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MyCase, SmokeBall or something else?

What started as a search for a product to help us go paperless, has turned into a broader quest to improve practice management to increase efficiency.

I have looked at SmokeBall (on line videos and live demo) and like what I see (especially how well it integrates with Outlook and Word), but when I look at other products they seem to be more robust. For example, it seems that MyCase seems to offer much of what SmokeBall offers, but also billing, accounting (with QB integration) and a client portal. I also know there are other products our there (Rocket Matters and Clio to name a few), but am not sure which is best.

Would appreciate feedback from others to help us make a decision and find the right fit out of the gate.

Relevant current tech specs: PCs with MS Office, QB and TimeSlips.

Thanks!

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Comments

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    Have you found our practice management software user guides? They're meant to help with decisions like this. Scroll down this page for the current list.

  • richardsrichards MiamiBeach

    Thank you, Sam. I read through this, but it doesn't answer my question like I think user feedback can as the individual reviews don't do much to compare and contrast the products in a meaningful way.

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    Oh I'm not trying to scold you for posting this thread, just providing background information.

    What kind of feedback are you looking for? It would help if we knew what areas of concern you have.

  • richardsrichards MiamiBeach

    Something more comparative. Maybe a rating for them, "editors choice" type of indication or something that would help a firm say "under our circumstance, looking at this objective comparison this service would be the best fit for us." Essentially, something like the way Consumer Reports looks at products. They provide charts that compare features/specs and also grade/rate various elements of what they review. This would let a consumer look at the lists and say "that ones is the best for me." (I.e., the highest rated fridge might not work for someone because they need or don't want a certain feature, the size, the price, etc., but they give enough information to give someone the ability to make an informed decision easier than if they reviewed each product separately in more unique way).

    Does that make sense?

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    I don't want to derail your thread with a discussion of our editorial choices, but what you'll find in all our reviews and guides is a "who is this for" section. That's because there's really no such thing as one practice management software that's objectively better than another, so we don't try to rate them objectively.

    For example, Clio is excellent practice management software except it's a terrible if you want a fully integrated email system (although whether that's important is definitely debatable). Lawcus is really great case management software, but if you aren't already using kanban boards you probably won't know what to do with it. Both would get 4 or 5 out of 5 stars from one firm but 1 star from another.

    What you're asking for, of course, is fit—who is this product for. Our solution is to include that section in every review or guide. (We are working on a feature comparison chart, but it's a big undertaking and we aren't ready to publish it yet. I assume you'll probably make your decision before we do.)

    So what you'll want to do is narrow down your options to 2 or 3 that seem like they could be best for your firm, and then walk the same client through all of them at once. See what you like, what works for you, and what doesn't work at all for you. Then you'll be able to make an informed choice. I don't think there's any shortcut to that.

    To get back to your original question, here are some of the major differences between Smokeball and MyCase, in my mind.

    Smokeball is really good if you want document assembly software that also does a good job with lots of other practice management tasks. If you aren't into document assembly, it's probably not a great choice. You use Windows, so that's probably fine for you, but because it is desktop-based you can't get the same functionality from the mobile apps. And there's no support for Office Online, if you use that.

    MyCase, on the other hand, is just okay at document assembly. That's not the leading feature, of course. What it does have is a secure communication portal and billing features. And it's fully cloud-based, so it's just about as useful from the mobile app as it is from your desktop.

    But since you plan to go paperless, you'll want to know that MyCase doesn't integrate with any cloud storage services like OneDrive or Dropbox, which you're probably going to use if you're paperless and using MS Office (like most lawyers). Neither does Smokeball, for that matter. I don't think you'll know whether that's important to you until you try to use them to work on a case, though.

    Hope that's a bit more along the lines of what you're looking for. Try them and report back!

  • richardsrichards MiamiBeach

    Thank you for your response.

    I hear you on "try them," but Smokeball doesn't offer a trial. So, I'm not sure I can "try them." You raise a good point on the integrated storage (as MyCase and Smokeball include storage in their packages), so I'm not sure how easy (or if even possible) to access files outside of their software, but I'm not sure if that's a big deal or not.

    I like the email integration in Smokeball, but to your point, am not sure how much we'd use the document assembly in Smokeball. From what you wrote above, the main advantage for Smokeball (document assembly - which our use is likely nominal) would have to outweigh the desire for integrated time billing (until Smokeball rolls it out in the next several months) and a client portal (which clients might not really use).

    Have a happy 4th!

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    Yeah, if you don't want document assembly, I wouldn't recommend Smokeball. That is definitely it's central value proposition.

  • richardsrichards MiamiBeach

    Sam, thank again.

    Since my last post, I spent 15 minutes watching the MyCase 101 video and went through their website, so I have a good idea of how it works. We communicate a significant amount with clients/attorneys/others on matters via email (using Outlook). I don't think it's realistic to have clients communicate typically through a portal instead of using email (other than if they need to be sent a file too large to email in which case we now use Dropbox and know others that use ShareFile), so I'm not buying into the portal concept so much. Any thoughts on this?

