Ten years ago, I missed out on buying my first home. Having scraped enough money together to pay the deposit and associated government tax, I only had to figure out how to pay for the legal fees. My plan was to use my 0% purchases credit card to pay my lawyer, and eventually pay this off over a series of months. It didn’t work out.  My wife and I were left disappointed when we discovered that the lawyer we had hired and counted on to execute the real estate transaction would not accept credit card payments. While we quickly looked around for another lawyer who did accept credit cards we lost the home to another family. And a law firm lost my business.

Fast forward 10 years and now almost every law firm accepts credit card payments. As a provider of software solutions to law firms, including practice management systems, it’s incumbent upon us at Thomson Reuters to bake in solutions in our products to make operating easier for the firm. Solutions such as credit card processing. So that nobody loses out on business again.

I’m a Product Manager currently working on our Firm Central practice management solution.  Firm Central enables firms to manage their client and matter intake, schedule calendar appointments, bill for time and create professional invoices, among lots of other great features.  Last year, we partnered with ClientPay and delivered credit card processing to Firm Central customers. The feature enables the firm to process card payments easily, all without leaving Firm Central.  Our current clients love it!

For a Product Manager, the real prize is to deliver a feature that delights customers and is innovative. By definition, that’s a feature that customers haven’t asked for 100 times before. It’s a feature that gives users what they need before they realized they really needed it.

We wanted our credit card solution to be even more valuable by enabling law firms to get paid faster and by enabling their clients to pay directly, round the clock, without having to call the firm up first. We wanted a solution that didn’t just think about the firm but also thought about the consumer of legal services. We knew the key was convenience! To make the feature as convenient as possible, we would have to remove obstacles to paying the invoice, such as not requiring a client to call in, or physically come into the firm, or login to a website etc.  We needed to make it safe, seamless and convenient. We finally found our innovative piece.

Once we conceived the framework of a solution, we assembled a small team and got to work to deliver the vision of real convenience for our customers.  After overcoming some technical challenges, late nights and long weekends we were able to do just that.  Recently launched, is an even deeper integration between ClientPay and Firm Central.  Now firms can choose to insert a link and QR code onto invoices they send out to clients. Clients can follow the link or quickly scan the QR code with their mobile device and pay their bills in under a minute. This automatically updates Firm Central in real time and delivers a notification to the firm that a client has made an online payment. This is a win-win for everyone. It’s easy and convenient for clients to pay their bills and laws firms get paid expeditiously!

If you’d like to learn more about leveraging these features for both you and your clients, visit FirmCentral.com and get started with a free trial today!

At launch in 2013, Firm Central was a solid user friendly, cloud-based matter management software.  Fast forward through five years of gathering customer feedback and making product improvements, to present day, where the robust end-to-end software consists of customizable matter management, sophisticated time & billing, legal rules-based calendaring, enhanced reporting, and most recently, built-in accounting.

This year, has been one of rapid-fired, customer-centric enhancements.  One coming after the other, building upon the existing solid foundation to create an end-to-end, holistic platform for small firms to rely upon to run their successful business.

Let’s run through a quick recap of Firm Central’s most noteworthy improvements of 2018.

The year started off with a bang when the team released Enhanced Reporting, consisting of enhanced time & billing reports and a visual performance dashboard that provides a clear picture of the financial health of your firm using metrics.  This functionality allows you to quickly identify top clients and practice areas by revenue, check the status of bills and collections, view the financial performance of the entire firm, and much more. Now you can easily customize formats for displaying data in the reports, as well as delivery options such as PDF, Excel, Word, PowerPoint and XML. Additional reports have been added to include unbilled expenses, unpaid invoices,

Another significant improvement was deeper integration with ClientPay for online credit card processing.  Not only can your clients make credit card payments online, now you can include a clickable link or a QR code on your invoices to make it easier than ever for your clients to pay their bills.  Once the bill is paid online, you receive notification and the payment is automatically applied to outstanding invoices.

Customizable invoices give more control over the look and feel of your invoices. You can easily add account specific details, and an updated layout makes it easier for your clients to interpret the charges, which will encourage prompt payments.

