile apps of other systems they integrate with, like Google Drive or Dropbox. You continue to work the way you’re used to do with those other apps. You can take advantage of their functionality, like document signing and editing. Matters.Cloud gets out of the way, lets you work in those apps as you always have done, and surfaces the results in Matters.Cloud. That’s intelligent workflow design.
Does it manage my documents for me?
Matters.Cloud integrates with Dropbox and Google Drive—the free and the paid versions of both. Both are secure if you follow common sense security practices: never share passwords, share access only to people who need it, cut off access for people who no longer need it.
When you create a matter, Matters.Cloud automatically generates a basic folder structure in the Google Drive or Dropbox account you’ve connected to Matters.Cloud. You specify the initial folders, like “Documents”, “Correspondence”, “Pleadings”, whatever. They inherit initial security permissions that you can change if you wish. By setting up best-practice document management for you, Matters.Cloud allows you to focus on document production instead of admin.
Matters.Cloud relies on the Dropbox or Google Drive integrations with MS Office and Google Docs. You don’t need to configure any integrations yourself. Matters.Cloud will keep track of all your matter-related documents via a live link to your document folders. If you create a folder or document in Google Drive or Dropbox, you’ll see it in Matters.Cloud. You don’t have to wait for the vendor to build or update their integration with either of those cloud storage systems.
How flexible is it regarding accounting and reporting?
Matters.Cloud includes time recording, expense entry, and invoicing out of the box for firms with purely essential finance needs. It integrates with other financial systems like FreeAgent, Xero, and (coming soon) Sage for firms with more complex finances. Those integrations with dedicated finance systems mean you have a choice about which works best for you, and you don’t have to wait for your legal practice management vendor to roll their own finance features.
Where’s my data?
Always question any cloud vendor about how they handle your data. Where do they store it? Who has access to it? When do they back it up? How do they ensure your data storage complies with any applicable laws?
“Data sovereignty is important for every law firm.”
Donna Flanagan, Matters.Cloud
Legal data must be hosted on servers in a region that complies with any data regulations that apply to your practice. It’s essential to choose a vendor who offers data centres globally, not just in the US, so your data only flows through servers that comply with your jurisdiction’s restrictions. Matters.Cloud covers all regions globally with services available from the Google Cloud data centres in the EU, the US, the UK, Asia, Pacific, and South America.
Google Cloud handles Matters.Cloud’s infrastructure needs: redundant data storage, segregated data centres by region, uptime and performance. But Google Cloud have no access to Matters.Cloud user data. Those are the same capabilities and restrictions as with Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services.