When you open the program, you will see Smokeball’s home screen, which has three components:
(1) A “daily digest” bar to the far right, which gives you a day-at-a-glance view of your calendar, your tasks, and any phone messages. You can create tasks and events directly from the daily digest bar, which is a nice touch.
(2) Your matter list, which has the most screen real estate in the center. This list is highly customizable. You can set up any number of matter types that you would like. You can set the matter list to only show you open matters. You can sort by any of the fields at the top, including matter number, type, client name, and assigned staff.
3) On the far right, a toolbar with tabs for the other areas of Smokeball: contacts, calendars, tasks, “activity intelligence” (more on that later), and reports.
Opening a new matter is simple: choose New Matter from the home screen and pick a matter type. Smokeball comes pre-loaded with all the matter types you would normally expect, such as criminal law, immigration, personal injury, and workers compensation. If you practice in a niche area that isn’t pre-loaded, you can tell Smokeball during the onboarding process and they will add a matter type for you. Each of the matter types also has optional sub-types.
The first thing you will want to do is enter information about the parties. You will see that Smokeball provides some roles based on the type of matter. A driver’s license reinstatement case has a space for alcohol/drug evaluation information, which obviously doesn’t appear in the real estate litigation section, for example.
The Matter page also has several widgets on the right-hand side. Three of those widgets—Next Step, Upcoming Events, and Notes—allow you to quickly enter information that will be associated with that matter. The fourth—contact details—is for address information for your client or other individuals.
At the bottom of a Matter page, you will see the Documents and Emails section. All types of documents that you have associated with your matter appear here. You can import documents using the Import tab above or drag and drop. Additionally, you can organize this section however you would like with subfolders.
As soon as you attach any type of document to a matter in Smokeball, the program saves that document within Smokeball’s cloud. Put another way, regardless of whatever organizational chaos you may have on your actual computer with your files, Smokeball will organize those files via matter and subfolder for you in the cloud.
There is no way for you to bulk import information from other practice management software you may have used previously. That said, Smokeball does offer a way to import documents into each new matter you set up.
In each matter, you will see a button to import or scan documents. If you choose “import” you can choose an entire folder or a file to upload to Smokeball. You can also drag and drop items directly.
You also cannot bulk import contacts, but Smokeball’s integration with Microsoft Outlook ensures that the program has access to that contact data. Alternatively, Smokeball will import your contacts for you during your onboarding as long as you have them in a .csv format (which is typically how you would have exported contacts from your previous legal practice management software or your existing email account).
The Contact tab displays all of your contacts (not just your clients.) You can add a new contact from the New Contact tab. As with the matter window, you can organize this information in a number of ways. You can slot contacts into categories, like “expert” or “mediator.” You can sort them alphabetically or by organization.
Smokeball allows you to get even more granular with how you slice and dice your contacts thanks to tags.
Tags will be familiar to anyone who has used Evernote. A tag is a brief word or two that you associate with a contact. More than that, though, it is something you expect may be associated with more than one contact and something where you would like to be able to see all associated contacts at a glance.
You can add tags while you are adding a new contact or go back and do it later.
The Calendar display allows you to view the day, work week, week, month, or view your activities (upcoming and past) in a timeline format.
If you are in a workplace where calendars are shared, you will see all of those calendars here as well. If you have chosen to enable it, Smokeball will syncyour Outlook calendar with Smokeball. That way, it won’t matter where you are entering your meeting information – it will all show up in Smokeball regardless.
Smokeball’s Tasks section is designed very well for multiple-person teams. If you are a solo practitioner, you can use Tasks more like your own to-do list, but the real power of Tasks comes through when you have several people to whom you want to assign things and track progress.
Clicking Task while in any portion of the home screen will bring up a new task prompt. From there, you can assign the task to a specific individual and attach it to a matter. You can then create a checklist with subtasks within that task.
You can view all your completed or upcoming tasks at a glance. You can also view those of anyone else on your team. It is a great feature if you assign a lot of tasks elsewhere and want to be able to keep tabs on how those things are progressing.
The only downside is that Smokeball doesn’t let you set granular permissions, which means that every user can see everyone else’s tasks all the time.
When you go back to view specific matters, you can then see all the tasks attached to that matter.
Ai (Active Intelligence)
You can get a sense of your matter-by-matter or day-by-day progress by looking at your completed and yet-to-be-completed tasks. If you are looking for a more comprehensive view of what you and the people in your organization are getting done every day or week or month, the Ai section is what you will use.
You can customize the Ai display in a number of ways., such as sorting by matter name or limiting what types of activities show up in the report. If you want to track overall productivity or show a client the amount of tasks that went into their bill, it works very well. It suffers from the same problem as the Tasks section, however, which is that all your users can see all the data.
Think of reports as a static exportable version of Tasks or Ai. You choose the type of report from a drop-down menu, set your dates, status, and assigned staff, and Smokeball will run a report that you can print or export to a PDF.
One of the ways in which Smokeball strives to set itself apart from other case management software programs is by adding robust document automation capabilities. Smokeball presumes that you draft the same or similar things on a regular basis and would benefit from having the routine portion of that automated.
If you start with a “blank” letter, it actually won’t be blank. Smokeball pre-populates your address, letterhead and signature block. Similarly, a court form will include a caption that is correct for your jurisdiction and your attorney/firm information.
Smokeball also has a variety of forms and letters that come pre-installed. You can also request that Smokeball set up a form or letter specific to your practice. Finally, if you are comfortable with setting up forms and letters with various fields, you can make your own forms from scratch.