Below is a review of Clio updated in November, 2012, followed by an old review from 2009. The 2009 Clio review has become obsolete due to substantial improvements since 2009.
2012 Clio Review
My first experience with Clio in 2009 led me to conclude that Clio was not ready for our firm, and I suspect that many other attorneys had similar conclusions. But that has changed.
I have used Clio for over a year and now consider Clio to be a fantastic option for small law firms and solo attorneys.
Five attorneys and a paralegal in our firm tested Clio in a comprehensive way for over a year. We have been exceedingly impressed by how robust it is and yet Clio remains simple to use.
In short, I think Clio is an outstanding option for small law firms or solo attorneys. Despite my earlier recommendation against Clio, I think Clio now has exactly what small law firms need to provide case management for their practice with all the important features and an efficient, simple, time-saving user interface that eliminates the frustration I have had with most practice management software.
Flexible and Powerful
There was a time when software with a lot of features was also complex to operate. However, Clio offers feature-rich law firm software in an intuitive and simple user interface.
We put Clio to the test with a variety of fee structures including
- flat fees,
- hourly fees,
- contingency fees, and
- hybrid attorneys fees.
We also tested tracking of expenses, mileage reimbursement, and client trust accounts. Clio did it all!
Clio was highly customizable for a variety of attorneys and circumstances:
- Some attorneys like multiple timers, while others like manual time entry.
- Some attorneys like writing out a description of each time entry, while others like selecting from a list of standard descriptions.
- Some clients need an invoice separating multiple legal matters, while some clients need an invoice consolidating all time regardless of the number of matters.
Whatever we tried to throw at Clio, Clio handled it with ease. Customizing Clio was easy, and the administrative staff, tech staff, and attorneys were all happy. Any attorney around for a few years can tell you that this painless experience with practice management software is exceptional and rare.
Attorneys No Longer Need a Network or Server
Our small law firm has no network. Clio doesn’t require a network, because it is merely a website, so attorneys can access it anywhere, including from their smart phones. We no longer need a network because, thanks to Clio, all of our software is “in the cloud.” For example, we share and backup all files with Dropbox; use Google Apps for calendar, tasks, email, and contacts; and store notes in Evernote. The only software we buy to install on computers is Microsoft Word, but with Google Docs and Open Office, even Word may no longer be needed.
I compared Clio to Freshbooks and a number of other SaaS invoicing services. Nothing came close to Clio for attorneys (admittedly, I did not compare Rocketmatter recently). Once especially nice Clio feature is the option to include account statements with every invoice. That is, Clio will generate an invoice and can also attach an overview of the client’s account showing all payments and invoices to date. Clients love this. This feature has allowed us to stop invoicing in Quickbooks. The simplicity of Clio invoicing has turned invoicing from a nightmare (during our Quickbooks days) to what it should be—a simple review of work done for clients and related expenses. We still use Quickbooks for reconciling checking accounts, but Clio tracks all client invoices, attorney time, expenses, trust account balances, and client payments.
How Clio Could Improve
Clio has made amazing improvements since my 2009 review, so it would be no surprise if the remaining issues I have are resolved soon. My current issues are these.
Feature Request 1: Reports by Email
First, it would be nice to have a feature where Clio could send a weekly email to attorneys showing their hours worked and other statistics, so attorneys and their supervisors could constantly be reminded of their progress (or lack of progress). While this report is available in Clio, a nice feature in Clio would be to schedule emailing of reports on a periodic basis.
Feature Request 2: One-Click Emailing of Invoices as PDF Attachments
Second, Clio provides no way to email invoices as attachments except for first saving the invoice as a PDF and then emailing it. Clio offers a Clio Connect service that emails clients, but clients then need to login to see their invoice, which is an unnecessary and annoying set of additional steps for clients, especially those who are tech-challenged. While this isn’t a major problem, we would love to be able to click a button (after approving all invoices) and have them mass emailed to each client with a custom-written email from us explaining that their invoice is attached.
Amazing Customer Service
Customer service is a big issue for lawyers. Time is money, and waiting for technical support can be costly. Here, Clio impresses us every time we have a problem. When we call, within a few rings we are greeted by a Clio representative who is friendly and knowledgeable. Frankly, I have never had phone support like Clio’s. Clio’s online support is equally impressive, providing a thoughtful and helpful response to questions within hours of my online request. For customer service, no company can surpass Clio’s responsiveness and helpfulness.
