LexisNexis Firm Manager Law Practice Management Software

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When it comes to practice management software for solos and small firms, Time Matters by LexisNexis has been one of the most-popular options for years. But LexisNexis’s cloud-software option, Firm Manager, got off to a rocky start when it was first launched in 2011. Since then, LexisNexis completely redesigned Firm Manager with the help of a customer advisory board and input from hundreds of practicing lawyers.

So how did it do? Here is everything you need to know about the redesigned Firm Manager.

Index

Getting Started with Firm Manager

Firm Manager is a quick and easy signup. Visit the signup page, and you can be up and running in less than a minute (depending on how fast you type).

Migrating to Firm Manager

LexisNexis will handle importing your data to Firm Manager. There is no option to do this yourself. Firm Manager says it is working on a robust import tool, but currently it can only import basic client and matter information.

Using Firm Manager

The user interface of Firm Manager is immediately accessible, with tabs for navigation and lists of records under each tab (except the calendar, which is, obviously, a calendar). LexisNexis has not taken any chances with the design, which has some echoes of its desktop software.

It is, in other words, easy to find your way around.

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A Quick Links menu in the upper right-hand corner makes some of the most-common tasks accessible. Next to it is a timer so you are always just a click away from billing time. And the omnipresent search box enables you to search everything you have in Firm Manager.

The options under Admin Tools are fairly limited, but you will probably want to set your default hourly rate right away.

Timekeeping, Billing, and Trust Accounting

You can start and stop the timer from any screen in Firm Manager. When you click the stop button, you will be prompted to add a time entry. (The stop button works as a quick shortcut to the Add Time and Expenses dialog, as well.)

You can bill time or flat fees, but for more exotic billing structures, you will have to get creative.

Invoicing is basic and easy to use. You cannot customize your invoices, but the defaults work well enough. Firm Manager supports basic trust accounting, which means you can accept advance payments and use them to pay your invoices whether you use hourly billing or flat fees.

Firm Manager’s trust accounting will help you keep track of your clients’ funds, but it will not substitute for accounting software. Also, it does not have any reporting functions, so you might need some other way to meet your state’s trust account reporting requirements.

Conflict Checking

Firm Manager is one of the few cloud-based practice management software packages to include a conflict-checking feature. Basically, though, it’s just a search box. You type in the terms you want to check for (like a company name), and see what turns up.

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You can also save searches to avoid duplication or prove that you did your due diligence if you wind up with a conflict later on.

However, this feature is effectively the same thing as using the regular search box. The only difference is that you can save your searches attached to a contact record. You can do the same kind of conflict checking in any of the cloud-based practice management software we have reviewed, as a matter of fact. They don’t offer saved searches, but you could just print the results (to PDF, if you are paperless), instead.

Conflict checking in Firm Manager works just fine, in other words. It’s just that it could be so much more awesome if Firm Manager used what it knows (everything in a contact record) to look for potential conflicts rather than relying on the user to manually enter search terms.

Support

Firm Manager comes with pretty extensive support. There is a phone number for live support right on your dashboard, along with live chat with a LexisNexis representative, available from 8am to 8pm Eastern. Plus, there is a fairly useful knowledgebase, and a support community.

I tried calling customer support, and was greeted by a recording and a request to take a survey, but a support representative picked up fairly quickly to answer my question about mobile access.

If you are in a hurry, use the phone number. I tried the live chat option first, but sat staring at this for a few minutes:

I am taking a look at your questions. Give me a couple of moments.

I got an answer to my question over the phone while this popped up in the chat window:

Thanks for holding. I am still looking into your question.

That gave me the feeling I was being strung along by a bot while a support representative was getting coffee or something. After more than 20 minutes (I left the tab open and forgot about it), I got this completely irrelevant response:

I have checked several resources and I cannot find any dedicated site for the iPhone. What I did find was that you have to login to Firm Manager on a desktop / laptop to change your password first. Then you can go to https://app.firmmanager.com/app and login and use Firm Manager on your iPhone.

I gave up on the live chat. Use the phone number.

Mobile Access

The reason I was calling support in the first place because in its demo video, you can see people using what looks like either an app or a mobile-responsive version of Firm Manager on an iPhone. Indeed, the Firm Manager features page says “See all your firm’s information, wherever you are, on whatever device you’re using.” And in its February press release, LexisNexis claimed “The Firm Manager service is easy to access from any device, including smart phones, through a mobile friendly site.”

When I tried to access Firm Manager on my iPhone, however, that’s not what I saw. It was just the regular Firm Manager website, which meant I had to do a lot of zooming and scrolling to do anything. So I went back to look closer and realized the video is just showing a small section of the regular Firm Manager website on an iPhone. Here is a capture from the video:

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Firm Manager works fine on a larger screen, like a desktop or tablet, but it is not responsive, which means it is not very usable on a smaller smartphone screen. While it’s technically true that you can access Firm Manager from any device, the experience on a smartphone is probably not what you would expect from LexisNexis’s claims.

In sum, Firm Manager is not a great option if you plan to do a lot of practice management from your phone.

Features (Developing …)

Firm Manager has a fairly basic feature set, and it is still in active development. That means it doesn’t have features that are available from its competitors right now. So if you are choosing practice management software for your firm, you should know what you don’t get with Firm Manager — at least not yet. Here are some examples.

