Cloud Practice Management: Clio

Without a doubt, Clio is one of the two juggernauts of cloud legal practice management programs. I remember investigating the program during its early stages, and actually loving the idea of practicing in the cloud. Truthfully, if I wasn’t so timid about the possibility of paying a monthly subscription, I would have selected Clio so many months ago. Even today, Clio is evolving into one of the premier case management programs. In fact, Clio and MyCase get my selection as the overall two best cloud based legal case management systems available.

What you’ll love about Clio

Clio is naturally intuitive, and for 90 percent of lawyers, the program will meet all of your case management needs.

Google integration

Overall, I really love the way Clio integrates with Google for Work, which allows you to link directly to your Google Calendar, Contacts, and Drive. Of all the systems, Clio’s integration with Google (and thus easy integration with Android) moves this program to the top of the list.

Clio functions the closest to my current system in the way that the program assigns case numbers, links clients and matters, and hosts contacts. I worried about Clio’s new document management system, mainly because of negative discussion about difficulty, but once I explored the program I discovered it’s simple to use and well organized. I discovered some small issues with the OCR feature (I ended up giving up on that) and with linking to Google Drive for storage (solved by using Chrome’s incognito mode to connect Clio to Google).

Browser accessibility

Clio is accessible from any browser (Chrome works/looks the best) and from the smartly designed mobile app. I actually found myself accessing information via the mobile app more times than I expected. Coming from a fixed system, which didn’t permit easy access to case information, universal access became a godsend.

System features

Since my current system allows me to assign case numbers, I also liked that Clio has a similar feature when you set up new cases. Some of the other systems have a similar feature, but Clio’s is automatic, and based on your criteria. I’m discovering that case numbering isn’t too necessary with cloud systems, simply because of each program’s expanded search features.

I also liked the easiness Clio offers for transferring clients from one system to Clio. The process simply requires a phone call with Clio support who will help you export your client matter information into .CSV format. Clio will handle the “massage” of the data to make the fields work, but if you’re techno-savvy enough, you can get the right match — I handled the export and import myself after Clio modified the form fields.

Cost

Cost-wise, Clio isn’t going to break your budget. With monthly pricing beginning at $65/month per user (if billed annually; $780), some folks will get intimidated. Unfortunately, Clio abandoned the split range pricing between attorneys and “other users,” so everyone now pays the same fee for the service.

The great part about Clio’s cloud system is not having to maintain a local hard drive. If you have a web browser, you have access to your Clio case files. Clio allowed me to do a lot of work from home via my Chromebook. The cost is a downside, but I figure not having to upgrade my hardware, worry about backups, or maintain a VPN to access information is a savings.

Client portals

I’ve used cloud programs to share documents with clients, but Clio’s client portal is something separate. I had clients comment that they really loved being able to see their documents online, and that they felt more in touch with their cases. One client even mentioned that she was happy to see the portal, since the online aspect meant she could send me documents by email, as opposed to fax.

Clio has a very nice client portal called Clio Connect, though they can do a better job of explaining its use.

Document upload

In addition to the client portal, I really liked Clio’s document upload system. Basically, if you’ve used an online file upload tool, you can use Clio’s program. You’re able to upload single or multiple files at the same time, which saves some hassle. Clio also lets you easily rename your file before you save it. And depending on where you want to save, Google versus Clio Connect, you’ll see the file instantly appear.

Note though, if you want to share via Clio Connect (and thus the secure portal), you’ll need to upload the file to Clio Connect, rather than Google Drive. I made this mistake, told my client to look for the file, and then received a call saying the file wasn’t there.

Billing

I can’t fully tell you how much I liked being able to bill for just about every activity I engaged in. I love being able to click a button to time an activity, and then submit a final bill to the client for payment. There were a couple of confusing aspects (such as “Activities”) that tripped me up as I started billing, but overall, I think most folks can figure out how to make Clio handle their range of billing needs.

Where Clio needs help

Clio, along with the other programs, is mostly designed by individuals who are not attorneys. Although they use feedback from practicing lawyers, the developers don’t quite understand the needs and goals of lawyers. One spot is in accounting.

Accounting

None of these cloud programs handle accounting well, and I’m certainly leery of using any of the programs to manage the firm’s operating or trust account. Obviously, for most attorneys accounting is already an issue, but Clio (and company) doesn’t make accounting any easier. I found myself struggling immensely to get Clio to handle any significant accounting issue. Clio does link with some of the major cloud and desktop-based accounting software, but I’m not sure that’s too helpful. I found the best solution was to run two sets of books: one in Clio for the actual expenses, and one in my accounting software (Quickbooks) for all other expenses. This method adds time and trouble to the process, but was the only surefire way I could handle the accounts receivable and accounts payable portions of my firm. As for my firm’s trust accounting, I’m still not sure.