Trust & Retainer Account functions now support multiple accounts per matter, prepayment and escrow accounts, and fund transfers between a matter’s accounts. You can easily view account balances to see if an invoice can be immediately settled.

Quick-View components provide more-effective client and matter management, including a new client billing feature that displays the client’s balance across matters. A new Matter Time & Expenses feature provides a single customizable view of all the time and expenses for a specific matter, regardless of who recorded them or when.

FindLaw Prospect Manager integration improves lead management, including tracking and conversion of client leads.

Calendar enhancements provide moreefficient management of deadlines and appointments with views of deadlines entered using Deadline Assistant, customizable events, color coding and expanded agenda data ranges for at-a-glance views of events and upcoming deadlines for individual matters.

Email Digest
An automated Email Digest provides improved client communication management due to timely notification when clients add documents and comments, or mark documents complete via the Client Portal. The digest also provides notification of your team member activity on matters, calendars, tasks and Deadline Assistant events.

And last but certainly NOT least, small law firms can now manage both their matter and finances all in one place with Firm Central’s recent launch of powerful built-in accounting; eliminating the need to integrate with third party accounting software.  This functionality allows you to manage accounts receivable, accounts payable, your chart of accounts, and check writing, along-side the existing trust accounting capabilities.  You can generate detailed accounting reports, including balance sheet, bank reconciliation, trial balance, P&L, sales tax liability and account transactions. Easy reconciliation and internal controls reduce errors and help ensure compliance and audit readiness.

And Firm Central’s built-in accounting functionality means no more need to enter data into or reconcile between disparate systems.

Firm Central is a leading cloud-based practice management solution for solo and small law firms, providing desktop compatibility with Outlook and Windows 10 and access to a user’s essential practice functions in one convenient dashboard. Firm Central combines firm management tools, such as scheduling and time & billing, with practice resources, such as legal research, rules-based calendaring and automated document drafting, to provide the most comprehensive legal practice management software in the small law firm market. It also allows firms to easily store, organize and share information in one integrated, secure platform. Firm Central’s fully integrated legal time & billing feature enables users to enter and track time within the Firm Central dashboard. Built-in accounting features provide seamless accounting and bookkeeping tailored to fit your law firm needs.

For more information on Firm Central, please visit: FirmCentral.com

In July, CNBC reported that a Russian hacker is selling access to the data of a New York City law firm for $3,500 on the dark web. What’s even more alarming is that, according to Q6 Cyber, a cybersecurity company, the firm isn’t alone. Similar information is for sale from firms nationwide.

The report said it was the work of “very sophisticated cybercriminals,”[1]

However, those cybercriminals may not need to be all that sophisticated. During a session at the International Legal Technology Association Conference (ILTACON), “Watch a 15 Year Old Hack Your Firm’s Users,” self-taught teen hacker, Marcus Weinberger revealed how easy it is for a novice hacker to gain access to a firm’s network.

At the session’s outset, attendees were advised to turn off their Wi-Fi. Then Weinberger created an imposter Wi-Fi network. But even before he could access it himself, an attendee had already logged on. At that moment, this attendee was vulnerable to:

  • Having their password stolen. That’s because too many people use the same password and login for all their accounts. So when they sign into fake public Wi-Fi, the hacker will take login information and use it to sign into other websites. |
  • A man-in-the-middle attack where a hacker inserts themselves between two parties exchanging information to gain access to it. So, for instance, if you’re sending an email to a client, the hacker will be able to see it, too.
  • Device control. Through fake public Wi-Fi, hackers can even take control of your device.[2]

Weinberger explained that all it takes to fake public Wi-Fi are some Google searches, and purchases costing as little as $1.50 from eBay (if you’re patient) and $50 from Amazon (if you’re not). With a little time and money, you could have everything you need to breach a firm’s network.

The ILTACON session proves that now, more than ever, it’s critical that  law firms employ the same stringent security as global banks and brokerages to protect their networks and ensure their confidential data never ends up for sale. These security measures include:

  • SOC 2 Type II compliance and certification. This is an independent confirmation of data security that employs a rigorous audit process to ensure electronic communications are protected.
  • Encrypted emails and data both in storage and transit.
  • Daily backup to multiple servers in discrete locations that are guarded 24/7 with both physical and cybersecurity.
  • Continuous updating and monitoring by hundreds of cybersecurity experts who are supported by intrusion-detection and virus-protection software.

