Basecamp Project Management for Law Firms

basecamp law firm11 Basecamp Project Management for Law FirmsErin Blaskie mentioned the stripped-to-the-essentials project management software, Basecamp, in her post on virtual assistants and delegation, but Basecamp is good for more than working with virtual assistants.

Project management software evolved as a way to help groups of people accomplish a task together. Much project management software, however, is more time-consuming than the actual project, and impedes productivity. Basecamp strips down project management to the essential features, according to developer 37signals. Basically, it allows team members to share tasks, messages, and files.

Task management

Basecamp’s central feature is its ability to manage tasks. And to-do lists are, after all, the heart of every project. Basecamp uses three different types of to-do: milestones, to-do lists, and to-do items. A milestone is tied to a date. The day your motion papers are due, for example. You can tie a to-do list to that milestone, and assign individual to-do items to members of your team.

So for a motion for summary judgment, you will need a notice of hearing, a motion, a memorandum, an affidavit or three, a proposed order, and a certificate of service. Generate (at least) a to-do item for each, assign it to a member of your team, and off they go. If questions arise related to a task, they can use the messaging features to keep relevant comments in one place.

Incidentally, you can create to-do templates. For example, if you wanted to use it for every file, you could create your file opening checklist as a template, and automatically apply it to every new file you open.

Messaging

Basecamp integrates messaging very well. You can add messages on their own, but you can also add comment threads to tasks and milestones, allowing conversations targeted to the job at hand.

Since we all have email—and it works just fine—I was surprised to see how useful Basecamp’s messaging is. Here is why: when you add a comment, it sends an email to the recipient, who can just hit reply to add another comment. This means that everyone can use Basecamp without needing to visit the site.

I recently took a case as co-counsel with a non-profit. Because I wanted to use Basecamp to manage three attorneys doing work on one file, I added each of them to the project. They signed up for a username and password, but they don’t really ever need to sign in again. Every time I assign them a task or send a message, they get an email. It works great, and means I can use Basecamp to manage the project, while they can focus on completing their tasks.

Files

You can upload files to your Basecamp projects, and it includes web-based version control, too. This came in handy for me recently when I wanted to give my co-counsel a copy of my state pleading template. I just uploaded it to Basecamp so he could get at it.

It is a little clumsy for actually editing a document, which is why it includes Writeboards.

Collaborative writing

Writeboards are a—very basic—collaborative writing space. Each writeboard is basically a dead-simple word processor that you can use to draft a document with your team. It works great for portions of briefs, long letters, or other documents, but you might not find it particularly useful when compared with the flexibility of Google Docs or even just Dropbox.

I find this to be the least-useful feature of Basecamp, although I have had occasion to use a writeboard already, and can see why it might come in handy from time to time.

A great tool for complex projects

I do not plan to use Basecamp for every case we take on. But for cases that involve many sub-projects (milestones), it really helps to keep track of things. Right now, I am using it for several cases that involve more work than average, and two cases that involve co-counsel outside the firm.

Basecamp is software you can just pick up and run with. You don’t need a user manual; you just need 30 seconds to get started. It is all pretty self-explanatory, and its usefulness should be self-evident. I signed up for the $24/month plan, and I am positive that Basecamp is going to become one of our primary tools.

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  • William

    After spending several months survey the online/cloud based law office management software, I finally decided on Basecamp. It isn’t being sold as such, and so the Clios and AbacusLaw type platforms seem to be all the rave. I have found it to be perfectly suited for client interaction and office management if you get reassign nomenclature in your head (not legally focused). For the price and the community of add ons through their API, I think basecamp is great tool for small to medium law firms. Good to see others feel the same way.

    wre

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    I definitely feel the same. Basecamp quickly rose to the top of my “technology I love” list.

  • Jan

    Sam,

    I wonder how long it will be before other attorney’s catch onto this idea? I’ve been using a Basecamp competitor, teamworkpm (www.teamworkpm.com) for quite a while now and couldn’t be happier. I tried a couple of other Basecamp competitors before I swtiched to teamworkpm because it’s user friendly. My clients love it. It is branded with my firm info and logo, is a place where my clients and I can communicate at any time. Everything is in one place. We have access to the file, the calendar, messaging, resources, notebooks, etc. The sky is the limit. My clients are located around the country and I seem travel quite a bit as well. Even if I don’t have my laptop, I can usually complete a task because I can access everything from any internet connection (and my handy blackberry). Plus, as a solo, the price is right!

    In the past, I purchased Abacus (which I hated) and have been using Amicus for the last year. I’ve been thinking in the last few months about how much I use Word, Outlook, Acrobat, Quickbooks, and teamworkpm, and wonder if a “practice management” program is really right for me.

  • http://www.pmhut.com PM Hut

    Hi Sam,

    I am intrigued by the rising interest in legal project management (I’ve even published an article introducing legal project management lately). I think it’s very exciting that project management is gaining interest from a very prominent profession.

