Clio is probably the most popular cloud-based practice management software. As good as Clio already is, it keeps getting better (which is why we keep updating this post). Each provider of practice-management software takes a slightly different approach. What distinguishes Clio is its focus on user experience and integrations.
The web and mobile apps are beautiful and a pleasure to use, while Clio’s long list of integrations means you can use it with a lot of the other software you may already be using in your law practice (like Dropbox, QuickBooks Online, Xero, and Google Apps, to name just a few).
In October 2015, Clio released two major new features: Campaign Tracker for keeping track of your marketing campaigns, and Clio Payments to make it easy to accept credit cards from clients. See the feature highlights for more details.
Here is what you need to know about Clio, from signing up to backing up your data.
Getting Started with Clio
While some law practice management software often needs to be set up and configured by an expensive IT consultant, it’s pretty simple to get up and running on Clio. Just visit the signup page and walk through the signup process. You will be up and running in no time — no consultant required.
If you already use practice management software, Clio will help you migrate your data from your old software. Of course, the quality of the migration depends as much on the source (your old software) as the destination (Clio). When you contact Clio’s account migration team (open a new support ticket after you sign up), they will give you a good idea of what sort of results you can expect.
No matter what you use, Clio will not migrate certain things. These include historical accounting and billing information or documents stored in your old software. However, you can migrate your accounts receivable, and Clio’s bulk document uploader should be able to help with getting your documents into the new system. If you have a lot of accounting data in an old system, it probably makes sense to migrate to Clio at the beginning of a new year to minimize the time you spend on setting up your books. (Clio can handle opening balances, of course.)
Clio has a migration FAQ if you have more questions.
When you first log into Clio, you should be able to get your bearings pretty quickly. The Dashboard is a glanceable overview of your schedule and your firm’s performance (assuming you have full privileges).
Finding your way around Clio is pretty straightforward. To add your first matter, for example, just click on Matters, then New. The new-matter page is self-contained, meaning you do not have to leave to create new contacts or add practice areas. If the client is a new contact, you can create a basic contact record right there and fill in details later.
Everything else works similarly well. The calendar will be familiar to anyone who has used Google Calendar. Contacts can be associated with matters and companies, and timekeeping is aggregated under Activities.
Clio has the features you would expect: contacts, matters, calendar, task manager, timekeeping, billing, and a secure client portal. You probably need to give Clio a try to see exaclty how all those features work, but in general, they work really well. Here are some highlights.
Tasks in Clio have gotten pretty sophisticated since July 2014, when Clio released a tasks-focused upgrade. You can create task templates, which makes it easy to assign a briefing schedule, for example, with a click of a button. You can also create tasks with due dates that depend on other tasks. For example, you could create a brief-filing deadline due 28 business days before your motion hearing (if you create a task for the hearing date). Annoyingly, Clio still does not support recurring tasks, so there is no way to set a regular file review tickler as recommended by every ethics board and malpractice insurance provider.
Clio has basic billing and accounting (including trust accounting). There are three supported billing structures: hourly, flat fee, and contingent-fee, where you can select the percentage. The accounting features are definitely basic. Many will want to use Clio alongside more sophisticated billing and accounting software like Xero or QuickBooks. In September 2014, Clio introduced a one-page quick bill, which lets you put together a complete bill including time and expenses from a single page.
Basic document assembly in Clio is really easy to use, which is a pretty big advantage over most document assembly software. You can create your own templates using merge fields from Clio matters and contacts. There are much more advanced document assembly packages out there, but Clio will meet most lawyers’ document assembly needs.
There is only one big thing Clio leaves out, and that is email. Although with the release of its Gmail extension for Chrome (see below), this is less of an omission — at least for lawyers who use Gmail and Chrome. Instead, Clio offers a client portal, Clio Connect, for securely communicating and sharing documents (including bills) with clients. Clio is definitely not as communication-oriented as, say, MyCase, but Clio Connect gets the job done.
If checking your email from within your practice management software is important to you, Clio probably will not work for you. However, if what you want is to be able to get your client-related emails into Clio easily, that is pretty easy to do, either with the Gmail extension or with the Email Maildrop feature. If you create an email contact for each matter using the Maildrop address, you can easily to forward communications directly to Clio.
In October 2015, Clio introduced Campaign Tracker, a new feature to help lawyers track the source of potential-client referrals. With Campaign Tracker, you can generate unique phone numbers (routed to your firm phone number) to use with ads, create contact forms, and enter leads manually. It’s a simple solution to a common problem: figuring out where your clients came from.
At the same time, Clio announced Clio Payments, a quick-and-easy payment portal that works with Clio’s invoicing system. This makes it easy to accept credit cards from clients for invoices, and trust account–compliant payments should be available soon.
If Clio was a bit slow to release apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android than its competitors, the beautiful, easy-to-use apps were probably worth the wait. You can do most of the things in Clio’s apps that you can do in the full web app — and of course you can always log into Clio web app from the browser on your phone or tablet if you want the full experience.