Find out more ways to secure your firm: Checklist: Five Most Important Cloud Security Measures.

While these controls make it virtually impossible for hackers to breach your communication,[3] it can be cost-prohibitive for small law firms to maintain this level of security on their own. The easiest and most cost-effective way for them to achieve it is through a self-contained law practice management system. (Remember, security is only as strong as the weakest link.)

You can find this world-class cybersecurity with Firm Central by Thomson Reuters. When you subscribe to Firm Central, you can be more confident that you’re taking every step to ensure the confidentiality of your firm and your clients won’t be compromised. Even better, you’ll have everything you need to efficiently manage your matters and your firm. Sign up for a free trial today and sleep easier tonight.

[1] Schlesinger, Jennifer and Day, Andrea, “Hackers are selling access to law firm secrets on dark webs sites,” CNBC, July 12, 2018.
[2] Thompson, Ernest, “The Dangers of Public WiFi: Hackers and Fake WAPs,” Business2Community, July 11, 2017
[3] FTC, Securing Your Wireless Network, https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0013-securing-your-wireless-network

When you start a small law firm, often-times you’re more interested and focused on practicing law (you’re a lawyer after-all!) rather than the business side of running a law firm.

It’s no surprise, then, that you find it difficult to manage all aspects of practicing law and running your business – especially when it comes to firm finances.  One area in particular that can be problematic is knowing how to measure the financial health of your practice and knowing what metrics to pay attention to in order to enhance your levels of profitability.

Wouldn’t it be great to easily identify which clients and practice areas are yielding the greatest profits without having to look at complicated spreadsheets and manipulate all kinds of tedious data?  Moreover, how helpful would it be to keep closer tabs on the accounts lagging behind in payments in order to better focus your collection efforts?

It’s now easier than ever to track the financial health and profitability of your law firm with Firm Central’s Enhanced Reporting.

Key Metrics At Your Fingertips

As user-friendly as it is attractive, the new reporting dashboard gives you a quick and easy-to-understand visualization of many of your most important performance indicators. You can now see the big picture of everything from your overall revenue to your most profitable clients, all in one easy place.

 

Under a quick year-to-date summary of your financials, there are a series of helpful widgets that break down your most important indicators of profitability. In all, Firm Central provides you with eight different widgets that present a snapshot of your firm’s financial performance. These include:

  • Revenue – the total revenue you’ve invoiced and collected so far this year
  • Current Work in Progress – the total value of the time that has been recorded for ongoing matters but not yet billed
  • Billed – the total amount invoiced year-to-date
  • Collected – the amount of your invoiced total that has already been paid year-to-date
  • Revenue Year to Date – the firm’s total revenue for the current year, separated out by month
  • Aging Accounts Receivable – the amounts you have outstanding, broken out by how long they’ve been outstanding (not limited to the current year)
  • Top Clients by Revenue – presents your firm’s top ten clients based on revenue over the last 365 days (includes both collected and outstanding amounts)
  • Revenue by Practice Area – a year-to-date breakdown of your total revenue by individual practice area

It’s All In The Reports

In addition to the visual information you get from the widgets, Firm Central now allows you to run detailed reports on nearly every aspect of your firm’s profitability for a more in-depth analysis. In all, there are currently 10 different time and billing reports that you can run, with more to be added in the future.

Just by clicking “Run,” the reports are pulled up instantaneously on your screen – no need to export to a different program or wait for data to be pulled in from other sources. Better yet, the reports are entirely customizable to suit your individual needs – easily expand, shrink, hide columns, sort and select data. You can even change font styles, colors and sizes.

If you do decide to export the data, your firm’s logo and address will appear at the top for a professional presentation with expanded delivery options, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF and formats that can be easily embedded into websites, all with a simple click.

Double Down On Your Success

Do you confidently know which practice areas and clients are bringing in the most money to the firm?  For example, are you investing marketing dollars and firm resources on practice areas that may not be paying off as much as they should?  Utilize the dashboard metrics to recognize business trends so you can double down your efforts on and reallocate your business development and marketing resources where they will make the biggest impact.

