Cloud Software for Law Firms

cloud software for law firms

The Ultimate Guide to Cloud Software for Law Firms

There are many inflection points where a law firm begins pondering and exploring the cloud for their firm. Maybe you’re breaking away from BigLaw and starting up your brand new practice. Or maybe your long-time law firm is ready to ditch its onsite servers and say hello to cloud bliss.

Whatever brought you to look deeper into cloud solutions for your firm, look no further than this, ultimate guide to cloud software for law firms.

There are so many different ways to leverage the cloud: cloud apps, cloud-based storage, cloud-based email and more… where to begin?

It’s helpful to break down the different categories of cloud software for law firms. Generally speaking, a law firm seek out and implement software from the following categories:

In this guide to cloud software for law firms, we’ll explore the top cloud-based solution for each category.

Let’s get started.


Productivity & Word Processing

Productivity software is the bedrock of any business’ technology–including law firms. From word processing, to spreadsheets, to presentations and email: Productivity software is the cornerstone of cloud software for law firms. There are (arguably) only a few viable options for law firms:

Google Docs (or the artist formerly known as) is a suite of lightweight, simple, web-based apps for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. While Google Apps (now part of the overall G Suite) is okay for the most basic of needs (simple docs or spreadsheets), and it is cool that you can do everything within a web browser–Google Docs still lacks the robust features and functions found in modern business productivity software, like the Microsoft Office Suite.

Office 365 is Microsoft’s new packaging of its long-lived Office Suite. With Office 365, Microsoft has packaged its traditional Office software (along with other services like hosted Exchange) into a subscription-based service. With Office 365, you no longer have to buy (then buy upgrades for) Microsoft Office: With an Office 365 subscription, you’ll always have the latest version of Office for your entire firm.

While you can get Office 365 from Microsoft directly (or possibly from your local IT guy), for a better overall cloud experience including end-to-end integration of all of your cloud software and services–we recommend getting the Office 365 suite (including the Microsoft Office software and Exchange email) as part of a broader technology bundle, such as a private cloud platform or bundled with an overall cloud document management suite. This not only helps ensure that all of your technology will work together, but that you can get the help you need from a single cloud provider. Its best to source all cloud software for law firms from as few (capable) providers as possible.

Related: Piecemeal the Cloud at Your Own Risk.

PS: Word Perfect: We still love you. Word Perfect is still the word processing app of choice for many law firms. While, to my knowledge, they don’t have a subscription-based offering like Office 365, Word Perfect will still run very well in a private cloud solution, alongside your other legal software.


Basic Cloud Storage

If you need a simple, cloud-based system to store files and documents: basic cloud storage is cheap and plentiful. Cloud storage services aim to replace your on-premise file server, and eliminate “the S: drive” as your firm’s primary file repository. If the needs of your law firm are no more than basic storage and folder-based organization, these basic cloud storage options may fit well into your cloud software for law firms toolbox.

Dropbox is the most well-known cloud storage service. Its low-cost and easy to get started with. It doesn’t do much more than simply store your files and give you the ability to share files with outside parties: But if that is all your firm needs, Dropbox has you covered.

Related: Dropbox for Lawyers.

Google Drive is another popular cloud-based storage service. It ties in and works with the aforementioned Google Docs. Google Drive will not only store your files in the cloud (and allow you to share them) but can automatically back up your PC and photos to the cloud.

Related: Google Drive for Lawyers.

Citrix ShareFile is the self-described business-class alternative of Dropbox and Google Drive. And to its credit: ShareFile does have more business and enterprise-focused functionality, including enhanced security and two-factor authentication. While not the cheapest of the basic cloud storage family, ShareFile caters to the business and professional crowd.

Its natural that a modern law firm would look to the cloud for document storage. Be advised, however, that these basic cloud storage solutions are low-cost and easy to setup: they don’t quite meet the needs of many law firms. If you’re a solo practice or a very small firm with limited budget: they might fit the bill. But beyond that, in my experience: law firms need a little more sophisticated set of tools

First: These services all synchronize data between each device in your firm. That works well enough over two or three computers… but when your law firm of five or ten (or more) staff tries to use them… you’ll find your data constantly out-of-sync between computers.

Second: These services aren’t Document Management Systems, they’re basic cloud storage. You can create folders… and put files in them. Nothing more, nothing less. Many law firms need more robust tools to manage documents. Features like index and search, integrated OCR, document profiling and tagging, document version management–and so on. For these firms, I recommend you skip past basic cloud storage and take a look at Document Management Systems, which we’ll explore more a little later in our list of cloud software for law firms.

Related: Document Management vs. Basic Cloud Storage.


