When it comes to practice management software, there are two features in particular that distinguish some options from others.
First, email. While older practice management software like Time Matters includes email, it is clunky. Once you’ve gotten used to Outlook or Gmail, it’s pretty hard to put up with something like that. That is probably why most cloud-based practice management software doesn’t include an email client. Most let you associate emails with contacts and matters, but you have to use an Outlook plugin or a Chrome extension to do it. You don’t have to use a clunky email client in your software, but it’s just clunky in a different way.
Some cloud-based practice management software, like MerusCase and apparently the brand-new Zola, do include an email client. And there are probably plenty of lawyers who don’t mind if it isn’t as slick as Outlook or Gmail because it’s so convenient to have it integrated into their practice management software. Which isn’t to say that MerusCase and Zola (which I haven’t even seen yet) aren’t good for email. It’s just that it’s pretty hard to compete with the industry standard. I mean, Clio has a great calendar. It’s not quite as good as Google Calendar, in my opinion, but nobody should complain about it (and anyway it syncs with Google Calendar so you can keep on using it if you want to; maybe that’s why MerusCase lets you keep on using your preferred email client if you want to).
The second distinguishing feature is full double-entry accounting. The most popular cloud-based practice management software options include lightweight bookkeeping that’s fine for many small practices. For firms with more sophisticated needs, they integrate with Xero or QuickBooks. MerusCase and CosmoLex, on the other hand, include double-entry accounting, including specialized trust accounting. They are obviously targeting lawyers who really want the all-in-one package. As with email, Xero and QuickBooks are definitely more full-featured, but MerusCase and CosmoLex will get the job done and keep your accountant happy. Plus you don’t need to juggle two different products.
I don’t think fuller-featured practice management software is automatically better, or that software with less robust email and accounting is automatically worse. Cloud software started out as simpler software initially and there are some good reasons to prefer simpler software (I do, as a general rule). But now that everyone is moving to the cloud, there is also a need for software for law firms that want all the bells and whistles in one place. Last year at TECHSHOW, there wasn’t a good cloud-based option for those firms. Now, finally, there are several.
Read the next post in this series: "70% of Lawyers Don’t Know What the Internet Is."