At the end of the day, law firms are businesses and profitability is crucial to survival. Firm Central’s Enhanced Reporting gives you a simple way to identify business trends, top clients, and top practice areas, allowing you to maximize your marketing dollars and target the work that will help grow your firm. By having a better way to keep an eye on your accounts receivable, you can stay on top of collections issues and make sure you’re taking the best actions to get paid for the work you’ve done. Real-time metrics also allow you to make better decisions on staffing and set business goals that make financial sense.

Start enhancing your firm’s profitability today with Enhanced Reporting by Firm Central.

Screenshot 2016-05-02 08.53.38
Widgets on matter pages can now be rearranged or removed.

It has been over a year since I last wrote about Firm Central, the cloud-based practice management application from Thomson Reuters. I’ve been meaning to write an update since January, when Firm Central got a notable new feature, but my blogging schedule did not cooperate. Good thing, because since then the updates seem to just keep coming.

As for the new feature that I meant to write about in January, I have good news and bad news.

The good news is that Firm Central now has integrated time and billing. Previously, it offered time and billing through a third-party application, eBillity. That required a separate $25 a month subscription, in addition to Firm Central’s $40 per month, and having to jump back and forth between applications.

With January’s update, Firm Central got fully integrated time and billing. It allows for time tracking, expense entry, invoicing and basic trust account reporting. It also integrates with QuickBooks Online for accounting and bookkeeping.

The bad news is that it is not any cheaper. It still costs $25 more a month than the basic subscription plan. Firm Central now has three billing tiers: $40 a month for the “Core” plan, $65 a month for the “Essential” plan that includes T&B, and $105 a month for the “Premier” plan that adds rules-based deadline calendaring.

Also, the integrated T&B is being rolled out only to new customers since the January launch. Legacy customers who already use eBillity will not see the new T&B features. Legacy customers who want to convert from eBillity to the new T&B have to contact Firm Central and request the change.

For subscribers who have the new integrated T&B, now when they log in to Firm Central, the global page header includes a timer. This is the quickest way to track your time and you can use it to track a single time entry or open multiple timers. Say, for example, you are working on a motion when a phone call comes in. You can pause the timer for the motion and open another timer for the call. Within the timer, client and matter fields are type-ahead so you can quickly select the correct one as you begin to type.

Also added to the global page header is a tab for Time & Billing. Clicking it brings up six new tabs:

  • Time Entry. In addition to using the timer, you can enter time here manually. You can also track time as non-billable.
  • Expense Entry. Here is where you enter expenses for any of your matters. Firm Central includes predefined expense activities but you can also add your own. You can add default rates for certain expenses, such as mileage, and indicate whether certain expense categories should or should not be passed on to clients.
  • Pre-Bills. This lets you manage and edit your bills before generating final invoices. Firm Central allows you the option of creating pre-bill groups to handle all invoicing for the specified group. These could be by client, matter, lead attorney or practice group. Once you select a pre-bill or group, you can go in and make any edits or adjustments before finalizing the invoice. You can also take steps such as applying a discount or adding finance charges. Once you generate the invoice, it is locked down and can no longer be edited. At that point, you can email it to your client or download it for printing.
  • Payment & Invoices. Here is where you enter payments received and see the status of outstanding invoices.
  • Trust Accounts. This tab is for managing trust account activity and showing trust account balances.
  • All Accounts. This shows an overview of all your outstanding matter and trust balances for all your clients and matters.

In April, Firm Central further enhanced this T&B component with new reporting capabilities and widgets. It can now generate reports for:

  • Unbilled time by matter or client
  • Unbilled time for one or all users
  • Unbilled expenses for one or all matters
  • Outstanding accounts receivable
  • Trust account balances

In addition, new widgets on individual matter pages allow users to view time and expenses and view overall financial summaries, such as outstanding balances and trust balances, for each matter.

Matter Page Customization

Another new feature Firm Central rolled out this year is matter page customization. Firm Central already had a modular, customizable home page, allowing you to drag and drop different components of the page – or widgets – according to your preferences. Now it also allows users to similarly customize their matter pages.