Legal Practice Management

Practice Management software lives at the center of many law firm’s technology toolbox. Practice Management software typically handles a law firms clients and contacts, case management, calendaring, document creation, time tracking, billing and accounting. There are many applications to choose from today: Some focus more on “front-office” functionality (case management and calendaring), others focus more on “back-office” workflow (billing and accounting.)

Today, Legal Practice Management applications come in two models: web-based and server-based/hosted. The former is software that you use in a web-browser, can is often a good fit for solos and very small firms. The latter must be hosted on an on-premise server or via a private cloud, and is typically a good fit for small, midsize and larger firms. Both have a place within cloud software for law firms.

Web-based Legal Practice Management

Web-based Legal Practice Management is run in a web browser, and requires no server or software to install. Web-base software is ideal for solo and small firms.

Rocket Matter is a popular cloud-based Legal Practice Management solution. Rocket Matter will handle your firms clients, matters, calendars, time billing and more. Being web-based, it doesn’t require a server or installation of any software. Rocket Matter integrates with payment processing such as LexCharge and LawPay, and law firm website service JurisPage.

Related: Rocket Matter Review.

CosmoLex is a newer, but fast-growing cloud-based Legal Practice Management solution. Unlike many of its web-based counterparts, CosmoLex includes full, integrated accounting. This means that not only will your firm not need to manage accounting in another application (such as QuickBooks), but that you’ll be able to see all relevant info for a client: from open matters, to outstanding balances. Cool stuff.

Related: CosmoLex Review.

Clio is probably the most well-known web-based Legal Practice Management solution. Clio is known as a flexible yet easy-to-use system to manage your firm’s clients and cases. Ideal for solo and small firms, Clio integrates with many third-party apps and services, including LawPay, Zapier, Fastcase, Logikull and JurisPage. Clio recently announced the New Clio Experience, which promises a streamlined interface and faster performance.

Related: Clio Review.

Clio is probably the most well-known web-based Legal Practice Management solution. Clio is known as a flexible yet easy-to-use system to manage your firm’s clients and cases. Ideal for solo and small firms, Clio integrates with many third-party apps and services, including LawPay, Zapier, Fastcase, Logikull and JurisPage. Clio recently announced the New Clio Experience, which promises a streamlined interface and faster performance.

Related: Clio Review.

MyCase is another popular web-based Legal Practice Management application. MyCase was one of the first in the category, and it will manage your firm’s clients, cases, calendars and more. MyCase’s (deserved) claim to fame is its powerful client portal: where you can share case updates, messages, documents and more with your clients via a slick online portal that your clients can access from a web browser.

Related: MyCase Review.

Server-based / Hosted Legal Practice Management

“Traditional” server-based or hosted Legal Practice Management software requires a server to run, either on-premise or (ideally) hosted in a private cloud platform. Server-based/hosted Legal Practice Management is ideal for small, midsize and larger firms (but often not solo firms). While most of these applications were created before the advent of cloud computing, they do fit into the category of cloud software for law firms with the help of a private cloud.

Time Matters is a long-running, powerful Legal Practice Management system. Time Matters, by LexisNexis, provides a comprehensive set of tools to manage your firm’s clients, matters, calendars, documents and more. Most notable about TIme Matters is how cusotmizable it is. More than any other application we’ve seen, TIme Matters can be customized to fit your firm’s cases and workflow.

Related: Time Matters Review.

ProLaw is a robust, all-in-one Legal Practice Management Solution. ProLaw is one of the few legal platforms that includes front-office/practice management functionality, back-office/billing and accounting tools as well as (more-or-less) full-featured document management functionality. If your firm needs all three of these components in one system: ProLaw should definitely be on your shortlist. ProLaw is often a good fit for law firms of 10 or more staff.

Related: ProLaw Review.

PCLaw, by LexisNexis is a popular practice management and billing/accounting solution for law firms. It includes simple, lightweight practice management functionality (including client, case and calendar management) along with robust billing, accounting and financial reporting tools. For the law firm that needs heavy-duty accounting and an all-in-one platform, PCLaw is a great fit.

Related: PCLaw Review.

Tabs3 is a powerful legal billing and accounting platform. Coupled with its practice management counterpart, PracticeMaster, the two apps together provide a nearly-complete, all-in-one platform for managing your cases, billing and your practice. The company behind Tabs3, STI, is evangelical about customer support. Tabs3 also has a network of consultants ready to help your firm implement the software into your practice.

Related: Tabs3 Review.

Needles is a long-time player in the legal case management space. With an emphasis on Personal Injury practice, many law firms swear by Needles workflow tools and customization. If your firm practices in personal injury, plaintiff or insurance-side, Needles should definitely be on your legal practice management shortlist.

Related: Needles Review.

