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The Smokeball Q&A, Tips & Tricks Thread

samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin
edited July 2016 in Legal Technology
This thread is for questions and answers about Smokeball.

You can also browse posts about Smokeball on Lawyerist.


  • Has anyone used a case management program called Smokeball? I'm considering using it in my law practice but there are very few reviews of it that I could find (other than on their website) and before I commit I'd like to hear from attorneys who have used it.

  • Benjamin WrightBenjamin Wright Janesville, WI

    I'm just starting out with Smokeball myself. I also had difficulty finding any third-party information about it online, but when I saw a demo and talked to a sales rep it looked potentially quite useful.

    With the caveat that I have only poked around the program and haven't been through the full onboarding process yet, here are my observations so far:

    The Software
    If you've heard of Microsoft's Matter Center for Office 365, you know it basically integrates and connects the Microsoft Office programs in a way that lets lawyers associate everything with matters. Smokeball has much the same effect.

    The program itself I found fairly simple, but pleasing. For each matter it will give you quick access to documents, emails, tasks, notes, etc. From the matter you can choose to create a new document (from a form or blank) or email, and it will launch Microsoft Word or Outlook. It's all quite easy and well done.

    The program lets you keep track of very detailed information in each of your cases, which can be used to fill in forms when you create them.

    Smokeball takes a hybrid-cloud approach, meaning you access it through a local program on your PC (sorry Mac users), but it will store your documents/data in the cloud. They also have a mobile app to let you access everything on your phone.

    Service and Onboarding

    • By talking to the sales rep I was able to get the one-time setup fee waived and something like 15% off the monthly fee. There's a money-back guarantee after 3 months if you try it and decide at that point you want to cancel the contract.
    • I've had good experiences with their customer service so far. They help you install the program and also set up two onboarding/training sessions to help you get your own forms in the program. (All this is via remote access to your computer.)
    • They do have their own form libraries, including standard circuit court forms. However, I don't know how many states they cover - I know they started in Illinois and probably have the best support for that state. They do have a number of the standard court forms for Wisconsin in common practice areas, for instance, but not all of them.
    • Apparently you can request features and custom forms from Smokeball, also, that would then become available to all customers. They seem to be developing their product in response to this kind of feedback.

    What's Missing
    Smokeball has no accounting, no time-tracking or billing, and no secure client portal. It has no option for accepting electronic payments. It is not an all-in-one practice management service.

    Who It's For
    I haven't used Smokeball's document automation yet, so I can't give an evaluation of how well it does its central job. I would anticipate it doing that very well, though.

    I think the attorneys likely to get the most out of Smokeball have a few traits:

    • They have an established business with their own form library.
    • They aren't already using an all-in-one practice management software like MyCase or Clio.
    • They use email or letters to communicate with clients.
    • They already use Microsoft Office extensively.

    So far I have enjoyed using the program. It's attractive not just for the document automation, but for how well it organizes everything. It really makes handling your electronic documents easy (and all the other data associated with your cases). My biggest concern, personally, is that the added expense may be hard to justify if you don't have a high volume of cases and need to use other programs for timekeeping/billing and practice management - a typical situation, I think, for new solos.

    I hope that's helpful. Feel free to ask me any questions and I'll try to answer them!

  • Thanks so much for the review Benjamin Wright! I've been with the same firm for sixteen years but am opening my own firm at the beginning of December. I have a well-established client base and otherwise fit your "who it's for" list. I think Smokeball has the potential to help tremendously with organization, which is a challenge for me. I do understand that it's not an all-in-one and will use another timekeeping/billing program--I'm considering Fresh Books. What billing program are you using?

  • Benjamin WrightBenjamin Wright Janesville, WI

    Glad I can be helpful!

    As for timekeeping/billing, I've been using MyCase, which works fine for my needs. If I do decide to use Smokeball long-term, I would probably drop MyCase and look for something like Freshbooks.

    One thing to note, though: during my recent training session with a Smokeball rep, she mentioned they are working on adding a timekeeping and billing feature in the next 6-12 months (or so). So you may want to keep an eye out for that.