When you are on a matter page, you can drag-and-drop widgets to customize the page layout to your personal preferences. You can also remove any widgets you don’t want on the page.

Default widgets on the matter page include Matter Details, Matter Activity, Matter Tasks, Notes, Associated Contacts, Client Portal, Tools, Add Time Entry, Unbilled Time & Expenses, and Financial Summary. (The last three appear only for customers who have the integrated time and billing.)

Assign a Task

In April, Firm Central added the ability to assign tasks to others in your firm who are working on the same matter. Previously, you could assign tasks only to yourself.

To do this, simply select a client and matter and assign the task. The new task form now includes new fields for “Assign To” and “Notes.” This latter fields lets you leave notes of up to 500 words to the assignee.

Tasks can be filtered and sorted by designations such as Assigned To Me and Assigned By Me, and also by labels such as New, Due Soon and Overdue.

Other Recent Enhancements

Other recent changes to Firm Central are:

  • Drag and drop folders. Previously, Firm Central allowed users to upload documents only one at a time. Now users can upload entire folders. Folders can be dragged and dropped from your desktop directly into Firm Central. Needless to say, this makes it much faster to load documents. One note: If you want to upload to folder tree (folders and subfolders), you will have to be using the Chrome browser.
  • Inactive client designation. As of April, users are now able to designate a client’s status as inactive. Once a client or client group is designated inactive, an inactive badge displays after the client name throughout Firm Central. Inactive clients and groups can be reactivated. Inactive clients still appear in search results.
  • Storage Increase. Also as of April, Firm Central added 100 GB of storage to all accounts at no additional cost. This storage capacity is in addition to the existing 10 GB per account and 2 GB per user. If you first purchased Firm Central in 2016, you already have this amount of storage and will not receive anything additional.

To read a 2013 review of Firm Central (before many of these new features), see my ABA Journal column, Thomson Reuters’ Cloud Platform Firm Central Emphasizes Integration — At A Cost.

For previous posts about Firm Central, see:

Disclosure: Thomson Reuters has provided me with a free Firm Central account for review purposes. 

Practice Point

When Thomson Reuters acquired the UK-based Practical Law Company three years ago, the legal industry generally reacted positively, although no one knew quite what would come out of the acquisition. Practical Law sells “know-how” for transactional and corporate lawyers, which means that it sells various resources that literally help lawyers know how to do specific tasks. These include workflow tools, practice notes, form documents and clauses, and checklists.

For users of Practical Law, one early benefit of the acquisition was the addition of direct links from Practical Law content to cited cases and other source materials in Westlaw. And for users of certain TR products, a benefit has been the addition of direct access to Practical Law. For example, subscribers to Firm Central, TR’s practice-management platform, can now directly access Practical Law from within Firm Central. (Although it still requires an additional subscription and the integration is really just a gateway from one platform to the other.)

Until now, however, no product has fully bridged Practical Law and legacy TR products such as Westlaw. That changed when, at an event last month in New York, TR introduced a new product, Practice Point, that is the most robust integration of Practical Law and Westlaw to date. Designed for transactional lawyers and corporate counsel, Practice Point is a task-based workflow platform that pulls together content from both Practical Law and Westlaw to deliver the resources that are most relevant to any given task.

This is accomplished through editorial oversight. For any given task, TR editors have selected the most relevant and useful content from both Westlaw and Practical Law. Content is organized within a taxonomy, designed by these same editors, that reflects the main tasks that lawyers perform on a daily basis.

“We’re bringing Practical Law and Westlaw together in a way that transactional lawyers will get the same value out of Westlaw that litigators do,” said Emily Colbert, vice president, Global Workflow Solutions, at a recent TR event announcing the product.

She said that TR’s goals in developing Practice Point were threefold:

  • To bring together Westlaw and Practical Law.
  • To organize it around what lawyers do.
  • To deliver only what’s important to lawyers in whatever task they’re doing.

Task-Based Resources

This task-based approach is evident from the very first screen, which differs based on whether the subscriber is at a law firm or a corporate legal department. For law firm subscribers, the first step is to select a practice area from a list that includes antitrust, capital markets and corporate governance, commercial transactions, corporate and M&A, intellectual property, labor and employment, and others. (If you always work in a particular practice area, you can make its page your start page.)