While you can run server-based practice management software on your own server, most modern law firms don’t want to be in the business of buying servers and managing IT. For that reason, we encourage law firms that use (or plan to use) server/premise-based practice management server in an integrated, fully-managed private cloud platform such as Uptime Practice.

Private cloud solutions like Uptime Practice will host all of your legal applications, your firm’s documents and data, and often include Microsoft Office, hosted exchange and unlimited IT support–everything your firm needs to ditch its servers, secure its data and work from anywhere.


Time Tracking (Stand-Alone)

Next up in our list of cloud software for law firms we’ll explore time tracking software.

Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, a law firm doesn’t want an all-in one software solution. Maybe they don’t need the sophistication of Time Matters or Tabs3. Maybe the law firm already uses QuickBooks for accounting, and only needs an app to track, record and bill time.

For those users, there are a handful of options that provide stand-alone time tracking functionality, many of which are used by lawyers.

Bill4Time is a popular, web-based time and billing solution. While not made exclusively for law firms, many law firms find it a great stand-alone time and billing app, and Bill4Time even has a Legal Edition, with billing preferences made just for law firms (ABA billing codes and fee splitting, just to name a few.) If you need a simple, web-based time tracking app–Bill4Time is definitely worth your attention.

Related: Bill4Time Review.

TimeSolv is another popular cloud-based application for time and billing. While made for a variety of industries, TimeSolv is used heavily by lawyers. It includes time tracking, billing, invoicing, expense tracking and reporting. If your firm needs a web-based, easy-to-use time and billing application that doesn’t have heavy practice management functionality: give TimeSolv a look.

Timeslips, by Sage, is a long time stand-alone time and billing application. Law firms have been using Timeslips for over a decade when they need software that simply tracks their billable time. Timeslips is often used in tandem with QuickBooks for law firms that need an overall billing and accounting solution, but not necessarily practice or case management. Timeslips is server-based, which means you’ll either need to manage your own in-house server or run Timeslips in a private cloud.


Accounting

Accounting will be the next category we explore in our lineup of cloud software for law firms.

Some legal practice management software includes accounting. Some law firms, however, prefer separate, stand-alone accounting software. Sometimes the law firm is convinced by their accountant to use the software that they are familiar with, other times the law firm simply prefers their accounting to be in another system. Whatever the case, these are the accounting applications that can be used in the cloud.

QuickBooks Online is probably the most well-known cloud-based accounting platform. While not quite as robust as its desktop/server based counterpart (QuickBooks Professional), QuickBooks Online has come a long way since its launch. QuickBooks Online will handle your chart of accounts, payable, receivables, invoices, inventory, payroll and more. And–many of the cloud-based legal practice management apps integrate with QuickBooks online.

FreshBooks is another popular web-based accounting package. Built to be an alternative to QuickBooks Online, Freshbooks is praised by many lawyers as a great, easy-to-use yet full-fledged accounting system. Freshbooks includes invoicing, expenses, time tracking, projects, payment processing an more.

Xero (pronounced “zero”) is another popular, web-based accounting platform. It includes the standard accounting trapping (invoicing, chart of accounts, operating accounts, payables, receivables) as well as great tools for account reconciliation, online invoicing, inventory and more.

Related: Xero Review.

As a review/reminder: If your firm prefers to have your accounting in the same system as your billing and case management: Check out some of the legal practice management applications that include full-featured accounting such as PCLaw, Tabs3 and CosmoLex.


Document Management

As we dive deeper into the world of cloud software for law firms, next we’ll look at Document Management software.

Document Management software will store your firm’s documents and provide your staff with tools to search and manage documents. Some legal practice management software (like those listed above) will provide some rudimentary document management tools, but many law firms need a full-fledged Document Management System (DMS) to adequately manage their documents.

Document Management software includes functions beyond basic cloud storage and beyond those offered by legal practice management software. Functions like:

  • Document index and search.
  • Email management.
  • Document OCR.
  • Document version management.
  • Document check-out/check-in.
  • Scan and fax integration.
  • Document profiling and tagging.
  • Microsoft Office integration.
  • Document security and audit trails.

The best document management systems for law firms are matter-centric, which stores and manages documents (and email) by matter.

Worldox is a popular document management system for law firms. It’s server-based, which means you’ll need to own and maintain an on-premise server to run it. Worldox is a mature product: it’s been around and used by law firms for over a decade. Worldox is powerful and capable, and integrates with Tabs3, a popular legal practice management and accounting application for law firms. Worldox can be run on-premise or in a private cloud.

Related: Worldox Review.

iManage is a long-running DMS. It is powerful and robust and provides as many, or more functions to manage documents and email as other Document Management Systems in the industry. It has a powerful index and search engine which works across document and email. It does require significant server resources, and requires an IT expert to implement and administer. iManage can be run on your own in-house server or in a private cloud.