2012 Clio Review Conclusion
While I discouraged use of Clio in the past (see the 2009 review below), I now believe Clio is an exceptional option for solo attorneys and small firms. I have not recently tested Clio’s competitors, but I have no need to because Clio does everything we need and is robust enough to grow with us. In addition, Clio’s rate of innovation and top rate customer service cannot be matched.
Disclaimer: I received no monetary compensation for writing this review. I have no ties to Clio. However, we did receive free access to test Clio and the other SaaS practice management software in preparation for writing this review.
2009 Clio Review (outdated)
Note: The following review was written in 2009 and has since been updated with the 2012 version above. The makers of Clio have made major improvements to the software, so this 2009 review is no longer applicable.
For years, law firm software has been overly complex, frustrating, time consuming, and difficult. Today, solo attorneys and small firms have a variety of better options.
Non-law companies are offering software online, like Gmail and Zoho. And now, even law firm software is available as an online tool, fully functioning within your web browser. Techies refer to this as Software as a Service (“SaaS”), providing software through a web browser and storing the data “in the cloud” (i.e. online).
This review analyzes Clio in each major area, noting what is good and bad about Clio. As you will see, despite the “bad,” Clio deserves high marks, and I currently believe it is the best option for solo attorneys and small firms.
Online and Offline
Good: The most unique aspect of Clio is that it is available online and offline (not connected to the internet). Being able to access your law firm software online is great for attorneys who own multiple computers, when attorneys work away from the office, or for access with an iPhone or BlackBerry. Even though Clio is primarily available online, it has software that makes it available offline, which is great if you are on a flight or otherwise temporarily away from the internet.
Good: Clio backs-up your data, so you don’t have to. You will still need backup software for documents on your computer, but everything in Clio is backed-up multiple times per day.
Good: Creating tasks is simple. Billing a task when it is complete is as easy as clicking a button and typing the time you spent on the task.
Good: Tasks can be delegated to anyone in your firm who has an account with Clio. Delegating is as simple as selecting that person from a dropdown list.
Good: Task have a due date and can be sorted by due date, title, or client.
Good: Tasks can be downloaded in iCal or Outlook format, which might be useful to some.
Bad: You cannot add a priority to tasks.
Bad: You cannot add notes on a task. Notes would be useful if a task has subparts or if you want to jot down a few items to remember for a task.
Good: The calendar is full-featured including start and end times, repeating events, an option to bill the event to a client, the event location, and notes (Description) about the event.
Good: The calendar can be viewed by day, week, and month.
Good: You can download your calendar items in an iCal and Outlook format.
Good: You can allow your calendar to be seen by others or hidden by easily setting the permissions.
Contacts are clients or anyone else associated with Matters. This could be judges, opposing counsel, experts, witnesses, or others.
Good and Bad: There aren’t many contact fields (name, address, email, etc.) which simplifies the process. However, I realize that some people might want more fields to enter all kinds of information about clients (spouse’s name, birthdays, second address, etc.) but that information can easily go in a note. I’m glad Clio didn’t overwhelm users with tons of contact fields. If there are too many fields, law firm staff don’t know which ones to use. Clio kept it simple, and thus, having only the basic contact fields will make most people happy.
Good: For each contact, users can enter an unlimited amount of notes. Each note is attached to the contact. Thus, notes can serve as a log or provide details about the contact.
Good: When viewing a contact, click on “Ledger” and you can see items on the client’s bill and the client’s recent payments.
Matters (i.e. cases)
As any attorney knows, matters are projects associated with a client. For example, a case is a matter. A matter might also be drafting a contract, negotiating a deal, or forming a business.
Good: In Clio, once a Matter is created, it can be selected to associate with a task, a calendar item, and billing time. Under the Matters tab, you can see all information associated with a matter including the following items: contact information for the client, other contacts associated with the matter (e.g. opposing counsel), tasks, calendar items, notes, timekeeping entries, expenses, and documents. As with other law firm software, users can view a list of open matters, closed matters, or all maters.
Activities (another place to log your time)
As stated earlier, attorneys and paralegals can log their time in Tasks and Calendar by clicking on a task or calendar item and marking it as billable. Clio also provides timekeeping entry in the Activities tab where you can enter your time manually. Where ever you choose to log your time, the time is kept in a central log that can be listed by date, matter, client, or in other reports.