That takes you to the main page for that practice area. If you always work in a particular practice area, you can make its page your standard start page.

Subscribers in corporate law departments get a slightly different start page. They can select any of the same practice areas, but they also get the option of choosing to start with a specific type of project. Options here include acquiring, setting up or disposing of a business; financing a business; business operations; legal and regulatory compliance; and managing risk, claims and litigation.

Within each practice area or project page, you have the option to browse and drill down through content by task or by content type. For example, on the Intellectual Property & Technology page, some of the listed tasks are Patent Counseling & Transactions, Trademark & Right of Publicity, Copyright, Privacy & Data Security, and others. Nested under each of these are increasingly specific levels of tasks, any of which take you to the appropriate task-based content page.

You can also browse by content type. Content types include Practical Law, cases, statutes, secondary sources, forms, briefs, trial court documents, expert materials, and many others.

However you start, you will find your way to pages that pull together the content best suited to that task. Depending on the task, this might include Practical Law content such as practice notes, documents and clauses, checklists and toolkits, and Westlaw content such as case law and statutes, treatises and secondary sources, forms and more. As you drill down, the types of content and practice tools change to reflect the task at hand.

A feature unique to Practice Patent is Rulebooks. These are collections of the key federal laws, rules, regulations and agency materials related to specific types of corporate matters such as securities offerings, SEC disclosures and reporting requirements, proxy solicitation and others.

Other Features

Other features included within Practice Point include:

  • State Q&As, allowing you to compare key areas of law for a topic across multiple states.
  • Case Evaluator, allowing you to analyze verdict trends related to a topic.
  • What’s Market, allowing you to search, review and compare summaries of recent deals and filings.
  • CLE, allowing you to find CLE programs related to your practice area. (Programs must be purchased separately.)

Of course, besides browsing all of this content, it is all fully searchable. In addition, from within Practice Point, you can jump directly into either Westlaw or Practical Law and access the full array of their content.

“All of Practical Law is in Practice Point,” Emily Colbert said at last month’s event. “We’ve tried to organize and curate it so it’s most relevant to whatever task you’re doing.”

Still in the works for Practice Point is integration with West km. Watch for that later this year.

What does Practice Point cost? That’s a question TR answers only with, “Call us.” However, the Practice Point website is currently offering a free trial, so give it a spin.

 

Here are some stories of note this week from the world of legal technology and the legal web:

PlanetxlawPlatform aims to make legal services more affordable. A new cloud-based platform called PlanetXLaw aims to help lawyers deliver legal services more affordably to low and moderate income consumers. The platform is unique in that it collects the intake data from a client and then retrieves the appropriate court forms, adds in all supporting documents, and assembles them all for the attorney, according to a press release. The service covers 55 types of legal services commonly required by this segment of consumers. It is available only in Michigan but the company plans to add other states next year. It was founded by Garden City, Mich., lawyer Bert Whitehead IV, who originally used the software in his own law practice.

Calendar enhancements to Firm Central. Thomson Reuters announced a small but useful enhancement to its Firm Central cloud-based practice management platform. The update allows users to set a preference for how matters display in their Outlook calendar or other third-party calendar. There are three options:

  • Display only the event name: “Initial Client Meeting.”
  • Display the matter name before the event name: “Divorce Initial Client Meeting.”
  • Display the client name before the event name: “Sarah Smith Initial Client Meeting.”

Once the user sets a preference, it is applied to all preexisting and subsequent calendar entries. (Firm Central rolled out two-way Outlook synchronization last January.)

lawstudioAn all-in-one workspace for litigation teams. The court-reporting company Veritext has launched LawStudio, which it says is an all-in-one workspace that allows litigation attorneys and support staff to build their case. The platform houses case documents, exhibits, depositions, videos and images in a single repository and provides tools for searching, managing, annotating and sharing files. The company offers a 45-day free trial, after which a single license is $299 a month, which includes unlimited file storage and access from any browser.

patentsviewExplore 40 years of patent data. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has launched a new tools for searching and visualizing 40 years of patent data. Called PatentsView, its allows users to explore technological, regional and individual patent trends via search filters with multiple viewing options. The database links inventors, their organizations, locations, and overall patenting activity using enhanced 1976-2014 data from public USPTO bulk data files. The USPTO says the new tool was developed in furtherance of the President’s Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government and that it enables anyone to examine the dynamics of inventor patenting activity over time and space while exploring patent technologies, assignees, citation patterns and co-inventor networks.