Related: iManage Review.

NetDocuments was among the first cloud-based document management applications. NetDocuments is used by a variety of industries including legal, accounting and financial services, and is well-regarded in each industry. NetDocuments includes ndOffice, its Microsoft Office integration. Being web-based, NetDocuments does not require an on-premise server, nor does it require software installation apart from ndOffice.

Related: NetDocuments Review.

LexWorkplace is a cloud-based, matter-centric document & email management system. LexWorkplace will keep your documents, email and notes organized by matter, indexed and searchable. LexWorkplace includes document versioning, powerful search, integrated OCR, scan and fax integration, Microsoft Office and Outlook integration and document tagging/profiling. LexWorkplace is available stand-alone or bundled with Microsoft Office and Exchange email.

Related:


CRM & Intake

Legal practice management software is known for being well-suited to manage a law firm’s clients and matters. But they’re not particularly well-known for managing the sales side of a law firm. While “sales” may be viewed as a dirty word to some law firms (it shouldn’t), the fact remains that your law firm is a business, and like any business: prospective clients must be managed and converted to paying clients.

CRM software fills this need, by giving you a place to enter prospective customers, document when and what you’ve discussed and note your next steps to follow up with each prospective customer.

If you plan to grow your law firm at all: I highly recommend you implement a CRM system to manage prospects and drive growth. This may be among the most important apps within the cloud software for law firms category.

SalesForce is the most well-known cloud-based CRM system. Used by virtually every industry, Sales Force is a highly customizable solution to manage prospects, sales workflows, closed “deals” and a whole lot more. SalesForce, to their credit, was a pioneer in cloud computing, and one of the first major Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies. While their pricepoint may put them out of reach for solo and very small firms, SalesForce is a powerful CRM platform.

Pipedrive is a more entry-level CRM tool (compared to SalesForce). Its lightweight, easy to use and comes with a more manageable pricepoint, especially for a law firm that’s just getting started. Its industry-neutral, which means its a lightweight sales and CRM tool for any industry, not just law firms.

Lexicata is a CRM and client intake app built just for law firms. Unlike the other apps in this list, Lexicata is a CRM and sales tool made to accommodate the way law firms work. Lexicata has the standard sales pipeline management tools that anything calling itself a CRM has–but it extends this functionality into the intake process that is unique to law firms. Lexicata allows you to create and define your own intake forms, build email templates, track sales conversions, create intake checklists and create notes and reminders when bringing in new clients. Lexicata also integrates with Clio legal practice management software.

Related: Lexicata Review.


Online Payments

Getting paid is an important part of running a law firm, so having on online payment service is vital to growing and sustaining your law practice. Online payment services make paying your firm easy for your clients (remember: the goal is to remove any friction around paying you!) and automated for you.

Legal-centric online payment services, like the ones we explore below, will cater to the unique needs of law firms, including dealing with trust accounts and ABA billing codes. Online payment services are more than just cloud software for law firms, they are a service that provides payment clearing, authorization and other financial tools to help manage your practice.

LawPay is a well-known, long-standing online payment service for law firms. LawPay boasts competitive rates and a full suite of law-firm-required functions such as trust accounting, a mobile app and integration with popular legal practice management applications. LawPay also has a number of useful reporting tools to better understand your firm’s payments.

LexCharge is law firm payment processing in the cloud. It not only allows your clients to pay their bill online, it includes requisite functions such as IOLTA trust accounting, payment plans and recurring billing. LexCharge integrates with popular legal practice management solutions such as Rocket Matter.


OneNote is Microsoft note-taking app and part of the broader Microsoft Office family. OneNote allows you to write, organize and manage notes in the familiar interface style as the rest of Microsoft Office. OneNote also integrates with the Office suite including Outlook for powerful meeting integration. OneNote also works wonderfully with a stylus such as the Surface Pen if you’re a user of the Surface Pro, Surface Book or Surface Studio. While Evernote may win the award for simplicity and ease-of-use, OneNote is arguably a more robust note-taking tool.

Related: 5 Reasons Every Lawyer Needs OneNote.

Note-taking

We’ll wrap up our list of cloud software for law firms by exploring note-taking and keeping solutions. These applications do more than just replace the old legal pad: they bring a new level of organization, functionality and note-taking on the go.

Evernote is a pioneer in cloud-based note-taking, and a favorite among law firms. Evernote allows you to take, organize and manage notes in a web browser or in a mobile app. Evernote has a beautifully clean interface and is easy to learn and to use. Evernote allows you to create notes, checklists, save web pages for later and more. And bonus: They even used to make Evernote-branded moleskin notebooks that “integrated” with the Evernote app, which was pretty nifty.

Conclusion

Have questions or need advice on any of the categories or products listed here?

Happy cloud computing.