Loyal readers know I am intrigued by cloud computing. Not sold on it, but intrigued. The main reason I am not sold is the cost. Legal software vendors seem to be sticking to the same high price point as traditional vendors. Also, because you have to get online to use it, there is the question of downtime. Finally, because the technology is in its infancy, there is still room for improvement.Clio is a cloud program for law practice management that I have written about in the past. on his Does It Compute? blog John Heckman takes a new look at Clio. Here is what he has to write:
I recently signed up to be a consultant for Clio, the on-line, SaaS practice management program. In going through consultant training, I was impressed not so much by what is missing or insufficient (billing, documents, very poor email integration, no document assembly at all), but by how far the program has come since I first looked at it nearly two years ago. The features that do exist are fairly robust: basic calendaring, client files, basic billing, a link to Quickbooks (still somewhat a work in progress).Please click here to read the original article.
I think this is typical of the new breed of SaaS practice management programs (including Rocket Matter, Houdini Esq. and Advologix). Being built from the ground up, they don’t have the baggage of older programs (old conceptions, backward compatibility requirements, etc.). Therefore they can add features and roll them out at a rapid pace.
SaaS programs offer the advantage of immediate rollout (no server, no installation) and low startup costs. As with anything else that you rent, it will probably cost you more in the long run than an in-house system. While the market for these programs is in flux, it seems that some form of SaaS programs will be the future. The missing features will be filled in, functionality will expand.
The main weakness of all these programs is the lack of the type of integration that exists (after years of development) with server-based programs. They typically integrate more or less seamlessly with Outlook, document management programs, etc. There is currently no button in Clio that says “show me my gmail account” or “show me my Outlook inbox.” And what integration does exist tends to be a two-step upload/download process rather than seamless. In the next year or two this is one of the main areas these programs need to address.
Many people originally expressed security concerns: “is my data safe?” “what happens if the company goes out of business?”. This is a red herring. The SaaS programs offer substantially better security, anti-virus protection etc. that the vast majority of small firms can provide on-site. Further, many of them (including Clio) escrow your data so it will always be available, even if the company goes under. When you first log in to Clio, you see the security verification from leading companies, including a daily virus scan and extensive privacy protection.
Clio is designed for small firms and the way it works reflects that. For example, while you can import documents into the system, there is currently no ability to batch import any significant number of documents. There is no form of document assembly or the ability to merge form files with information from the program. But many small firms don’t use this sort of feature in other existing programs anyway.
Clio opens to your Agenda, showing your tasks and appointments. Tabs across the top let you quickly access Contacts, Tasks, Matters, Billing information and so on. The most basic information is quickly at your fingertips
One of the slickest features of Clio is called “Clio Connect” which enables a user to share files with specified other individuals. You invite them to have a limited logon that lets them access the specified files and nothing else in the program. Again, this will be extremely useful for a small number of files, but unwieldy for a large number of files.
Clio Express is a downloadable module that can be used for time entry when you are not connected to the Internet. A mobile version of Clio allows you to access the a version of the program tailored for display on iPhone, Blackberry, Droid, etc. So if you have a smartphone you always have access to Clio.
Help resources are excellent. Every time I had a question, I could fairly easily find the answer in the help files.
Several people have asked me, “why choose Clio?” I felt that it was time to get involved in some kind of SaaS program. On the one hand, Clio offers me a starting point for small clients, yet on the other will not require the kind of investment of time that mastering a more complex program with lots of customization, programming, etc. involved. Probably nobody will like the analogy, but Clio is the Amicus Attorney of SaaS programs (and it is surely no accident that they offer a conversion from Amicus). It is simple and straightforward to use for people who probably would not use extensive customization anyway.
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