    Now about your review about Basecamp, you’ve only mentioned the features that it currently has. I would like to know if there are additional features (not present in Basecamp or any other PM tool out there) that you think legal project management will need for better case management.

  • http://www.legalprojectmanagement.info/ Paul C. Easton

    I think Basecamp, Zoho Project, and their ilk are great for team collaboration. They don’t offer some of the lawyer-specific tools (calendaring rules, practice-specific templates, and trust accounting for their billing pieces) that the law-specific tools do, but they do a good job at keeping a team of people working on the same page. The barrier that I face with most of these tools, however, is their lack of integration with e-mail, calendars, and document assembly & management systems means that much of the functionality goes unused or required significant numbers of redundant manual processes. The future of legal project management applications, I think, will lie with those tools that integrate well with enterprise systems like SharePoint and Google Apps.

    Another disappointment that I have with most legal practice management and general team collaboration tools is the lack of planning features. Without even rudimentary time and cost budgeting and no way to really measure your efficiency of your work, I find that the words “project management” stick in my throat when discussing these tools. I hope that the current legal project management trend continues to gain momentum and spur innovation in this area.

    • Patrick DiDomenico

      I agree with Paul’s comment about integration with document management and SharePoint. Without that, it seems to me that these web-based tools, while very cool, won’t be widely adopted in larger law firms that have made huge investments in such systems. I’d love to hear thoughts on this.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    What are you looking for when it comes to e-mail integration? I find Basecamp’s approach—e-mailing tasks and messages when assigned—to be pretty much perfect.

    As for trust accounting, that is what QuickBooks is for. Use the right tool for the job.

  • http://blog.mckeeoffice.com Sharmil McKee

    I disagree. Basecamp has too many shortcomings to be used as the primary project management software for a law firm. It lacks gantt project planning abilities. It lacks the ability to limit user-access to certain portions of a project. It doesn’t automatically update the client or the project members. It’s calendar does not have a filter feature. Timesheets and invoicing are almost useless.

    I recommend another online project management program–worketc.com It combines project management with client management, time management, trust fund management. It allows us to budget time and costs for each project, while it tracks and compares our actual time and costs for the project. It’s half the price of basecamp with twice as many features. The only feature that WORKetc lacks is the ability to edit documents online. The killer feature is the knowledge base feature. This is where we store information for later use. For example, every-time one of us appears before a judge, we post our impressions to the knowledge base. We have built quite a collection of information about judges and their quirkiness. It helps prepare us for future appearances. Basecamp does not have this feature. After using several project management programs (Basecamp, Zoho, Clio, etc), we chose WORKetc about a year ago, and I am completely satisfied.

    Judge for yourself at http://www.worketc.com

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/aaronstreet/ Aaron Street

      Sharmil,

      I’m surprised by your criticism. I’ve never, ever, ever heard of a law firm using Gantt charts to manage work. Good for you for being an outlier!

      That said, if there really are law firms interested in exploring project management techniques, I think Agile development would be a much more intriguing process than traditional project management.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    WORKetc looks pretty interesting. I’m not using Basecamp as a primary case management system, though, and I wouldn’t know what to do with a Gantt chart, in any case.

    Instead, I use Basecamp to facilitate collaboration with other attorneys (including those outside my firm) on a few, specific projects. It is outstanding for how I use it, but I think I agree that it would probably fall short for full-service case management.

  • http://www.mnconsumerattorney.com Anne M. Hansen

    Sam — Are you still using Google Apps? If so, how well does Basecamp integrate with your Google Calendar?

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    We do still use Google Apps. Basecamp sends task announcements via e-mail for everything, and every project has at least one RSS feed you can use in different ways.

  • http://www.altmanweil.com Pamela Woldow

    Actually, law firms and corporate legal departments are using Gantt charts and other legal project management tools to manage legal matters — whether transactional or litigation. The most important need for most law firms that I counsel is for a tool that will bridge to the billing system for budgeting management purposes. It is important for firms to be able to build budgets and then to obtain real-time billing information to gauge how the matter is “running” against budget. Certainly, modalities for communications within the firm team and with the client team are very important, but the bottom line still revolves around whether the firm is on time and on budget. At this time, Basecamp does not address that need.

  • http://www.worketc.com/ Barbie Adair

    Worketc (www.worketc.com) can be a reliable legal project management solution as it packs in features such as tracking clients, generating progress reports, team planning and collaboration. It also allows you to systematize your documents in a knowledge base and provide you with a well-organized contacts and email database. Being buried in tons of references and readings can weigh down even legal luminaries, but with Worketc, you not only save time and effort, it also provides you with the most accurate pleadings and arguments that makes for a top notch lawyer.