Update: I think the biggest issue in the trust department is managing multiple accounts in different systems. Clio is quite accurate in handling individual client trust payments, but can’t link to other banking information. I think a simple reconciliation program (check the checks that cleared) might resolve the issue. I should note that as Clio’s currently configured, you won’t (or shouldn’t) have trust accounting issues.

I discovered the real problem for accounting was the fact that I can’t sync information across the platforms (Clio added Quickbooks integration but I didn’t test) to save from double-entries. If you have a solution, please let me know.

Limited, if any, accounting functionality means that Clio isn’t a practice management solution, but still doesn’t diminish its case management abilities.

Document assembly

My current program offers an integrated document assembly feature that I love. Unfortunately, where document assembly’s concerned, Clio doesn’t compare. This might not be a big issue for some, but when you’re used to pushing a button and outputting a fully typed document, Clio is a step down.

Setting up the document for assembly was rather easy since the assembly program relies on specific codes to merge into the document. However, I discovered that the codes didn’t go very far in terms of information. And sometimes, because of the limited information available, would output the wrong text. These errors were frustrating and sometimes cost me more time to correct. Basically, I’d say I was able to generate 85% of my documents correctly, which definitely netted an overall time savings.

As for creating templates to make the documents, I think most people will grasp the concept of placing the merge field into the designated position in the document. Clio’s merge fields are easy-to-use, though it’s time consuming to convert your current documents to the Clio format. Personally, I’m going to use a virtual assistant to create and edit my documents.

Importing data

If you’re coming from another system, you’ll have some downtime between your old clients and your new ones. Even though you can easily export your data, Clio asks that you send the spreadsheet to them for “massaging.” This process takes between 3 and 5 business days, and you’ll still have to review the file for accuracy. Then you return the file to Clio for upload to your account. If you’re savvy, you can handle the upload and file association on your own. All told though, you’re still delayed about 3 days before you can work on any old files.

Customization

When used correctly, PracticeMaster features the ability to customize particular fields of information. Clio lacks something similar, though you can add rudimentary “custom fields” in the setup screen. But if you’re looking to add in-depth information, such as payments or even a list of medical expenses, Clio can’t create that list.

For instance, I wanted to track my client’s medical expenses, including provider information. In PracticeMaster, I created a tab for entering each provider individually. In PracticeMaster, this is a “custom field” that doesn’t look pretty, but gets the job done. I attempted something similar, but couldn’t quite achieve the feel. I settled with using the case notes as a way to enter and reference the information.

Close, but not quite

Overall, Clio is one of the best cloud-based case management systems available. If you’re looking to convert to a cloud-based system, Clio must be on your radar. But hopefully you’ve also gleaned that Clio is not a true practice management system; it’s very much a case management program that hinges on practice management brilliance. Compared to my current program, Clio is a 4 of 10, in its practice management capabilities. Clio will handle most (8 of 10) of your front office needs, but lacks the ability to integrate fully for back office performance.

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5 Responses to Cloud Practice Management: Clio

  1. Thank you for the critique of my law office management system I have been using now for the past couple of years and to your credit I agree with most of what you said about Clio. My solo personal injury practice has accomodated those shortcomings you pointed out and a few more and the developers at clio would benefit from retaining an attorney who understands the requirements of a contingency fee based practice. I am not complaining about Clio having migrated from several other desktop systems (Amicus, Abacus, and pclaw accounting) this cloud based practice management system exceeds my baby boomer expectations.

    • Completely agree. The handling of fees were huge stumbling blocks for most programs, but Clio’s lack of contingency billing stifled my understanding. that seems like an easy billing change, although I think the general categorization is to place these kinds of receipts under a “flat fee” moniker.

  2. So what is your current program that you’re comparing Clio to? I’ve had Clio for almost a year. I like it but have had a hard time getting staff and the head partner to use it. Plus there is a lot of duplication with Google apps, Timeslips, and Microsoft office programs. I’m wondering if Clio is an unnecessary luxury that merely duplicates what these other programs already do. Thoughts?

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Jeff Taylor

I’m just an ordinary guy living an extraordinary life. I’m also an attorney and I blog about Android for lawyers. You can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Google+.