Clio: a promising, but pricey, practice management solution

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Personal Productivity for Lawyers

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Like Rocket Matter before it, Clio is a promising online practice management solution. Clio gave me a tour last Friday, so I have seen it in action and had the opportunity to ask the developers all kinds of questions.

For lawyers currently wrestling with Time Matters, Amicus, Abacus, and other clumsy practice management packages, Clio would be a breath of fresh air, and well worth the $49 per month for attorneys and $25 per month for staff. For lawyers like me whose practice management software is based on disparate webapps like Google’s online applications, Freshbooks, and Remember the Milk, Clio has no real advantage.

I like everything about Clio except the price. For me, Clio just does not pass the cost/benefit barrier.

Since first writing this article, I’ve taken advantage of the opportunity to do an in-depth test-drive of Clio. While I still think the price is high, I also think it is worth it, especially for growing firms where the cost of equivalent hardware, software, and support would be comparable, if not greater.


Clio offers a streamlined, simplified, matter-based case management (contacts, calendar, and tasks) plus timekeeping, billing, and rudimentary document management. Significantly, Clio does not handle email, although users can add email correspondence to a file by using a BCC workaround.

Like most web-based, software-as-a-service solutions, Clio excels at allowing multiple users to use the system. And because you do not have to host information yourself, Clio cuts down on some costs. No need to buy and maintain your own Exchange server, for example, or even worry about getting everyone in the office using the same operating system. Clio is friendly for Windows, Mac, and Linux users alike.

Clio encrypts your data and backs it up four times per day to servers on both coasts. It keeps your files very secure.

In other words, as you might expect, Clio is great for all the reasons webapps are great.

On the other hand, Clio will not sync to your Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Windows Mobile phone. Too bad, since most lawyers will at least want to access their contacts from their phone, and maybe their calendar and task list, as well.

And while Clio includes a full suite of productivity software, none of it is as good as the standalone webapps. Clio’s calendar works great, for example, but it cannot touch Google Calendar.

The dealbreaker for me is the price, which Clio made public today. Clio is priced about the same as Rocket Matter, at $49 per month per attorney, and $25 per month per staff. That is $600 per year for a one-lawyer office. Most non-webapp practice management software will be cheaper by a long shot. Or you could use Plaxo or Google Apps, which do most of what Clio does, but for free.

How should it be priced? I really like Freshbooks‘s pricing model: $14 per month for the base plan, which includes one extra biller, and $10 per month for each additional user. You also pay for the number of clients you need to have open at any one time, at $10 for every 250 clients. For $149 per month, you could have 20 people working on 5000 accounts. With Clio, that is only three lawyers. To use Clio with that many people, you would pay $449-$1029 per month.

Like Rocket Matter, Clio claims that “If Clio helps you regain just one billable hour per month, it will have more than paid for itself.” True, but Clio cannot help you find an extra hour to bill. You can only do that by making sure you are capturing all your time accurately. No software is a silver bullet, but Clio will definitely cost you a pretty penny.

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  • Catherine Merino Reisman

    I think the pricing issue depends on your perspective – I have been a beta tester for Clio and I found it very useful. I just started my own practice in June 2008. For me, piecing together various web apps was frustrating and there are features in Clio that one cannot find through other webapps – particularly the Trust Accounting module which is integrated with the billing function. I have not found syncing my contacts to my BlackBerry to be a problem – there is an extra step but well worth it to me, given all the other integrated functions in Clio. As a solo practitioner, I think $49/month is extremely reasonable for all that the application has allowed me to do (including avoiding expensive hardware and IT staff).

  • Sam Glover

    I think you are absolutely right, and it is a matter of perspective.

    My perspective is that for $49/month, I expect more than Clio offers.

  • Bruce Chapman

    Clio does not seem to have an accounting module. Do you know if it “link” with any of the major accounting program vendors such as Quickbooks?

    Thanks

  • Sam Glover

    Actually, Clio does basic, checkbook-style accounting, including trust accounting. They want it to be a one-stop shop.

  • Bruce Chapman

    Thanks Sam. I understood from what I had seen that it did trust account accounting which I thought was part of the billing module.