  • Most obviously, there are no mobile apps, and the website is not responsive. It’s usable on a smartphone, but far from ideal.
  • There is no client portal or any way to share documents or communicate securely with clients through Firm Manager.
  • It does not handle email, either, and there is no obvious way to attach emails to your matters.
  • Firm Manager does not do document assembly.
  • You can do hourly and flat-fee billing, but there is no option for contingent fees, evergreen retainers, or more exotic fee arrangements.
  • You can do trust accounting in Firm Manager, but it doesn’t have any other bookkeeping or accounting functions, so you will need QuickBooks or Xero, too — without any integration.
  • Firm Manager will sync your calendar with Google Calendar, but there are no other integrations.

On the flip side, Firm Manager already does most of what you would to run a practice. It’s pretty good at what it does, even if it lags the competition a bit. Plus, it’s support community is full of input from its users, and LexisNexis seems to be listening carefully. In particular, project manager Chris Anderson is very active in the support community. If you are patient and want to have a say in how your firm’s practice management software develops, you might have a greater chance than usual with Firm Manager.

Pricing

Firm Manager offers a 30-day free trial. After that, it is just $45/month for the first user, and $30/month for additional users. That’s not the cheapest (MyCase has a slight edge, at the moment), but it is competitive.

And you can try it for free for 30 days before you have to pay anything. You don’t even need a credit card to sign up for the trial.

Evaluating Firm Manager for Your Practice

To evaluate Firm Manager, you should just sign up for the free trial and put it through its paces. Ideally, sign up at the same time as you bring a new client on board, and use Firm Manager to manage that client.

Even better, sign up for free trials of all the practice management software you are considering, and run the same client through all of them at the same time. It’s a lot of duplicated effort, but it’s also the only way to really compare them side-by-side on an equal footing. You should have a pretty good idea which one you want to use after a week or two. Since you aren’t likely to change your practice management software very often (or ever again, more likely), it is worth your time to pick the one that will work best for your practice.

Here are the reviews of the current version of Firm Manager that we found:

Updates

  • 2014-10-21. Added Jeff Taylor’s review at The Droid Lawyer.

Legal Technology

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  • Ronnie

    I did a free trial of Firm Manager, but what I was most turned off by was the lack of batch billing to run invoices. You had to do each invoice individually, and there was simply no way I had the patience for that. I saw on the forum support that they were working on that; did you happen to notice whether or not you were able to do so when you tested it? The lack of a true mobile site, especially for the smartphone, was a close second. Since I often set my hearing dates through my phone, a true mobile site is necessary, and the lack of it was really disappointing.

    • http://samglover.net/ Sam Glover

      I just fired up Firm Manager to check, but it doesn’t look like it does batch billing, yet.

      I’m not really surprised that Firm Manager isn’t responsive. Building anything that complex to be responsive is pretty much impossible. If you build it to look good on a phone, it’s probably going to look awful on a desktop.

      What it really needs is a great app, and it will be interesting to see if LexisNexis can deliver on that front. User interface/experience is pretty crucial when it comes to apps, and LexisNexis doesn’t have a great track record on design, in my opinion.

      • http://www.swordandthescript.com/ Frank Strong

        Thanks Ronnie for the feedback. Those are items on the idea board!

        The concept here, following the agile software development model, is to do a few things and do them really well (i.e. performance) and add features over time. Currently, we’re on a cycle of a new release about 6-8 weeks — and comments like yours are incredibly valuable.

        A similar line of thinking for mobility. Right now the site scales well to an iPad, which our data suggests most of our customers are using. The site is responsive to the degree it’ll adjust to portrait and landscape views.

        Clearly there’s a demand, as your observations, and those Sam had, for a phone. There is some discussion about developing an app for time entry and similar tasks. Again, we’d like to do a few things well, rather than crank out a bunch of features that are so-so.

        As for secure file sharing, we’ve turned on the WatchDox feature for you Sam, when you get a chance to test it out.

        • Christopher Anderson

          Following up on Frank, I will tell you that Batch Billing is not only on the idea board, but very high up on it. As Frank points out, we have very quick release cycles, and after focusing on improved invoice templates, which we have been getting much demand for, we will be looking at batch billing soon thereafter.

  • Dan McKillop

    We are looking at getting away from PC Law and onto the cloud. MyCase is looking as our first choice, but Firm Manager still has a shot (but only barely).
    I’m loathing the idea of continuing to give Lexis money for practice management. Frankly PC Law had so many bugs and was so unwieldy that I don’t know how I could trust Lexis again.
    The biggest drawback for the big three (for our firm) is lack of accounting services within the software. It was the (only?) thing that kept us with PC Law for so long – simplicity in accounting. Since Firm Manager has no current exportability to Quickbooks, can we assume they will be adding in their own native accounting features? Or are they just not adequately funded to provide such services at this time?

    • http://samglover.net/ Sam Glover

      I don’t have an answer for you. If I had to make a wild guess, it would be that Lexis will add accounting features to Firm Manager. So far, they seem to be trying to build features into the product rather than going with third-party integrations. The one exception is the WatchDox integration Frank mentioned earlier, but that seems to be an outlier from what little I know.

      Maybe Frank will stop by again and let you know what is in the works as far as accounting goes.

      • Christopher Anderson

        Sam, we have certainly considered building accounting in, and will probably do that eventually. Nevertheless, we know that many of our users already use some version Quickbooks, so we plan to build that integration as well. We don’t have a time commitment on that just yet, but our engineering team has already been taking a look and testing some concepts, and it is high on the priority list.

    • http://www.swordandthescript.com/ Frank Strong

      Dan, in addition to Christopher’s comment below on the Firm Manager product — happy to have someone from the PCLaw team reach out to you to see what we can do to help you now.