Good: Time entry is simple and quick. You won’t waste time waiting for a slow server or confusing user interface.
Bad: If a sophisticated client such as an insurance company requires certain billing codes, there is only one field (Description) in which you can enter those codes. Most insurance companies require two such fields, one for the type of work and the other for the stage in the litigation. Of course, most solos and some small firms won’t care much about this.
Details: Time entry includes a number of fields including Matter (the case you are working on), Description (a dropdown menu that you can customize with the types of work your firm does and billable rates for that type of work), Duration (how many tenths of the hour you worked), Rate (keep the default or enter a custom rate), and a Note field (to provide a custom description of the work).
Good: Clio allows you to save documents and files right in Clio. It’s a way to keep all documents related to a matter in one place. This is especially useful when multiple people are working on a matter.
Suggestion to Clio: In Clio, files must be manually uploaded. While this is normal, it would be great to see Clio implement software like DropBox, which our firm uses, to sync a folder on everyone’s computer. The contents of that folder can include countless other folders and files, such as a folder for each client. The files are synced to each computer as well as the online server, so it serves as an online backup in addition to ensuring that everyone has the latest copy right on their computer. To be fair, no law firm software does this. But DropBox does it, and someday I expect the Clio will license such a tool or develop it on its own.
Bills and Invoicing
Good: Invoicing on Clio is simple. Clio tracks bank accounts (operating accounts) and trust accounts. Clio can export to Quickbooks for those with more advanced accounting or invoicing needs.
Good: Clio’s ClientConnect feature enables online bill-paying for your clients. You simply send your clients a link to an outstanding invoice, and the client can pay the invoice via PayPal or other online payment systems.
Good: Clio allows a discount to be added to a bill.
Bad: Clio has no way to add a discount to some items and not others. Clio’s discount feature merely applies a discount to the entire bill. I want an invoice to show the discounted items, the value of the discount per item, and total value of the discounts at the bottom of the invoice. Currently I do this in Quickbooks and clients love seeing that they received discounts. For example, if I make an 18 minute call for a client but don’t want to bill for the entire call, I might log .3 hours with a discount equal to .2 hours. UPDATE: You can add a line below any item you want to discount and subtract (write-off) the amount you want to discount. While this isn’t the same as having a discount column, it accomplishes the same purpose of highlighting for clients that you provided a discount.
Suggestion to Clio: Currently, Clio’s export to Quickbooks is done manually. Our firm has used online timecards at MC2 Anywhere, which can directly connect to Quickbooks using a little application running on the Quickbooks computer. MC2 Anywhere makes a seamless transfer of time from the timekeeping software to Quickbooks.
Good: Clio has a useful “performance” report that shows attorneys the number of their billable hours per day, week, month, and year compared to their goals.
Bad: Clio doesn’t have any other reports.
Good: You can run any possible report from Quickbooks after exporting the data to Quickbooks. Clio can export time entries in a Quickbooks CSV or Quickbooks IIF format.
Suggestion to Clio: Provide a “Reports” tab and include 10-20 of the most popular law firm reports. For example, let users print out their billable time by date, matter, or user so they can quickly analyze their time entries at the end of a billing period without having to first generate an invoice or export to Quickbooks. It would also be nice to print a task list, events on the calendar for a week, or a list of open matters.
Clio on the iPhone
Good: On the iPhone, Clio is accessed using the web browser. However, the website interface is completely customized to the iPhone, which means menus are large, simple, and easy to use.
Bad: Tasks cannot be edited from within the iPhone interface. I’m not sure why Clio would do this, since it would be simple to add an “edit” button to each task. Maybe Clio will fix this soon. In the meantime, tasks can be edited if you use the iPhone to browse to Clio’s regular web pages (not optimized for the iPhone) and click on the normal “edit” button, but that is cumbersome because the normal web interface is not optimized for the iPhone.
Clio Support and Improvements
Good: I have called and emailed Clio a few times and always received quick, knowledgeable, and thoughtful responses.
Good: Last winter, another attorney and I suggested some ideas to Clio. They implemented a number of the ideas. Their responsiveness was impressive. It is obvious that Clio is listening to its users and quickly improving its online software. The difference between Clio last December and Clio today is significant. I could not recommend that small firms use Clio last December, but now Clio seems to be the best option for small firms.
