Open Source and the Virtual Law Firm

At this year’s ABA TECHSHOW, Rodney Dowell and Dennis Kennedy gave a presentation on the open source powered law firm.  I’ve used open source software for years for various purposes in my virtual law practice.  However, I had never considered other ways that other attorneys might be using open source software to create their own virtual law firms or to supplement their practices with these solutions.


As with any technology used in practice management, it is the responsibility of the attorney to thoroughly research the product and understand how it can be safely used in their law practice, whether it’s open source, install software or a cloud-based monthly subscription.   Some open source applications will be more user-friendly than others so making this determination really depends on your comfort level and willingness to experiment with open source applications. To my knowledge there aren’t any user-ready open source applications that directly create client portals or a virtual law firm platform.

Inspired by the TECHSHOW presentation, below are some open source solutions that I have used in the past or currently use to supplement the use of a secure client portal to deliver legal services online.  I know there are attorneys out there practicing in virtual law firms who are using other open source software solutions than the ones listed below.  Please share your favorites with us in the comment section and how you are using them for elawyering.

Password Security:  Keepass I use this to create strong passwords and to manage the many usernames and passwords that I have for different cloud-based applications.

Encryption: Truecrypt This is great for disk encryption.  Combine with Synctoy (free, but not open source) and a portable hardrive for a secondary backup system.  I use this method of encrypted backup in addition to a cloud-based backup service.

CRM: SugarCRM If you are looking for an open source alternative to Salesforce’s CRM, this is a good option.  It’s not a user friendly as it could be, but has a strong user community.

Mindmapping: Freeplane.org Good for brainstorming, creating a fluid business plan or marketing strategy for your firm.

Notes on your desktop: A Note Sticky notes for your desktop.  Useful if you are like me and have to make lots of notes and lists to remember everything.

Word Processing: OpenOffice.org Aside from providing the standard word processing and a presentation slide builder, I have used this suite of application to create PDF acroforms that can be uploaded to my virtual law office to create online HTML forms for the intake of online client data.  However, before downloading the suite, you may want to read about changes to OpenOffice.org by Oracle.  You may need to go to LibreOffice.org for a similar suite of open soure products.

Email Management (not for client communication because it’s not encrypted, but for general business): Thunderbird This is by far my favorite and most used open source application.  I have used Mozilla’s Thunderbird email messaging and archive system for over 6 years and am still happy with it.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dimnikolov/4697345882/)

  • zeruch

    Freeplane was a less than optimal choice (its UX is less than intuitive and its output is aesthetically very dated). May I suggest XMind?

  • http://www.boeschlawgroup.com/ Jess W.

    A Note is a great little find. I’m a post it junkie! Thanks for the heads up.

  • Lawrence Brenner

    Has anyone tried Docs4Lawyers? It’s an open source document management system for lawyers. I have been meaning to give it a try but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

  • Cecilia Arias

    Has anyone used services that offer to scan and post your mail online? such as http://www.mailboxforwarding.com/address.php ? It seems like a great idea: your mail is opened and posted online, it is already scanned, so you only have to file it. You do not have to pay a secretary to do this and you are truly mobile. These services can post your checks to your accounts too or you can decide that checks come to your real physical address. Any ethical issues against this practice? Seems that it will cut on scanning, and it makes you truly mobile in case you travel abroad.

  • http://www.fastparalegals.com Angel Castro

    Along with OpenOffice, you may wish to download JOOConverter to covert open documents into other formats and vice-versa. I have not found an open source converter for Word Perfect documents, however there are a few that you can pay for. We often have attorney-clients that like their documents returned in Word Perfect format, which we do not use.

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

      I could be wrong, but doesn’t LibreOffice have the ability to save to WordPerfect? I’m sure I’ve done that before, when saving documents for judges who prefer it.

      Edit: Nope. It can import, but not export.