My Law Practice Management Tools

I first talked about the tools I use for law practice management in April 2008. It seems like a good time to do update my list.

Since the last update, my firm has gained one attorney employee and three independent contractors, but the software I use to manage my practice has been flexible enough to survive these transitions. The most-significant change is the switch from GnuCash to Quickbooks for bookkeeping. I ran into trouble with reports in GnuCash that caused me to have to file a rather expensive amended tax return. Quickbooks has been smooth sailing for a full tax season, though, and I am glad I switched.

I also added Basecamp for project management. Basecamp allows me to keep track of everyone working on a case without requiring them to use or install any software themselves. We use it on complex cases, as well as cases involving substantial collaboration with co-counsel.

  • Calendar: Google Calendar/Google Apps. Gcal makes calendar sharing easy, and it syncs with most popular calendar software, so sharing calendars is a piece of cake. I like the Google Apps suite in general even better now that I have an Android smartphone.
  • Tasks/to-dos: Remember the Milk. Randall uses Gcal and my work planning template to keep track of his to-do list, but I still prefer Remember the Milk. Aaron and I use it to share a Lawyerist-related to-do list, and I have lists set up for my MITs (most-important tasks), as well as various GTD lists (do now, waiting, later). We check in about once a week to do work planning, and we use Basecamp when more complicated cases call for collaborative task management.
  • Contacts: Gmail/Google Apps. Gmail’s contacts manager has not changed much since February 2009, which is a shame. I still wish for an easy way to share contacts with other members of our Google Apps account. But hey, it works, and I do not really need anything more complicated.
  • Email: Gmail/Google Apps. Gmail rocks.
  • Word processing / document creation: We have not used Microsoft Office since 2005. Not missing it.
  • PDF creation: Acrobat 9 Standard. Acrobat came with my ScanSnap s1500, and it works great.
  • Timekeeping & billing: Freshbooks. Nothing else comes close to the ease of use and convenience of Freshbooks. It is especially good for working with independent contractors, since they can bill directly to my Freshbooks account.
  • Bookkeeping / accounting: Quickbooks. After the aforementioned tax fiasco, I decided to switch to Quickbooks. Accountants find it easier to work with, and so far, I agree. Plus, it can create accurate reports, something GnuCash apparently had trouble with.
  • Backup: Dropbox and external hard drives.

The tools we use emphasize simplicity, portability, and paperless-ness. We use mostly cloud software so that we aren’t tied to a single operating system or location. All we need to be productive is a web browser. Or, for that matter, a smartphone.

I would love to hear what you are using to manage your solo law practice. Here is a template you can copy into the comments box:

  • Calendar:
  • Tasks/to-dos:
  • Contacts:
  • E-mail:
  • Word processing / document creation:
  • PDF creation:
  • Timekeeping & billing:
  • Bookkeeping / accounting:
  • Backup:



    • Calendar: Sorry, Sam, but I still use Time Matters for practice management, since I haven’t been able to find anything else to suit my needs. Credenza looks interesting, though, because I do sync TM with Outlook for my BlackBerry.
      • Tasks/to-dos: Time Matters as well, synced to Outlook.

      • Contacts: Ditto.

      • E-mail: Outlook 2003 using e-mail accounts hosted by I started doing this way before GMail became prevalent, although I have been looking into Google Apps in general.

      • Word processing / document creation: Word 2003 in conjunction with Time Matters.

      • PDF creation: Acrobat and Nuance’s PDF Converter. Love my ScanSnap!!

      • Timekeeping & billing: QuickBooks 2009

      • Bookkeeping / accounting: Quickbooks 2009

      • Backup: I use the Windows backup utility to a password locked flash drive for on/offsite backup. I then copy the files to my home PC for redundancy.

  1. Avatar Jenny Moser says:

    Calendar: Google/Google Apps — for all the same reasons as you.

    Tasks/to-dos: Gcal & Rocket Matter

    Contacts: Gcal & Rocket Matter

    E-mail: Google/Google Apps

    Word processing / document creation: Office 2010 — Sorry, I can’t seem to pull myself away, plus since I was still considered a “student” when the pre-ordering started, I got an awesome deal on my software package. May reconsider when the new version comes out in a couple of years since I won’t have the “academic” advantage anymore.