Clio Compared to Traditional Law Firm Software
Clio is simple and intuitive to new lawyers, attorneys who despise computers, and techies alike. This is a stark contrast to PC Law, Pro Law, Time Matters, and all of the other traditional software applications I’ve used. Select Clio if you want basic practice management software that is easy, saves time, has useful features, and provides online access from anywhere with an internet connection. Select traditional law firm software if you want a complex system with thousands of features and options, significant customization, and software that runs on your server. Clio probably isn’t ready for the demands of a firm with over 20 attorneys. But Clio is great for small firms and solos. Especially noteworthy, Clio won’t require a computer support person or training for personnel.
Clio’s strength is its simplicity, but that could also be its weakness for medium to large law firms. Such firms may require (1) customization for practice areas, (2) advanced and complex features found (but rarely used) in traditional law firm software, and (3) permission control to limit each person’s access to information, to name a few. However, as Clio continues to innovate, I expect it will provide some of these features.
Clio Compared to Rocketmatter
Clio appears to do everything Rocketmatter does, but Clio does more and does it better. This wasn’t the case in December of 2008 when I first tried Clio. Rocketmatter was the first online law firm software to allow an attorney to copy a task to the time log. Rocketmatter was also first to use Ajax to simplify the lookup of matters when entering a task or time. But soon afterward, Clio implemented those features and many more.
Rocketmatter does tagging, which is a Web 2.0 idea for giving labels or categories to items. I’m not sure of the practical value of this, but it’s worth noting for those who like tagging that Clio doesn’t have the ability to tag items.
I asked Clio for free access while I examined its service, and they granted my request. However, Clio gives away a free trial period to anyone who visits its site. I was not compensated in any other manner for this review.
Clio exceeded our expectations. Our testing has revealed that Clio largely meets our requirements (with some areas of concern noted above in the “Bad” and “Suggestion to Clio” lines). Even though Clio has room to grow, it far surpasses the complex, slow, archaic software applications used in most small law firms (I previously used PC Law, Pro Law, Time Matters, and others).
Our small firm with a few attorneys plans to convert to Clio. Clio has a great user interface, which makes using it easy and intuitive. With Clio, we can focus more time on clients and less time on the software and computer infrastructure.
The cost for Clio is less than the software and hardware needed to run most traditional law firm software applications. We also appreciate that little to no training is needed, the software is always backed-up, and we can access it from anywhere on the internet.
Clio’s fresh approach and innovation far surpasses the bloated, complex approach that currently exists in the law firm software industry.
December 7, 2010 Update:
In the end, our firm decided to not use Clio. One of the main reasons was that we are dependent on QuickBooks because we bill hourly, with flat fees, and occasionally on contingency, so we wanted the power of QuickBooks to handle the various fees, discounts, and trust account issues. Since we are locked into QuickBooks, it was important to have time billing software that seamlessly synchronized with QuickBooks. For this, we use MC2 Anywhere.
For a calendar, we use Microsoft Outlook, which is synchronized between computers using Google Calendar and Google Calendar Sync. For contacts, we use Outlook, which is synced to my iPhone. For email, we use Google Apps (free gmail on your law firm’s domain name). For tasks, we use Remember the Milk, which is easy, powerful, and syncs with my iPhones in addition to being available on any web browser. We use DropBox for synchronizing our client files between computers so we don’t need a network.
By using this system, all of our data is backed up “in the cloud” and available from any web browser after our staff or attorneys login, similar to Clio. No network is needed. Our costs are $10 a month for DropBox and $30 a month for MC2 Anywhere, plus the original purchase of QuickBooks and Microsoft Outlook.
If I were to start today, I would try to eliminate Outlook and try to use Google Contacts and Google Calendar. However, the transition away from Outlook at this point would be too time consuming.
In the end, Clio shows promise and is certainly an excellent option for some. I love the Clio interface and features. If it weren’t for our dependency on QuickBooks, we might use Clio. Alternatively, if my circumstances were simpler, I might consider using FreshBooks instead of QuickBooks and MC2 Anywhere, and continue using the other software we use. But FreshBooks may not be robust enough to handle trust accounts for most small law firms (but if you don’t use a trust account much, you could track that separately).