  • Rowan Gates

    We tried Basecamp at our firm but switched recently to the new version of Projecturf that came out this month because Basecamp didn’t offer the following features our firm needed:
    - the ability to present documents to clients and let them review, comment on and approve – all in one place.
    - digital signatures on documents to allow online approval as well as accurate records of client approvals (this is important).
    - All Projecturf plans come with all features – cost of using Projecturf 2.0 won’t increase with add-ons (yes, we are on a budget)
    - Projecturf 2.0 provides unlimited file storage space on all business plans with no cap on users, project managers or features. Staff can share and upload large numbers of files without storage restrictions or additional charges.
    - With Dock-like navigation, Finder-like collapsible document folder management and project color-coding, and a similar calendar interface to iCal – the instinctive Mac-inspired interface of Projecturf 2.0 ensures almost no learning curve. Our most tech challenged partner (in his late 70s) was up and running in 10 minutes.
    - Projecturf offers a free logo service to integrate our firm’s existing company logo into Projecturf 2.0 – looks great when clients see it – seamless branding.
    - an easy to use time card section – fast, accurate billing down to the minute

  • http://www.northernmichiganbankruptcy.com Paul Slough

    Last I looked, Worketc didn’t play nice with email, which is a real deal killer for me.

    I use Solve360 and I’m very happy with it so far: http://www.norada.com

    * Syncs with Google Contacts
    * Client project access
    * Task templates
    * CRM capabilities like drip marketing
    * Full email integration
    * Integrates with Freshbooks/Constant Contact

    • http://gyitsakalakis.com Gyi Tsakalakis

      Do you have a desktop timer that integrates with Solve360?

  • https://www.rule.fm/ Patrick

    We used Basecamp for all client projects until we realized it just couldn’t give us an idea of what was really going on in our business or the ability to interact with all business assets from anywhere, anytime. Since we couldn’t find something that combined powerful management tools combined with a great user experience, we created it ourselves. RULE.fm is coming August 3, 2010 and we’d love to see what you think about our productivity tool. Check it out at http://rule.fm when you get a chance.

  • http://www.bischoflegal.com George L. Bischof

    Good post and discussion. Can anyone point me to some free gantt chart software that I could use to test-drive the idea of tracking the process of doing a client’s will?

    • Patrick DiDomenico

      George,
      I’m late to this post, but if you have not already tried it, http://www.smartsheet.com is great for simple gantt charts

  • http://zincubate.com/ Zach

    Funny… I worked at a law firm for 5 years, and would have never even thought to use a program like Basecamp (we were using Amicus to track client communications – which was awesome, but buggy). Basecamp seems even better positioned to handle project based work – as opposed to simply file or client management. Tool like this would have helped everyone.

  • http://www.georgiacriminalappellatelawblog.com Scott Key

    Now that you are using Clio, do you still use Basecamp? It seems to me like one of the essential components of it — ability to share resources with the client — is not so applicable in a criminal practice, particularly in an appellate one where the clients don’t have computer access.

    But overall, how does Basecamp stack up against a dedicated cloud based practice management system?

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    We’re just auditioning Clio, at this point, so we’re still using Basecamp. One of the main advantages to Clio or Rocket Matter over Basecamp is the pricing structure. Basecamp charges per project (matter), while Clio and Rocket Matter charge by the user, with unlimited matters.

    As your firm grows to three or four people, the price difference between Basecamp and Clio or Rocket Matter quickly evaporates. And since Clio and Rocket Matter do a lot more than Basecamp, they make good sense.

    But in the end, Clio and Rocket Matter are very different products. I can think of advantages to both in different practices. For example, Clio and Rocket Matter feel like a better fit for litigation to me, while Basecamp (integrated with Freshbooks, probably) feels like a better fit for transactional work.

  • http://www.apollohq.com Tony Mobily

    Hi,

    I just wanted to let you know about Apollo, http://www.apollohq.com Apollo is project and contact management; it includes cases&deals, timers, shareable calendars, etc.

    Give it a spin!

    Merc.

  • scott

    Great discussion and comments. I wish you could rerun it, so that I can see what people are using now.

  • Lilly Brown

    I am also running a law firm and using proofhub to carry out all my work. It’s very easy to use and anyone can use this tool. Features like time tracking, to-do’s, file sharing are awesome.

  • tetonattorney

    Sam – just curious if you still use basecamp. I like the idea of to-do list templates being a core feature of practice mgmt software.

    • http://samglover.net/ Sam Glover

      I don’t. I still love it, but it’s meant for collaboration, and I don’t do much of that, these days.

  • Jimmy

    I like basecamp, but it’s more of a workgroup management tool, not a project management tool. Looked at from a project manager’s point of view, I like being able to assign, hand off and comment on tasks, estimate completion dates, see what’s next, what your velocity is, etc. For that I’ve had a great luck with proofhub.com – it was designed to support agile software projects and uses some terminology from that world, but I’ve found it to be excellent for non-technical projects as well.