At Its Annual Conference, Clio Unveils New Design, New Direction

Nine years after it launched as the first commercial, cloud-based practice management platform, Clio has been teasing the legal community with promises of major news, symbolized by the hashtag #newclio. Earlier this month, I was given a preview of the news during a media day visit to Clio’s headquarters in Vancouver, B.C. But, as I explained in a recent column at Above the Law, an embargo prevented me from talking about it until today.

This morning, Clio kicked off its annual Clio Cloud Conference, held this year in New Orleans, with a keynote by cofounder and CEO Jack Newton, during which he announced Clio’s news.

The big news is what Clio is calling “the new Clio experience” — a top-to-bottom re-engineering and redesign of its practice management platform. But underlying that news is perhaps an even bigger story — that of where Clio intends to go from here. Whereas its mission so far has been to move law practice management to the cloud, its mission going forward is to move law practice to the cloud and, in the process, to, as its motto now says, “Transform the practice of law, for good.”

Moving Law Practice to the Cloud

There is a double entendre in “for good,” which can mean both “for the better” and “permanently,” and Clio means both. Let’s start with changing the practice of law.

“When we talked about moving legal practice management to the cloud, we saw it originally as a radical idea,” Newton said during my visit earlier this month. “But now we can say, ‘Mission accomplished.’ The sea change is underway. We’ve created an industry. Now at ABA Techshow, half the companies are some sort of cloud-based practice management tool.”

In fact, said Newton, “the idea of practice management is a relic of the old way of framing what legal software can do.”

“So the next chapter is to move the practice of law to the cloud. Eventually, all sorts of other facets of practicing law will get pulled into the cloud. The idea of practice management will become a limiting way to describe what we do and what our vision is.”

A major step in that direction, Newton believes, is Clio’s redesigned platform, which it has labeled its project Apollo, after the Greek god of healing and light. Clio sees its platform becoming the backbone of a modern law firm’s technology stack and the hub of an ecosystem of what are now nearly 70 integration partners and that will continue to grow.

“With Apollo,” Newton said, “we’ve built the foundation to move the practice of law to the cloud.”

Focus on Customer Experience

More about Apollo below, but first let me get to the “for the better” part of “for good.” And there are two parts to this — helping its customers do better in their businesses and helping the broader legal community through philanthropy.

At its conference last year, Clio introduced its first Legal Trends Report. A key finding of that was that the average lawyer was spending only two hours of an eight-hour day on billable work. That spurred Clio to survey its customers to find out where they needed the most help, and the answer they gave was with getting more clients.

As Clio thought about how it could help its customers get more business, it considered what made businesses in other industries successful. What would it look like, for example, if Amazon started a law firm? It concluded that a key factor is customer experience — not Clio’s customers, but its customers’ clients.

“What we’ve done so far is help firms improve their operational excellence,” Newton explained. “What we haven’t done enough is focus on the customer experience. A huge part of what we need to do going forward is focus on the customer experience side of things and redefine how lawyers work and operate.”

Think of Amazon’s Tide button, Newton said. When you’re running low on detergent, you press a button and have it on your doorstep in hours.

The legal industry needs to think about what are its Tide buttons, Newton suggested. What that will look like remains to be seen, but it will certainly include greater use of mobile and greater use of video chat.

With Apollo, Clio believes, it has engineered a platform that can grow to accommodate and address that client-obsessed way of doing business.

Philanthropic Initiatives

Now on to the philanthropy part of “for good.”

Newton quoted Steve Jobs, who famously said, “We’re here to put a dent in the universe,” in announcing several philanthropic initiatives:

  • Clio is providing $6 million in free use of its software to law schools, paralegal programs and university-affiliated nonprofits, which translates to roughly 100,000 users getting free access.
  • Clio is launching the Clio Fund, a $1 million developer fund that will be used to support innovative legal startups.
  • Clio is launching a code competition, Launch/Code, in which it will award a $100,000 prize to the individual or company that builds the best new Clio integration between now and next year’s Clio conference.

And One More Announcement

In addition to Apollo, Clio has another development project, which it calls Hermes, and which will be a secure, mobile-optimized communication platform for lawyers and their clients. Think of it as a legal-specific variation on WhatsApp or Slack.

“We started to think about what it would look like if lawyers started to communicate almost exclusively over mobile,” Newton said. The answer, Clio decided, is an application through which lawyers can securely message with colleagues and clients, initiate secure video chats, exchange documents, and more.

Clio will be demonstrating a preview version of Hermes during this week’s conference, but it will not be released until later this year.

More About Apollo

In developing Apollo over the last year, Clio says it spent more than 600 hours and 60 days visiting law firms, consulting with clients, conducting user testing, and monitoring feedback from customer surveys and interactions. It encompasses a new design, faster performance and some 220 feature improvements. Clio has also created a new version of its API (application programming interface) to better connect its ecosystem of nearly 70 integration partners, and it has launched a new App Directory to make it easier for its customers to find integrations appropriate to their practice.

Homepage of new app directory

Specific enhancements, according to Clio, include:

  • Global navigation. The navigation bar now sits on the left of the screen, where you can access tasks with a single click. The search bar now sits atop the navigation menu for quick access. Next to the search bar is a Recents button to access the 20 most-recent items you’ve worked on. The side navigation panel is collapsible to give you more screen real estate.
  • Single-page architecture. Now when you click on links to move around within the application, the left and top navigation bars stay in place. Only the center of the page reloads, making pages load more quickly. Clio says its platform is now five times faster than before.
  • Global create. From a button on the right of the screen, wherever you are in the application, you can create a new matter, contact, task, etc.
  • Improved “create new matter” screen. A much more streamlined version of this screen.
  • Billing. Smoother and faster with better bulk billing and integrated credit-card acceptance.
  • Accounting. Ten-time faster synchronization.
  • Payments. Increased speed and accuracy, with improved ability to apply payments across multiple bills.
  • Timer. Ease of use has been enhanced by allowing users to start the timer with a single click, without having to enter any matter details. Also, from anywhere in the application, you can quickly see all your time entries and totals for the day.
  • Activities. More efficient with streamlined precision.
  • Calendar. Enhanced performance and reliability and an improved interface.
  • New integration with Microsoft Office 365 and improved email synchronization. Users can now link emails directly into Clio from Outlook, push attachments from Outlook into Clio’s DMS, and track time within Outlook.
  • Communications. Enhanced speed and ease of execution.
  • Intuitive search. Increased usability, accuracy, and speed. Clio has built a whole new backend for its search, that is says is 20 times faster and much more precise in its results.

“There’s a saying that it takes 10 years to build truly great software,” Newton said at the media briefing earlier this month. “I think we’ve built a great product. But now we want to build a 100-year company. We’re opening a new chapter for our second act.”