A few weeks ago, after reviewing LegalSoftOnline (see here), I took a very brief look at Clio. Afterwards I had a discussion with Jack Newton, President of Clio who was eager to show me under the hood of Clio and explain all that it does.

Clio is the offshoot of a consulting company that was searching for a productizable offering that they could spin out of their firm. After lots of research they discovered that solo and small law practitioners are hampered by lack of access to practice management solutions, and that they also have higher than average levels of non-compliance, in part because of the inefficiencies inherent in the systems they use. With input and help from the Law Society of British Columbia, Clio spent a year developing the product which went live as a beta in March 2008 and was released as a 1.0 product in October 2008. Clio was unwilling to divulge customer numbers but reported that they have “lots of very satisfied customers”.

Clio Tour from Clio on Vimeo.

Right from the outset Clio, given that it is aimed for the legal profession, is very concerned around security, Their login page proudly shows that they’re protected by 256bit SSL, are certified by VeriSign, TrustE and McAfee security – whether this is enough to allay the traditional conservatism of legal practitioners, time will tell.

As a legal system, not surprisingly Clio revolves around the concept of “matters” – which are analogous to “projects” in a PM setting. Clio users can look at several different aspects of their workflow – tasks, documents, time tracking/billing and scheduling.

The first screen to open up is the agenda view. This gives a user a picture of their day, a list of tasks they need to complete with references to the particular matter they relate to. Users can then drill down and see detail about the matter as an aid to planning their day. Within the same screen one can see ones schedule with planned meetings for the day, again these are linked to particular matters to create a workflow connection. The calendaring aspects of Clio allow for feeds out to Google calendar and Outlook, giving users visibility from these other applications and the potential to give third parties visibility over their schedule.

Clio also fills the role of document repository including providing the ability to invite interested parties in to be able to view or collaborate on documents. The next screen shot shows the “Lawyer’s view” (the normal Clio interface) and how the user can issue documents and bills to clients. It’s as simple as selecting a resource and choosing who they’d like to share it with. Recipients are sent a unique invitation key if they don’t already have a login, and will have access to a custom portal through which they can access all their documents and bills (and even pay bills online);

When a client or collaborator logs in, they see their own portal view which includes access to their own dashboard, and the documents and bills that relate to them. From within there they are then able to pay bills via paypal which is then reflected on the practice management screen.

Clio has a fully functioning billing component. Users have visibility over the bills they have created. Clio allows for the csv export of these files for uploading into accounting applications, personally I feel that full integration with an accounting app, whereby users could get real two way visibility of their invoicing position, would be useful. As a comparison, LegalSoftOnline, being built on the force.com platform, can automatically leverage other applications built on that platform and could, for example, integrate out of the box with the Coda2Go accounting application. That said the Clio billing functions fulfills most of the requirements small practitioners needs, including the ability to output customized pdf invoices.

As I mentioned previously, Clio has an inbuilt document repository function with permissioning and versioning giving great visibility and audit control over documentation;

Part of Clio billing is the enablement of practice trust accounting – again I believe this would be even more useful when included as part of an integration with an accounting/bookkeeping application.

Clio is big on searchability, a text string search for “Cisco” for example will show all contacts, matters, documents and tasks relating to that particular string – a helpful feature for conflict screening, especially in a multi practitioner practice.

Included in Clio is time tracking with the ability to start and stop timers and chose which matter/clients the time applies to. This time can then be automatically generated as a draft bill for later approval. Clio also has a desktop application that allows for time tracking without a browser being open, it also allows for offline time tracking.

Overall I was pretty impressed with the Clio offering. While I think it’s somewhat limited by lack of integration with other applications, I am led to believe that this is one area they are actively looking at. Clio costs $49 per month per user, with a $25 per month fee for each support staff member. The functionality that Clio offers mean that this cost should easily be recouped given the increased efficiency a tool like this should bring – even more so once it integrates nicely with other tools.

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Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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