    When you evaluate the price of $49.00 per month, I think it is important to factor in the value of having the off site backup, the fact that you do not have to spend time dealing with maintaining the program, the cost of upgrades and tech support plans. We currently run Amicus, Timeslips(billing) and Quickbooks(accounting). It is very expensive to support three different programs.

  • Your post is enlightened and well written. I guess we frequent the same feeds because our taste in applications is very similar and not ‘usual’ for lawyers.

    But I agree with Ms. Reisman’s comment. Granted, Clio is not yet able to mimic all the features we like about BaseCamp, Buzzword, Remember the Milk, etc. but the team behind it is moving in the right direction and has the right mindset.

    Finally, if you’re really ready to switch gears from application to application to get through the day (like … me) then you risk the inevitable time-suck or worse (if things fail to work or experience data loss – remember, it’s not their problem if you lose your precious data). Of course there’s much more to Clio than security and efficiency, but then again how much more would a lawyer need to justify dropping less than 50 bucks a month.

    I rest my case.

  • WPS

    I totally agree on the price. They are using a linear model ($50/attorney) where they should be offering discounts to the true solo or solo + secretary, since I think bigger firms can more easily shoulder that price (not to mention a solo won’t use the collaborative nature of the application as heavily).

    Desktop integration is also a huge factor.

  • AJ

    I am waiting, in vain, for an affordable all-in-one solution. A software or SaaS that incorporates all of my practice tools and integrates them. A telephone call creates a document for the file, a billing entry, a to do/action item, and a log note on a client contact ledger so that I can pull it up quickly an easily (linking to the other 2-3 components with a click). The Holy Grail …

    But why is this so unattainable? Here is what I see …
    – A single all-purpose interface
    – A call from a client regarding a specific matter
    – While on the phone,
    * I select the client (pull down, auto complete, new client)
    * I make notes on our coversation
    * I consider and record action items that come up (tasks), with time deadlines and priority if needed.
    * I note any changes in the client info … new secretary, cell number, whatever.
    – When I hang up, I finalize the form by adding my time entry and providing more detail to notes or tasks/action items.
    – And upon closing, the program does ALL of the following …
    1. It puts the time entry on my daily timesheet
    2. It puts the client contact in the “client file” (outlook)
    3. It puts the document and notes in the Client/Matter file (print option)
    4. It puts the tasks on my To Do and deadlines on my calendar with reminders

    If this too much to ask?

  • Todd Robinson

    Signed up for Clio a couplel of days ago, Spent several hours inputting a whole bunch of contacts and matters. I like the features, but three times in the last two days, it has frozen up, and locked me out, now I do not know if I have lost the activities, and time entries for the day, or where I am, and I can’t get back in. If this keeps up I certainly won’t continue past the free trial period.

    I liked the price, at $49 per month I can manage it; without having to cough up $800 or more, upfront, for PCLaw or Amicus

  • I’m a Clio Certified Consultants so I’m a bit bias. However I’m a business owner and see the value in saving time & accessing to your data anywhere. I use quickbooks online and it cost me $40 per month, pricy but well worth it to have my books done right.

    With Clio its the same thing, a great way to manage your practice, save time which allows you more billable hours. The $50 is far less than it would cost to hire help or out source task.
    As solo lawyers you have to maximize your time, Clio allows you to do that.

  • Anna Gray

    I absolutely hate Clio. It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. It’s invoicing is below any criticism. Wrong hour count algorithm, resulting in over-billing. Asking for a lawsuit?.. Dumb invoice output format, only as PDF. Guess what? I work for an international law firm, and our invoices need to be translated into foreign languages. Good luck going this with Clio’s stupid format. Today I came across yet another issue – Clio’s invoicing simply deleted part of the time entries. Good luck working for free! I spent over 4 hours manually fixing this, and expect to spend twice as much time tomorrow. How dare they talk about time-saving and Clio days??? That’s how I am spending my Clio days, duh. Working for free like a slave, fixing Clio’s miserable bugs. Clio SUCKS! Please save yourself a pain and don’t use this glitchy garbage. I hope that my firm stops using it soon and switches to something else.