    And while I'm at it, here are a few other pieces of information that I learned during the on-boarding:

    • It's quite simple to request additions to the program, and they encourage you to do so. If Smokeball doesn't have a field for information you need to keep track of in a particular type of case, you can just ask them to add it. This also means you'll benefit when other attorneys in your state and practice area make their own requests.
    • During the training you'll learn how to use the program to make your own forms. You can also send them up to 15 of your own forms and they'll set them up for you. (And it appears the Smokeball people really know what they're doing in Microsoft Word.)
    • The program also installs an add-in for Outlook which can automatically keep copies of your emails associated with your matters in Smokeball. You can two-way sync your Smokeball calendar and Outlook, but you have to enable the setting yourself. It won't sync tasks.
    • Smokeball can also run reports, though there's a limited number available. Probably the most useful one gives you a list of the "next step" tasks in all your matters.
    • Smokeball will automatically install an extension for your browser (at least for Chrome, which is what I use) that lets you either save a URL or save an entire webpage straight to a matter in the Smokeball program. I did run into a problem with it reading the URL correctly the one time I tried that, though.
    • Finally, a minor point: Smokeball installs add-ins to Microsoft Word and Outlook, and that does slow down the programs a bit. If you have an older or slower computer, you might notice it more.

    Again, I hope that's helpful. I'm going into this much detail because I too looked for this kind of information before, and it just isn't out there. It's hard to find specifics about the program beyond "document automation."

  • AFFAFF United States

    i am irritated that they make you give them your email to watch the 2 minute demo video. the point of an opt-in, where you trade your email for an ebook, is to actually get something of value. a promo video doesn't count.

  • MHDellMHDell Charleston

    Is Smokeball compatible with Google for Business email? Is it compatible with Macs?

    I've been a Rocket Matter user for 5 years, but have been toying with switching to MyCase. But NEITHER of them has a simple way to add emails to the file, and that is my biggest bottleneck/deficiency in maintaining a complete file.

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    @MHDell said:
    Is Smokeball compatible with Google for Business email? Is it compatible with Macs?

    Google Apps for Work is compatible with anything that is compatible with email. However, Smokeball is built to work with MS Office. If you use Google Apps Sync and check your email in Outlook, you'll be able to use the email features of Smokeball. If not, then not.

    Although if you are a Mac user, you are SOL. Nearly all the local-install practice management software is still Windows-only, including Smokeball.

  • rwfairclothrwfaircloth Charlotte, NC

    @JaneOxley Any updates on when we might be seeing an integrated time and billing solution for Smokeball?

  • Benjamin WrightBenjamin Wright Janesville, WI

    Update: I was recently hired to work at my state bar association, so I'm no longer using Smokeball. Overall, I've been very happy with their customer service and their product. If you use Microsoft Office on a Windows laptop, I honestly think they have the most useful practice management software (apart from the lack of a true billing/invoicing feature). I've also been pleased with the pace of updates and the addition of new features.

    One thing to note is that Smokeball has moved away from offering free onboarding and discounts through its sales reps. In talking to a client rep about canceling my contract early (which they were willing to do, even though they didn't have to), I was asked to edit my comment above about the discounts I received. If you're looking at Smokeball now, don't expect to get those. But I think it's important to leave my comment unaltered, as the free onboarding was a very important point for me as a technologically competent solo who already knew how to use Microsoft Word well. If I'd had to pay $300 up front, I would have ultimately felt that I'd thrown that money away. However, if I were a small law firm with many of my own forms and unsure of how best to use Smokeball and Word, then I'm sure the expense would be justified. The onboarding was good; I just didn't need it.

  • jeffjeff United States

    Thoughts please on using Smokeball vs. NetDocuments for document management? I use Clio. Many thanks.

  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    @jeff: Smokeball is more for document assembly, not document management, so I'm not sure they are comparable products if document management is what you want.

  • jeffjeff United States
    via Email
    Smokeball pitched itself to me as an online repository for all documents
    related to a matter (including emails) as well as for document automation.
  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin

    Check out our user guide and see what you think. Smokeball (like just about all practice management software, including Clio, which you said you already use) does include document management, but it's not really going to compare to NetDocs.

  • JaneOxleyJaneOxley Chicago

    @rwfaircloth thanks for the question - unfortunately there's nothing I can say publicly right now, however we will keep you posted!

    @jeff Smokeball does manage emails as well as documents and other files (PDFs, images etc). They save into the matter and you can create default folders to save them in. Smokeball also has full-text searching of these documents/emails on a global or matter basis, and automatically saves versions of your Word documents.

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