    PDF creation: Scan Snap and I use Word to create documents and then save them as PDF.

    Timekeeping & billing: Rocket Matter — loving it more everyday.

    Bookkeeping / accounting: QuickBooks online

    Backup: Dropbox and external hard drive

  2. Avatar Kent Winward says:

    Sam, I’ve been following your blog for sometime and have appreciated your insight.
    I recently added a second attorney to my practice and have four staff members.

    Calendar: I am in the middle — as we speak — of the shift from TimeMatters to Google Calendar and Apps. I’ve found TimeMatters’ alleged robustness and flexibility was actually significant unnecessary data input in disguise. My staff spent more time keeping the data clean than doing productive work.

    Project Management: I looked at BaseCamp and decided not to use it. I had been using TimeMatters for project management. My practice is mostly consumer bankruptcy work, so there is a uniformity to each case that lends itself to templates and repetition. I’ve found that I can use Google Wave for my case management within my office. It allows for collaboration with my staff and all anyone needs is a web browser, like BaseCamp. I’d recommend it for smaller projects or repetitive ones.

    Tasks/to-dos: GoogleWave, TeuxDeux

    Contacts: BestCase Bankruptcy Software and GoogleWave. Using Google Wave solved my contact issue, since we set up a separate Wave for each case with all of the office participating in the wave and the initial wave contains all of the contact information.

    We are also using Google Voice to text and call our clients.

    E-mail: Gmail and more recently, GoogleWave

    Word processing / document creation: WordPerfect (too busy to change all the merges), BestCase Bankruptcy, occasionally Google Docs and MicroSoft Office

    PDF creation: AdobeAcrobat that came with my Fujitsu ScanSnap

    Timekeeping & billing: Flat fee, so timekeeping and billing aren’t critical.

    Bookkeeping / accounting: QuickBooks

    Backup: Carbonite and TapeBackUp (We use DropBox, but for transferring large files, not backup.)

  3. Avatar Jay Fleischman says:

    Sam, I used Basecamp for quite some time. The limitations of the application became apparent after a short time, and it concerned me that a significant amount of money was going out the door each month when there were comparable options available at a lower cost. For that reason I investigated and ultimately implemented ActiveCollab, a program that runs on my web server and does exactly the same thing as Basecamp. the benefit of ActiveCollab is that it is a one-time fee, which enables me to remain cloud-based without being concerned about the ongoing costs.

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      Good to know. I am using Basecamp only for big cases or cases that require collaboration. With less than 10 projects, the expense is small. Plus, I don’t like maintaining my own software.

      But I peeked at ActiveCollab. Looks like pretty sweet software for those looking for a fixed cost and a few more features.

  4. Avatar Julie k says:

    Clio for calendar, tasks, contacts, extranet documents when need to collaborate. Quickbooks for Mac, Adobe Acrobat 9 pro with ScanSnap and still MSOffice. SuperDuper and Timemachine for backup plus other offsite backups. Considing Google apps for email as present only has POP and I want IMAP.
    Sam how does Droid compare to iPhone? Which model and carrier? I miss Verizon.

  5. Avatar Kent Winward says:

    I looked at Active Collab as well. It does look nice. Right now, I’m going to stick with Google Wave, since it is the best price of all free. It works for what I’m doing in my small, but volume practice (30-60 new cases each month). My main complaint with Wave is that it doesn’t have all of the administrative restrictions I would like for users — just full editing rights and read only.

  6. Sam Glover Sam G. says:

    @Julie: I don’t use a Droid, so I can’t commend on those. I do use an Android phone, though. A Nexus One on T-Mobile. It’s outstanding. I’ve used an iPod Touch extensively, and Android is just as good; it comes down to preference.

  7. Avatar Jan M. McCray Flemmons says:

    After some trial and error in the last two years, this is what I’m working with this days. I try to work with Amicus, but I am begining to think it’s more work than it’s worth.

