All-in-One Solutions Are Not One-Size-Fits-All

New lawyers often choose all-in-one solutions (I did), whether hardware or software, when starting a law firm. While an all-in-one printer/copier/scanner/fax or practice management software can be a good option, they can also hamper productivity by trying to do too many things, and none of them well.

Law firms should carefully consider whether to use an all-in-one solution or select the best tool for each task.

All-in-one printer/copier/scanner/fax machines

Most new lawyers I meet start out planning to purchase an all-in-one printer/scanner/etc., because it seems like the easiest, most-obvious choice. It isn’t.

You need a printer and a scanner. You don’t need a copier or a fax machine. If you have a good document scanner and printer, you probably won’t ever miss a copier. And although you still need to be able to fax, a fax service is more efficient, environmentally-friendly, and cheaper.

So there goes half the all-in-one’s value proposition. That leaves a mediocre printer and a substandard document scanner.

The only advantage left to an all-in-one is price. A decent all-in-one can still be less-expensive than a ScanSnap and a good laser printer. I started with an HP 3015, but trying to make it work as a document scanner was a giant pain. When I finally bought a ScanSnap and a laser printer, I saved a ton of time and aggravation.

Stay away from all-in-one printers. They just aren’t worth it. Practice management software, however, may be a different story.

Practice management software

While I tried all-in-one hardware and found it seriously lacking, I remain on the fence when it comes to practice management software. It does depend on which software you are talking about, though.

When we were at TechShow recently, we got to compare a lot of practice management software side-by-side. It was reassuring to see that Lexis and West are still pushing software that would be more at home on a Commodore 64 than Windows 7. (Adopting Time Matters remains one of the biggest mistakes I made in setting up my own practice.)

But the ancient software pushed by the traditional vendors is in stark contrast to the excellent options from Rocket Matter and Clio, and a few newer up-and-coming cloud solutions, too. Still, they fall short on discrete tasks even though they have the everything-in-one-place advantage.

I have used Clio and Rocket Matter in my practice, and I have used various software solutions, each of which I felt was the best tool for the task. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, but I think both have their optimal users.

For a solo who is picky when it comes to features and productivity, it makes sense to choose the best tool for the task. For me, this means a smorgasbord of Google Apps, Freshbooks, QuickBooks, Basecamp, and a few other tools. For a solo who just wants to plug in a solution, get Rocket Matter or Clio, use Google Apps for email, and don’t worry about it.

For two or more lawyers, I think practice management software makes more sense. It is important to be able to quickly find out what other lawyers are working on, what deadlines are coming up, etc. Mistakes are too costly—for you and for your clients—to not have a rock-solid case management solution in place.

All-in-one solutions are not one-size-fits-all

So, on the one hand, all-in-one solutions often fall short of discrete solutions. This is definitely true for hardware like printers, scanners, and fax machines. On the other hand, an all-in-one can be greater than the sum of its parts. This is true for the new generation of practice management software.

Whatever you choose, choose carefully. Don’t simply default to an all-in-one solution just because it seems easier. You will probably regret it.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/5044331262/)

  • http://capstonelawmn.com/ Rob Shainess

    The choice of accounting/billing software has been the most difficult one for me. I really wish there was an affordable option that would take care of the front end law firm billing and the back end accounting. What I find is that the top SaaS providers (Clio, Rocket Matter) do some trust accounting and handle the billing really well, they don’t do general ledger accounting. Conversely, Quickbooks does general ledger accounting well, but the invoices it spits out look like my mechanic’s. The third option is what Sam does: combine Quickbooks with Freshbooks. That costs $29.95 per month, but doesn’t help with the Trust accounting, although Quickbooks can be rigged to handle it. But, if you are going to pay $29.95 per month for Freshbooks, then you might as well consider jumping up to Clio for $49 a month, and get all the extra bells and whistles. Is there no sane solution?

    • http://gregoryluce.com/ Gregory Luce

      I was impressed with TimeSolv when I sat through a demo and tried it out myself a bit ago. It relates solely to accounting and billing and grew out of a product from West that West later didn’t want to include in its premier solution for big firms. Interface is not as pretty as Clio and Rocketmatter but it gets the basic accounting and billing (and IOLTA) stuff done. Worth looking at for less than $20 per month for just the accounting/billing component, though it really would be nice if they would put their prices more up front on the web before trying it.

