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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 or your calendar and contacts with Outlook, but there are no other integrations for now.
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.
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:
- “Cloud Practice Management: Lexis Nexis Firm Manager” on The Droid Lawyer (October 9, 2014).
- 2014-10-21. Added Jeff Taylor’s review at The Droid Lawyer.
- 2014-11-02. Firm Manager now syncs calendars and contacts with Outlook.