    Calendar: Outlook synced with Amicus, my Blackberry, & Gcal
    Tasks/to-dos: Outlook synced with Amicus & my Blackberry
    Contacts: Outlook synced with Amicus & my Blackberry
    E-mail: Outlook synced with Amicus & my Blackberry
    Word processing / document creation: Microsoft Office
    PDF creation: Adobe Acrobat w/my ScanSnap
    Timekeeping & billing: Outlook 2009 syncs with Amicus
    Bookkeeping / accounting: Outlook 2009 syncs with Amicus
    Backup: SugarSync and external hard drive (all in real time with versioning)

  8. Avatar Jan M. McCray Flemmons says:

    I forgot add that I use teamworkpm as a client portal. That’s been a fantastic tool to use instead of emails flying everywhere!

  9. Avatar Pat Stoneking says:

    After reading these comments, I started using Google Wave for case management on a few files. I don’t want to jinx it but I think it is going to work great.

  10. Sam Glover Sam G. says:

    See, I wanted to start using Google Wave for case management when Google finally added it to Apps accounts, but Randall and Aaron were so negative about it that I gave up.

    I think it would work great. Although I’m perfectly happy with Basecamp, instead. Even though it costs money and Randall still hates it.

  11. Avatar Randall R. says:

    Hate is a strong word. I think Basecamp is ok, but I can just put deadlines on my calendar, rather than having to login into another program to see what deadlines are coming up.

  12. While admittedly not for case management, we went on basecamp, left, tried it again, and left again. It’s close, but it’s missing some key features. If you go to their customer forums, the main shortcomings become clear pretty quickly.

  13. Avatar chris j says:

    I’m also wondering what you technophilic attorneys use to get gmail notifications.

  14. Sam Glover Sam G. says:

    I don’t use anything for e-mail notifications. If I’m not looking at my e-mail, I don’t want to know about it. If you want something, there are a ton of utilities out there. Just Google “Gmail notifier.”

  15. Avatar Kent Winward says:

    Sam (and others) I’d urge you to play around with Google Wave. Because I have a volume practice, Basecamp was impractical, particularly if I wanted to include clients in the conversation (which I can control in Wave). Contrary to popular opinion, it is easy to explain to clients –” Facebook just for your case and just with our office” — is how I usually do it. I hit the magical number of 100 of the number of bankruptcy cases I’m using Google Wave on yesterday.

    I’m in the process of trying to get our Chapter 13 Trustee to run a pilot program with my office and his case managers for us to share information over Google Wave rather than the countless emails and document attachments up to confirmation.

    The thing I love — completely customizable to your individual circumstances. FWIW

  16. Avatar Aaron Alfano says:

    I started my own practice about 3 months ago. Here’s what I’m using:

    Hardware: 20″ Apple iMac, MacBook Air, iPhone 3G

    Calendar: iCal, synced to both Macs and iPhone through MobileMe

    Tasks/to-dos: Toodledo website and Toodeldo app on iPhone. Wish they had a client app for OS X.

    Contacts: Mac OS X Address Book, synced through MobileMe

    E-mail: OS X Mail

    Word processing / document creation: Apple Pages. I have MS Office ’04, but would only use it for documents requiring a table of contents/table of authorities (i.e., appellate briefs).

    PDF creation: I mostly use the “Save as PDF” command from the print menu of Mac OS X. For scanned documents, I’m just using the crappy software that came with my combination printer/copier/scanner

    Timekeeping & billing: Bill4Time

    Bookkeeping / accounting: I haven’t needed anything beyond what Bill4Time provides.

    Backup: I save everything pertaining to my work to Dropbox, and I’m using Time Machine to back up my main computer (my iMac).

  17. Avatar Anne M. Hansen says:

    I’m trying to decide between RTM and Google Wave, after giving Basecamp a whirl. What I don’t like about Basecamp is that I can’t color-code tasks when they’re imported into my Google Apps calendar and can’t backdate completed tasks, and that the Droid app was so unusable I uninstalled it.

    I tried RTM last year. Didn’t love how it worked with my Blackberry, and it got cumbersome with tags, plus the Firefox add-on kept making my Google Apps inbox look all wonky. It would smush things together as if you changed the width of the screen down to a couple of inches, so I uninstalled it. But maybe now that I have a Droid and RTM works well with it, I’ll give it another shot. If Sam and Aaron can share a to-do list easily, my assistant and I should be able to as well.