One of Clio’s distinctive features is its extensive list of integrations. And since one of those integrations is Zapier, which integrates with hundreds of third-party APIs, there’s not much you can’t figure out. You can create a new contact record in Clio every time someone fills out the contact form on your website, or send notes from Evernote to Clio … if you can connect an app or service in Zapier, you can trigger events to and from Clio.
The many integrations do various things. If you integrate Clio with Chrometa, your automatically-generated time entries will be synced from Chrometa to Clio. If you link Clio to Box or Dropbox, your files stored in the cloud will be available in Clio.
Clio also has a Gmail extension for Chrome that lets you save emails to Clio with attachments, add tasks, and bill time. Clio plays well with Google Apps in general, syncing calendars, contacts, and files from Drive.
Clio frequently adds new integrations. Some highlights from those added in October 2015 include Microsoft Office 365 Business (sync contacts, calendars, and documents), Docket Alarm, and Ruby Receptionists.
Clio uses SSL to secure your session whenever you are logged into Clio.1 This is comparable to the level of security your bank uses. Additionally, you can secure your account with two-factor authentication and require all users to use strong passwords.
Clients (and anyone else you add to Clio Connect) get that same level of security when logging into Clio Connect to access documents or communications.
Backing Up Your Clio Data
In case you are nervous about trusting Clio to keep your account backed up (this is an appropriate level of paranoia, FYI), Clio makes it relatively easy to back up your data to Amazon S3 with its Data Escrow feature. This sounds way more complicated than it is, and Clio’s step-by-step instructions will get you set up with Data Escrow pretty quickly and easily.
If you sign up for Clio, you should absolutely set up Data Escrow. Whether or not you trust Clio in general, you can never be too redundant when it comes to backup.
It is not backup, but Clio’s Recovery Bin functions as a short-term “undo” option in case you accidentally delete something and want it back.
Evaluating Clio for Your Practice
When reading reviews of Clio — or any software — the most important thing is to try to get a feel for whether you and the reviewer are looking for the same sorts of things in practice management software. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all practice management software. What works for one reviewer might not work for you and your firm.
Here is a good example. Lawyerist reader and Lab member Avi Frisch got pretty specific in his criticisms of Clio in a report he wrote for LegalTypist in February 2014.2 In his report, he described Clio as “a simple product that is more of a basic project management database with some legal specific nomenclature.” To Frisch, that is a bad thing. But project management software with legal features is exactly what many want for managing their practice. In other words, consider criticisms carefully. Do they indicate a problem for anyone considering Clio, or are they just an indication that Clio is probably wrong for that person, but it may be right for you?
Here is a non-comprehensive list of other Clio reviews, together with the date of the review. (Assume anything more than a few months old may not accurately represent Clio as it is today.)
- “Cloud Practice Management: Clio” on The Droid Lawyer (October 9, 2014)
- Review of Clio, Law Firm Practice Management Software for Attorneys on Aaron Hall’s YouTube channel (November 14, 2013).
- “Cloud-Based Case Management Software – Clio” on the Cyber Advocate (November 5, 2013).
- “Clio Practice Management Review: Taking Clio for a Test Drive” on JurisPage (2013, updated April 9, 2014).
- “Using Clio as Your Practice Management Software”” on Lawyerist (August 29, 2011).
- “Is Clio Right For Your Law Firm?” on Lawyerist (November 7, 2010).
Clio has a 3-tier pricing structure.
- Starter. $39/user/month or $49/user/month if billed annually.
- Boutique. $59 billed monthly or $69 billed annually.
- Elite. $99 billed monthly or $109 billed annually.
(Existing customers can keep their current plans.)
The Starter plan is going to be good enough for most solos, and the Boutique and Elite plans add features like accounting software and Zapier integration (Boutique) and priority support and originating-attorney revenue tracking (Elite). Some of those features are also available for the Starter plan with an add-on fee ($10/user/month each for accounting integrations, custom fields, UTBMS codes, and Zapier integration).
The Starter plan keeps Clio competitive with MyCase ($39/user/month and $29/user/month for staff), although with fewer features unless you upgrade to the more expensive tiers.
If the Starter plan meets your needs, Clio’s pricing means cost should not play much of a factor in your decision on practice management software. But if you need the Boutique plan, you might still need to consider whether an extra $240/user/year over MyCase is worthwhile.
The important part is that you can try Clio for free to find out for yourself whether you think it is worth the price.
You can also follow our latest posts about Clio.
Originally published 2014-04-28. Last updated 2015-10-19.
Sidenote: Frisch’s observation that “Clio had stopped improving” definitely isn’t fair. As you can see from its product updates log, Clio is pumping out updates pretty frequently. The updates just aren’t the things Frisch wants to see from Clio. ↩