|Neither the ABA nor ABA entities endorse non-ABA products or services. This review should not be construed as an endorsement.|
Thomson Reuters (TR), a GPSolo Division sponsor, has developed a multiplatform practice-management tool to help level the playing field for solo and small firm lawyers. It joins a growing market of cloud-based practice-management tools, which promise anytime/anywhere access for lawyers no matter the size of the firm. Because it lives in the cloud, it works on both the Mac Os X and the Windows platforms. You can even access it on your iPad. You can learn all about Firm Central at the TR website. TR designed the program to function as the hub of a small firm’s practice, allowing for the centralized coordination of information vital to the practice.
Although TR has released Firm Central and it is fully operational, it remains a work in progress, as TR continues to add features and make the program evolve. Here is a partial list of the current feature set, taken from the TR website:
One of the nice things about the fact that TR has built the system in the cloud is that you won’t have to worry about buying and installing new versions of the software every few months. When TR adds a feature, it will put it on the server, making it immediately available. As with most SaaS (Software as a Service) structures, TR makes Firm Central available on a subscription basis. Recognizing that some people will not want everything that Firm Central offers, TR has separated some modules for purposes of pricing, allowing you to choose whether or not to add them, but fully integrating them if you do. Examples of this are Westlaw Next and the Time and Billing Management modules.
Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of a Firm Central User is like? Let’s take a look at what this Law Practice Management world can offer, what it is missing, and what the future may hold, through the eyes of Sabrina, the Tech-Savvy Lawyer.
A Lawyer Walks Into the Office . . .
Or the coffee shop . . . or a cabana on the beach . . . or maybe the dining room at home, and starts up her computer to plug-in to what is going on at work. After navigating through the appropriate security measures (she is a responsible, tech savvy lawyer after all), Sabrina accesses the dashboard of Firm Central to get her briefing for the day.
Perhaps due to how we are trained to read, most people tend to look from left to right across a page. Firm Central takes this into account and places Sabrina’s notifications in the top left column for the fastest, at-a-glance update of what is going on today.
A Glance at the Firm Central Dashboard
No red flags are jumping out for the savvy lawyer, so she proceeds across the horizon for a refresher in her recent activity, and ending with her list of tasks. At the Tasks Pane there is a drop-down menu that allows Sabrina to view her tasks for “Today,” those that are “Completed,” “Overdue,” “Future Tasks,” or she can pull up a single listing of all “Open Tasks.” She can add tasks directly in the dashboard by filling out four simple fields: Task Description, Client Name, Matter Name, and Due Date. Once a task is entered, it is viewable from the dashboard or when the matter is pulled up.
It would be nice if TR went a step further and planted the tasks on the calendar view in Firm Central, or at least marked or noted in some fashion that a task will be due on that date. Most lawyers need all the reminders and checks they can get when trying to plan ahead.
Time to Roll Up Those Sleeves . . .
After taking in the morning report from the Firm Central dashboard, Sabrina chooses the most pressing matter and dives in. She could pull up the matter in multiple ways, either through the Matter listing itself, by the contact name associated with the matter, or by document associated with the matter. Through the Firm Central interface, Sabrina is also connected to a variety of tools that can help her knock out her daily tasks. If she needs to research an aspect of the matter she is not familiar with, Firm Central integrates with Westlaw Next (subscription required). Perhaps today she needs a form to guide her in drafting a pleading or correspondence. Firm Central integrates with Form Builder (again, subscription required), so in just a few mouse clicks she can acquire a slew of documents relating to her needs. Sabrina can bill for her time and sync her calendar appointments with Microsoft Outlook. (If you do not use Microsoft Outlook, you can turn this sync off and just use the web-based Firm Central calendar.)
Let’s venture off for a moment and take a look at how easy it is to set up a new matter. Sabrina can add a matter by clicking the button in the top right labelled “+ New Matter”:
Note the New Matter Button in the top right, under the briefcase
From there, Sabrina is just a few fields away from setting up her new matter. (Twelve to be exact, but who’s counting?)
Sleeping Soundly After a Hard Day’s Work . . .
One feature we feel TR excels at is data security. From encryption to redundancy to contingency plans for a postapocalyptic world, every angle has been explored. Okay, the world can always find a nastier apocalypse, but TR prides itself on the fact that its primary data center was designed to withstand a plane crash. (Note, as far as penetration testing goes: we do not recommend you try this.)
There is certainly more to explore in the world of Firm Central. As always, the matter management system you choose needs to meet your needs and comfort level. Firm Central may not be the best solution for everyone, but it is a good solution for a lot of lawyers and is worth trying out whenever you set out to choose a new system. By the way, TR currently has a free trial period for Firm Central. You might want to take the opportunity to take it for a test drive, kick the tires, and see if it works for you. By the way, if you are thinking of coming to the GPSolo Spring Meeting in Las Vegas at the beginning of May, the Firm Central people will be there demonstrating the program.