  • http://www.server267.com/ Jeanette

    I do have to disagree with “If you have a good document scanner and printer, you probably won’t ever miss a copier.” As many legal assistants will know, and most attorneys will not know, the time difference between copying 300 pages of medical records and printing 300 pages of medical records is substantial, and the printing takes MUCH longer. If I have the documents in hard copy, I choose to copy them; if they are only available electronically and I have to send a hard copy, I will print one and copy the rest. If my attorney says 30 minutes before a hearing, “oh, yeah, BTW, I need this [huge] exhibit” and the documents for it are on the computer, … um, yeah, I’ll be running that to court after he’s already gone.

    Then again, maybe blazing new printers are up to speed.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/stacizaretsky/ Staci Zaretsky

      I’m going to have to agree with you, Jeanette. We have relatively new printers, and printing 3 copies of a 125 page, double-sided exhibit list (which I did today), would have taken A LOT longer for me to do than copying did.

      As a side note, I sent 4 faxes today on an old school fax machine.

  • Lawrence Brenner

    Hey Sam, are you planning are reviewing any other case/practice management software programs in the near future? I have found Lawyerist posts on Clio and Rocket Matter useful as well as comments on HoudiniEsq and TimeMatters but would love to hear about a few more case/practice management programs before I settle down on purchasing the software for my soon to be solo firm. A friend of mine told me I should go with Worldox and Tabs3. I have also heard of Advologix and netdocuments. Do you have any opinions on these programs?

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

      Not all of those are actually practice management software (NetDocuments and Worldox are just for document management, for example). Tabs3 is the same kind of software as Time Matters, from the looks of the screenshots on the website, so I’m not very interested in reviewing it.

      I am curious about AdvologixPM, although I admit it makes me suspicious that I can’t find a screenshot anywhere on the website. What are they hiding?

      • Clayton

        Sam,

        It is very odd that they forgot to have a screen shot on there. I’ve put a video on what a lot of our cases (you can change it based on what type of case it is) look like with Advologix/NetDocuments here:

        http://www.oklahomalawyer.com/AttorneyResourceBlog/advologixnetdocuments-demo-video/

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

          I’m sure it is on purpose. They probably want you to sign up for a demo, instead, so they can start the sales process. But without screenshots, I am not motivated to even look at a demo.

          • Clayton

            That’s fine with me. I have no financial interest in the company (other than what I pay them of course). A video isn’t too hard to view though!

            Another interesting option is to just do your own thing (without a legal provider) with Salesforce.com/NetDocuments.com: http://divorcediscourse.com/2011/04/11/work-pajamas

            It would also be interesting to see if anyone puts something together with Microsoft’s updated Dynamics CRM/Sharepoint/Office365.

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

              Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate your video; I just think it’s goofy that Advologix didn’t put up its own.

        • Lawrence Brenner

          Clayton,

          What is your opinion of how Advologix/NetDocuments compares to other document management programs that you have tried?

          • Clayton

            Lawrence,

            Like everything it depends on what you want to do. I wanted something that would generate documents. When I looked at the other SaaS providers, none of them offered this. They may now though. Salesforce.com is also very customizable, and they have a ton of apps/add-ons for it. See: http://appexchange.salesforce.com/

            The other main drawback was document management. With Netdocs, I can quickly access/edit/and save documents just like I would on my computer. There’s no need to download the doc and then re-upload it.

            RocketMatter and Clio are both adding features all the time though too.

  • http://hablelaw.com/ Andrea Hable

    Even though I loathe my all-in-one printer/scanner/copier and wish I had just bought a better quality printer, I do actually use the scan and copy functions occasionally. I do have a scansnap, but I deal regularly with fairly old documents that I just don’t feel comfortable running through my scansnap, nor would I want to remove the original staples or bindings from them, so having a flatbed scanner is a nice alternative (as hair-pulling-ly slow as it is). And I agree with the others that copying is much faster than printing, though it’s rare I have enough pages for this to be a problem. Actually, I am more likely to copy something that I’m having trouble scanning, then scan the copy (it sounds wasteful, but it doesn’t happen very often).