    I checked out Google Wave this morning and like that my assistant and I could keep a running conversation for each case instead of e-mails. But maybe I’m missing something because it doesn’t seem like a big plus over Google Docs since there aren’t integrated calendaring features. Since we already use Dropbox, being able to attach files to a Wave doesn’t seem like a huge improvement either. Plus the only two Droid apps for Wave have poor reviews. Maybe the Wavers could enlighten me a little? I’m not married to RTM but don’t know if Google Wave is a big enough improvement.

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      “Droid” is the name of a phone. “Android” is the name of the operating system used by the Droid and many other phones. Hence, there is no such thing as a “Droid app,” but there are hundreds of thousands of Android apps.

      /soapbox (It drives me crazy that Verizon’s marketing has primarily succeeded in confusing everyone about Android.)

  18. Avatar Anne M. Hansen says:

    @Sam: They’re apps for my Droid, so I probably won’t lose the habit of calling them Droid apps. I do, however, call my PDF program “Adobe Acrobat” instead of just Adobe. I know that’s another pet peeve of yours.

  19. Avatar David Warner says:

    For Backup, CrashPlan seems to work well.

  20. Avatar Julie Kiernan says:

    Aaron, You are well on your way. You may want to consider the ScanSnap S1500M instead of the “crappy” all-in-one. It will come with a free copy of Acrobat for Mac 8. You can update it to 9 for about $159. For about $400 you get the scanner and Acrobat. Highly recommended. Maxemail for fax and Endicia for Mac with Dymo Twin Label printer for labels and postage and USB scale for postage. Oh, and SuperDuper ($28) for cloned backups. The best $28 you will spend.

  21. Avatar Tim Baland says:

    Can anybody recommend a good cloud-based contacts manager that allows sharing and syncing of contacts among multiple users? Google Contacts seems so limited. I am in the process of looking at Highland, by the same folks who produce Basecamp, but am not sure if I need all of the bells and whistles. Are there are any good alternatives for attorneys out there? Thanks!

  22. Avatar Tim Baland says:

    Hello, All:

    What does everybody use for contact management? Has anyone used Highrise, by the same folks who produce Basecamp? Is their any other attorney-specific contact management SaaS programs out there? Thanks!

    — Tim

  23. Sam Glover Sam G. says:

    I just use Google Contacts, which is really part of Gmail. Works well enough. I have played with Highrise, and like it, but it’s more of a contact relationship manager than just a contact manager.

  24. Avatar Jacob says:

    My understanding is that Google Wave will be shut down by the end of this year. You may want to rethink using it in your practice.


  25. Avatar Joy says:

    I’ve noticed with my ScanSnap that when I download an update to Adobe Acrobat 9 that I have trouble opening the management software that comes with the ScanSnap.

    I have also heard that it is a good idea to download updates to software so that security holes can be plugged and that you can take advantage of any new features or upgraded features in the software itself.

    Any ideas as to why the software becomes problemmatic with an update?

  26. Avatar Keith M says:

    As a transactional lawyer, Open Office isn’t practical. There are too many bugs in converting Word documents and the blacklining isn’t up to snuff. Problems are magnified with .docx documents, which I see more and more of. I had to bite the bullet and get MS Office.

    I use Google Apps for email and calendar, which is great. Having come from the Outlook world, I prefer an email client and use Thunderbird. Dropbox has been great so far (plus an external HD). For tasks I use RTM, which I like though I can’t seem to integrate RTM into Thunderbird (but since RTM syncs with Google calender, the tasks show up in my calendar, which serves my purpose).

  27. Sam Glover Sam G. says:

    There are few if any “bugs” in how OO.o displays Word files. Rather, Microsoft has published its .docx file standard, but doesn’t actually adhere to it. OO.o does. That kind of inconsistency from Microsoft is why I prefer OO.o Writer over Word.

    That said, I can see how using OO.o would get frustrating if you were constantly exchanging documents with other people. In that case, paying for Office (or even just Word) could be cheap sanity. (Heck, I think PowerPoint is worth paying for, because it’s miles better than OO.o’s slide editor.)