    One feature that I liked about Smokeball was the Outlook integration that allowed emails to go into the case file for it, placing all the communications/documents/etc. for a matter in one place (and powerlessly). From the review on Lawyerist of MyCase, it seems the closest thing they have to this would, according to the article, require "forward[ing] emails to a private email address, then associate them with your cases back in MyCase." I know MyCase says they have "Outlook integration," but am not sure if that has been added or updated since the article or falls far short of Smokeball's integration.

    Is there another product that could offer what I like about Smokeball with additional features (like billing)?

    Looking through the others in the link in your initial response I note the following:
    Clio also lacks the email integration and appears to (feature wise) be very similar to MyCase (except that it does not have its own storage, but would work with Dropbox, etc.). ]CosmoLex lacks any Outlook integration.
    LexisNexis lacks email integration and mobile apps (and sounds a bit primitive).
    Rocket Matter appears to have Outlook integration (not sure if it's comparable to Smokeball) and billing (which Smokeball doesn't yet), but lacks a built in storage, which will presumably require us to go use another provider for storage (like Dropbox) and manually create folders for each matter (which Smokeball does automatically.)
    Not sure if you agree with these assessments, please let me know.

    Thanks again for you assistance. I'd like to try to make the right decision that will serve our firm well.

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    You've got enough questions that I don't think it's practical to try to answer them in this forum. I think you just need to start trying software to see what works. Or at least getting some in-depth demos.

    Alternatively, you might want to use our IT assessment service to find an IT consultant to work with so they can help you find a good fit, or at least narrow down the choices and help you consider some options that might not already be on your radar.

  • richardsrichards MiamiBeach

    And I thought I was narrowing things down to make it easier to reply. :)

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin
    edited July 2016

    Not really.

    You have too many big questions, and you don't know enough about how you plan to work with your software. You either need to figure that stuff out yourself, or hire someone to help you. Once you do, it should actually be pretty easy to choose the right software for your firm.

    And you definitely need a way to communicate securely with clients. Communicating by email is closer to communicating by postcard then sealed envelopes.

  • richardsrichards MiamiBeach

    Sam, what products offer a relatively seamless integration with Outlook emails (like Smokeball appears to) that allows emails to relatively easily be stored in the matter folder?

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    One of the reasons I think you should at least talk to a consultant is because you mentioned this earlier in this thread. Most lawyers who think they want Outlook sync really just want to associate emails with matters, and there are a lot of ways to do that. You really need to work with someone who can take the time to understand your workflow and any changes you want to make, and recommend a solution that will fit it, email and all.

  • richardsrichards MiamiBeach

    It's not just associating it with a matter (we can do that with Outlook folders), but having them associated and placed inside the digital file for the matter. It seems most products can accomplish this, but some might be more automated/easier than others.

    As stated before, one of the published reviews here said MyCase requires "forward[ing] emails to a private email address, then associate them with your cases back in MyCase." Not sure if this is still accurate or not.

    This is why, back to your question ("What kind of feedback are you looking for?"), I suggested a consumer report like review. So, if a certain feature is important to a user, they can see which one learned reviewers felt were best at that.

    On the point of associating emails with a matter and having them saved within the matter as part of the digital file for that matter, how would you rate:
    Rocket Matter
    MyCase
    PracticePanther
    HoudiniEsq
    Smokeball

    Thanks!

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    I keep trying to get across that it isn't a matter of doing it "well." They all do it, and they all do it pretty differently. It's like comparing apples to broccoli. What works great for one firm won't work at all for another, and vice versa. You really just have to try them—or work with a consultant who can match a solution to your needs.

    The assessment is free; we're not trying to charge you a thing.

  • richardsrichards MiamiBeach

    Please tell me more about the assessment you are speaking about. Thanks!

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    I've linked to it like three times now. Here it is again: https://lawyerist.com/it-needs-assessment/

  • MyCase is pretty good for linking emails if you forward your email to the google sync email they provide you with. The main issues are with the sheer volume of emails you have to "resolve" after the fact. They do offer a free trial so it's worth checking out.

  • JoshuaLenonJoshuaLenon Canada
    edited July 2016

    Richards,

    It's great to see the due diligence you're putting into a practice management system.

    I wanted to point out that Clio has an Outlook Sync, syncs with Office 365, and even lets you forward emails directly to case files.

    https://support.goclio.com/hc/en-us/articles/203141774-Forwarding-Emails-to-Matters-in-Clio

    Clio put together a paper where a disinterested lawyer reviewed the three major cloud-based systems. You can download a free copy here: https://landing.goclio.com/Choosing-a-Practice-Management-System-Web.html

    He looks at the major features or each, states which he prefers, and why. I hope it helps with your decision.

  • richardsrichards MiamiBeach

    Joshua,

    It is a very cumbersome process to have to "forward emails directly to case files." This is why others have created Outlook addons/plugins to make it easier and even associate time/billing with an email when filing it in a matter.

    I assume you work for Clio. So, I'll ask why doesn't Clio add this Outlook email integration so that they are comparable to others in this regard?

    On the link you sent to "download a free copy" of "a paper where a disinterested lawyer reviewed the three major cloud-based systems," the link didn't allow for a download unless information for marketing was first provided. Do you have a direct link to the document?

    Regards,

    Richard

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