  • http://www.goclio.com Jack Newton

    Good post Sam, and great comments as well.

    One of the most important benefits of using an “all in one” system is that you can avoid entering data twice. With Clio, for example, if you enter an address for a contact once, you automatically get that address included in the matter, bills you generate, and so on.

    Using the “best of breed” individual tools may provide some advantages in terms of functionality, but in my mind that is more than offset by the need to integrate and duplicate data across multiple systems. This is at best a headache, and at worst a recipe for inconsistent, missing and corrupt data.

    @Rob – Clio doesn’t currently implement full-blown accounting, but we do have a full QuickBooks integration to let you pull your Clio bills etc. over to QB to keep your AR, etc. in QB synced up with Clio. Yes, this has all the data duplication headaches I mentioned above, so it’s not ideal, but it’s the best we can offer the time being.

    Cheers,
    Jack

  • Rhonda Pagel

    I agree that an all in one is a good idea but I also think it is a good idea to supplement it. Plus, with a small investment, you can duplicate all of the functions so that you have a back up for each function if something crashes.
    Scanning on the all in one is not as convenient so if you want to scan many documents, getting a ScanSnap in addition is critical. But, occassionally I need to scan something with a flat bed scanner (which I can’t do on my Scan Snap).
    I use ringcentral for faxing. But, if for some reason my internet is down or I need to fax something before a looming deadline (I have found that the outgoing fax sometimes is slow), having a traditional fax is very helpful.
    I have a small compact printer that I occassionally need to take to court or a meeting. If my printer goes down, I can use this to print until my all in one is up and running.
    If my copier isn’t working, I can still scan and print with my scansnap and either my all in one printer or my compact printer.
    I used to work in an office with multiple attorneys and multiple printers so if one crashed we still had another one to use. I learned the hard way not to rely solely on my all in one. Things tend to crash at the least opportune moment and knowing that you have a work around solution greatly eases an otherwise stressful situation.

  • http://www.richardhornsby.com/ Richard Hornsby

    The problem is you try to hard to advocate anti-establishment.

    I can say without a doubt that the two best purchases I have ever made is (1) Time Matters, which handles all of my calendaring, contacts, cases, and document automation; and (2) my Brother MFC-9970CDW, which combines color and B&W laser printing, as well as fax and network scanning (although I have a ScanSnap and I also use Google CloudPrint so I can print things on the go.).

    RocketMatter is way to expensive per month for its limited feature base and a fax service simply does not convey a sense of permanence and professionalism that most clients would expect of a lawyer they are considering hiring.

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

      I’m curious. How does a fax service convey anything when no client has any idea I am using one? From their end (let’s assume I actually use faxes), it appears the same as if I had a fax machine, whether they are sending or receiving.

      • http://www.richardhornsby.com/ Richard Hornsby

        Most fax services I know of use 800 numbers, out of area-code numbers, or indicate they come from the fax service instead of your office. It doesn’t take much for a potential client to tell you are cost cutting when you use your cell phone as your main number and a fax service instead of a dedicated line.

        Also, one other interesting value of the Brother MFC lines, you can fax directly from your computer to them and you can have received faxes sent from the MFC to an email as a TIF file (which Acrobat opens).

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

          That’s weird. All the fax services I compared when I was looking came with local numbers. And they allow sending and receiving from any computer for far less than an extra phone line.

          Of course, I canceled my fax service last month, because I haven’t sent or received a fax all year. Email works better, and everyone already has it. Even my small business clients don’t bother getting a fax line these days.

  • http://www.PAinjurycase.com Dave S

    I try to use email as much as possible. However, doing a lot of personal injury, I have many clients who have a fax machine at home but either don’t have a scanner or don’t know how to scan and prefer to fax documents to us. Also, many third-parties or vendors, such as medical providers from whom we are requesting records, won’t accept email correspondence. Many insurance adjusters won’t accept email. So, needless to say, faxing is still an everyday necessity for me. I greatly appreciate the info about the fax services, thanks.

  • Adron Beene

    Copier. For litigation I use a 25 page per minute sheet feed with a collater. I buy used with no service plan. I have had three copiers since 1994. I use about two boxes of paper a month. For big productions and trial exhibits I send them out.