International database of media laws. A new online database launched by the International Press Institute aims to catalog the world’s legal provisions affecting freedom of the press and expression on a country-by-country basis. The MediaLaws Database has launched with information on defamation laws for countries in the European Union and the Caribbean. Plans are to expand both the geographic coverage of the database and the types of laws it includes. The IPI created the database in part to draw attention to the failure of a number of states to incorporate international standards on freedom of expression in their laws.

 

When last I checked in on Firm Central, the cloud-based practice management platform from Thomson Reuters, it had just added rules-based court calendaring through the Deadline Assistant add-on module. In the months since, several other enhancements have been made to Firm Central. They include two-way Outlook synchronization, better email synchronization, custom rule sets in Deadline Assistant, document versioning and a client portal.

The Firm Central calendar now appears in Outlook alongside the default calendar.
The Firm Central calendar now appears in Outlook alongside the default calendar.

Outlook Calendar Two-Way Synchronization

The latest enhancement to Firm Central is two-way synchronization of calendar events between Firm Central’s built-in calendar and Microsoft Outlook. Previously, Firm Central allowed only one-way synchronization between the two. That meant that users who wanted to synchronize their calendars could create and edit events only in Outlook. Those events would get pushed out to Firm Central’s calendar, but events created in Firm Central’s calendar would not synchronize back to Outlook.

Now, users can create and edit events and deadlines for their matters from either their Firm Central or Outlook calendar, and the events will be synchronized between both locations. Events must be linked to a Firm Central matter for them to appear in the Firm Central calendar.

The update also changes the way Firm Central events are displayed in Outlook. Previously, Firm Central events appeared in users’ default Outlook calendar, alongside their other calendar entries. With this update, Firm Central now creates a new calendar that appears in Outlook next to the default calendar. This makes it easier to distinguish practice-related calendar entries from other entries. If the user prefers, the two calendars can be viewed together in a single overlay.

This separate Firm Central calendar can also be viewed on an iPhone, separate from the default calendar. However, the iPhone view is read-only and does not allow events to be added or revised.

Firm Central users will have to install a new Outlook plug-in to activate tw0-way synchronization.

Enhanced Email Foldering and Search

The new Outlook plug-in also changes the way synchronized emails are displayed in Outlook. Previously, the plug-in would create a new folder structure within Outlook for all a users’ clients and matters. For some lawyers, this list of folders could be fairly long and cumbersome to use.

Now, the Firm Central plug-in creates a “recents” folder that shows only the 15 most recently accessed client or matter folders. In addition, there is a new search feature (distinct from Outlook’s search) that searches only Firm Central folders in Outlook and makes it easy to find a client matter. Matters found through this search feature can be added to the recents folder.

Custom Rule Sets

Last July, I reported that Firm Central had added rules-based court calendaring through the Deadline Assistant add-on module. This feature calculates litigation dates and events based on the court rules specific to the designated jurisdiction and then adds them to the user’s calendar. Users were required to use only preconfigured, jurisdiction-specific rule sets, such as the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure.

Now, the Deadline Assistant module has been modified to enable users to create their own custom rule sets and custom events. Users can:

  • Add their own events to an existing rule set. Maybe your firm has an internal practice of always holding a case-review conference after the initial pleadings have been filed. This can be added to the court rule set and will then be scheduled for every case that uses that rule set.
  • Create a set entirely from scratch. This is most useful for firms that have developed their own workflows for specific types of cases. Perhaps you have developed your own set of calendar events for every divorce case. This lets you automate the scheduling of those events.

Custom events can be added as parent events that always appear in the rule set or as children that follow from the occurrence of some other event.

Document Versioning

Document Versioning allows users to have access to previous versions of documents stored on Firm Central. Every time a user downloads, edits and re-uploads a document, the prior version can be retained. The user can revert to a prior version at any time without losing any of the saved versions. Users can also delete prior versions.