    I wonder whether Google Docs might be an even better option for transactional work, though. It’s collaboration features are way ahead of Office, and you don’t need to worry which version of which software on which operating system your collaborators are using. It’s more secure than e-mailing copies of documents back and forth, too.

  28. Avatar Keith M says:

    I have not come across anyone using Google Docs or collaboration for transactions. There is still the notion that one side controls the docs and the other side comments.

    BTW, forgot to mention I use Time59 for billing. As a solo, it does a good job at low cost.

  29. Sam Glover Sam G. says:

    Well, in part that is because Office doesn’t let you collaborate. Lawyers might like it once they try it! (Google Docs also does plain-old track changes, though.)

    I don’t share Word files if the other side is just commenting, though. They get a PDF, and they can communicate their suggested changes to me however they like.

  30. Avatar John Murray says:

    I noticed from all the comments that most of you are using multiple applications to manage your business. I am using a single software that can manage all my office activities and can also integrate with my phone system.

    The software is called Virtual Filing Cabinet it can manage all my contacts, emails, documents, calendar appointments, notes, faxes, scans, tasks, telephone calls and includes a really cool collaboration tool.

    You guys should check it out its a great software that is easy to use and very affordable!

  31. Avatar Robert Louque says:
    • Calendar: Google Calendar/Google Apps. I agree with Sam. There is nothing better. It syncs up nicely with my Blackberry.
      • Tasks/to-dos: Remember the Milk. I love that it can send reminders to Instant Messenger.
      • Contacts: Batchbook. It integrates with Freshbook so nicely that I feel it is the best fit for my practice.
      • E-mail: Google Apps. My OCD is finally satisfied (as much as it can be) and I have filters set up to direct my mail where I want to it go and it works beautifully. I am finally close to Inbox Zero the majority of the time.

      • Word processing / document creation: MS Word 2007. I am sticking with Word because a program I use to generate pleadings, motions, etc only works with MS Word. The program is called Pathagoras.

      • PDF creation: Adobe 9.0 Professional. I have a real need for the ability to redact. It was really the only option I knew of at the time that allowed me to redact without blacking out, flattening the document, then reprinting to pdf.

      • Timekeeping & billing: I tried Clio for a few months but it became a little too complicated for my practice which is primarily fixed fee or contingency. On Sam’s advice, I started using Freshbooks and have not looked back, especially since it integrates so nicely with Batchbook.

      • Bookkeeping / accounting: I still use an old program called TimePro. The company is apparently out of business now but it still works for my purposes – check printing, nice trust reports, etc.

      • Backup: Dropbox, Carbonite, and external hard drives. Multiple redundant backups.

    For document collaboration, I use a program called goplanapp. I like the interface much more than I like Basecamp and it’s more user friendly. Also, it’s quiet a bit cheaper.

  32. Avatar Carrie says:

    I am doing research for a law firm that uses abacus. The yearly fees are becoming outrageous. What accounting software would you suggest? He needs it to be very simple. And have good support. I have noticed alot of you have been using quickbooks, but everything that I have read about it for law firms seems to be very cumbersome, is that true? Also you seem to be using more than one program to manage your office, is there any program that you would suggest to manage your time, clients, calendar, and accounting on one software program that you would suggest?

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      Both Clio and Rocket Matter include timekeeping and billing features, although neither is a full backoffice bookkeeping solution. I still think it is better to use a specialized software package like Quickbooks for that.

  33. Avatar AP says:

    * Calendar: Google Apps
    * Tasks/to-dos: This is a super-powerful, very slick online, highly customizable, sharable outlining tool that can be used for to-do and even light project management. I highly encourage Lawyerist bloggers to check it out and share your thoughts (as the only tool I use that hasn’t already been discussed thoroughly here).
    * Contacts: Google Apps
    * E-mail: Google Apps
    * Word processing / document creation: Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac
    * PDF creation: Mac “save as”
    * Timekeeping & billing: Google Apps Calendar
    * Bookkeeping / accounting: Quickbooks Online
    * Backup: DropBox

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