    Fax. I use a scanner and efax. The most common reason I send or receive faxes is when an opposing attorney cannot deal with emails and pdfs. Yes there are a number of them still in silicon valley. Otherwise everything is scanned and emailed. The best part of efax is the document comes in as a pdf so it can be saved and forwarded. The faxes also come in on my desktop, ipad and iphone so I can read them anywhere.

  • http://www.hensellaw.com Craig Hensel

    I disagree slightly on the printer discussion. I use a ScanSnap and for a long time had a no-frills laser printer. Recently, I upgraded to an Epson WP-4540 (HP has a nearly equivalent direct competitor) and have loved the change.

    First, you do miss a copier. Using the “Scan to Printer” on the ScanSnap is fine and all, but it’s just easier to be able to pop things into the printer tray and hit a single button. Second, the Epson (and its HP counterpart) print at less-than-laser prices per page, and they print fast. Third, the Epson (not the HP) comes with THREE paper trays. Paper, letterhead, envelopes. Boom. You get that for less than the price of a standard color laser printer.

    While you can do things without the all-in-one printer, I have found it more convenient to have both the ScanSnap AND the all-in-one.

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

      Wait, you are printing legal documents with an inkjet? I would never do that. I don’t think inkjets are acceptable for professional documents.

      As for copying, yes, it’s sometimes easier to just copy something off. But if you have documents that aren’t scanned, you are doing paperless wrong. Every document should be scanned, which means anything you need to copy is either (1) scanned already, or (2) needs to get scanned, anyway, so you might as well do it now, then print off copies.

      • http://www.hensellaw.com Craig Hensel

        There is absolutely nothing wrong with printing legal documents on an inkjet. A good inkjet gives similar to nearly identical output when compared against a laser printer, with ink that dries instantly. Its speed is nearly identical to laser, and the cost per page is actually less expensive. It may have been a while since you gave a decent inkjet a shot, or you may have used a cheap one when you formed your opinion. In any case, Typography for Lawyers (which I would consider the authority here) is fine with them, and so am I.

        As for copying, there are things that don’t get scanned immediately. My biggest single example is fee applications for court appointed work. I fill them out in fillable .pdf, then print, sign, copy, and file. Given the nature of the document and the fact that I immediately get a stamped copy back, there is no need to scan one pre-stamp, nor am I allowed to turn in three with original signatures. The ability to copy them saves me a little bit of time, every time.

        Further, I scan in black & white mode something like 95% of the time. A greyscale copy is often higher fidelity than a B&W scan, so it ends up looking somewhat nicer than scan/print.

        • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover
          • http://www.hensellaw.com Craig Hensel

            If it took 5 seconds to pick out the difference between inkjet and laser in your review, I have my doubts that the inkjet printer was properly cleaned and aligned.

            Also, I’m not too worried about style. Even if there is a minuscule difference in print quality between laser and my inkjet, I more than make up with it in good stylistic choices in the document. There’s no argument that a straight Courier pleading with styling from the days of actual typewriters, printed on a laser printer, comes anywhere near the visual appeal of a document written in a good font with proper typographical attention which was printed on an inkjet.

            Having used a well-reviewed Brother laser for the majority of my practice and having switched to my Epson inkjet recently, I’d take the Epson any day of the week.

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

              “Less than 3 seconds” is the quote, by which I meant “it was painfully obvious.” And I aligned it using the factory utility before printing that page. It was also a brand-new printer and cartridge.

              Inkjets just don’t look as good. Maybe they are acceptable to some, but when laser printers are so cheap, why settle for an inkjet?

              • http://www.hensellaw.com Craig Hensel

                I’ve put laser and inkjet pages side by side recently and the only difference was that the inkjet printed a touch darker. There were no ragged font edges, smudges, or distortions of any sort. This strikes me as a situation akin to Penn and Teller’s bottled water experiment. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfPAjUvvnIc)

                Even if there is a slight difference, you would get an inkjet because they are a LOT cheaper for an equivalent amount of functionality, and because they are less expensive per page printed.

  • http://www.hensellaw.com Craig Hensel

    I should have mentioned on those fee agreements – they are filed in triplicate.