Versioning lets you revert to a prior version of a document.
Versioning lets you revert to a prior version of a document.

Firm Central has in-platform document viewing, but not editing. Documents stored in Firm Central must be downloaded and opened in Word for editing. When you next upload the document to Firm Central, it detects the conflict and gives you the option of saving the prior version or renaming the new upload.

Client Portal

Firm Central’s client portal (which I reported on last year but only recently was able to use) provides a place to securely share documents and messages with clients. When the lawyer creates a portal for a matter, the client receives an email invitation to join the portal. The client has to first register and then will be able to access the portal.

The portal allows the client to read documents and share messages with the lawyer.
The portal allows the client to read documents and share messages with the lawyer.

Within the portal, the client can view documents shared by the lawyer and send comments to the lawyer. Shared documents will be marked as “incomplete” until the client clicks the “mark as read” button. A Client Portal widget on the matter page notifies the attorney of recent client activity in the portal and messages from the client. A notification also appears on the Firm Central home screen.

The main matter page alerts the lawyer of activity on the portal.
The main matter page alerts the lawyer of activity on the portal.

After a document has been shared through the portal, the lawyer can revoke sharing simply by selecting it and clicking the “Stop Sharing” icon.

The Bottom Line

Thomson Reuters sells Firm Central for $40 per person per month. Time and billing functionality requires a separate $25 per month subscription to eBillity.

Last year, in a review of Firm Central for the ABA Journal, I said that integration was both Firm Central’s strong suit and its downside. The strength comes from the fact that Firm Central directly integrates with a number of Thomson Reuters products, most notably WestlawNext, which can be accessed from directly within the Firm Central application, but also Practical Law, Westlaw Form Builder and Westlaw Drafting Assistant.

The downside of that is that each of these various integrations requires an additional cost. “For this reason,” I wrote then, “Firm Central is a good choice for lawyers who subscribe to WestlawNext.” But others, I added, may find one of the other practice management platforms to be a better fit.

Selecting a practice management platform can be daunting. Their features and pricing do not all line up in parallel. Firm Central is a much more mature product than when it first hit the market and has many more features than I’ve covered in this update. If you’re shopping for a platform and you’re a WestlawNext user, it should definitely be on your short list. Even if you do not use WestlawNext, Firm Central is worth your consideration.

Here is a round-up of notable news from the last couple weeks:

pdfDocs

TechnoLawyer has announced its TL NewsWire Top 10 and 25 Products of 2015. Its top pick of the year: pdfDocs 4.1 from DocsCorp, which TechnoLawyer praises as designed specifically for law firms and able to handle all the basics while also providing advanced tools. Winners are picked from among all the reviews TechnoLawyer publishes each year based on clicks by TL NewsWire subscribers.

Speaking of awards, Dennis Kennedy is out with his 11th annual installment of the Blawggie Awards, honoring the best law-related blogs, as determined by Dennis. His pick this year for the best overall law-related blog is Law Technology Today, the blog of the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center. In the category of best new blog, Dennis picks John Simek’s Your IT Consultant.

In other blog news, Jordan Furlong says that he is putting his blog, Law21, on a hiatus for several months. “I’m not shutting down,” he says, and when the blog returns “this site will look very different.” Read his post for more details and stay tuned for further developments.

In research news, there is a new Nexis. LexisNexis has relaunched its signature news and business information service, consolidating all the global versions of Nexis on a single technology platform for the first time. The relaunched Nexis now has multiple language options as well as several new features and capabilities, including easier source selection, a simplified user interface, better sorting ability within folders and search results, split-screen previews and more.

In practice-management news, Thomson Reuters Firm Central has added two-way synchronization with Microsoft Outlook. Previously, Firm Central’s Outlook sync allowed users to create, edit and delete events only in Outlook. Now, users can create, edit and delete calendar events in either Firm Central or Outlook, and have them sync automatically. To take advantage of this functionality, current Firm Central users will have to download a new Outlook plug-in.

Turning now to online dispute resolution, which is something I thought would take off far more quickly than it actually has. Way back in 2001, I wrote an article about services offering ODR, almost all of which are now defunct. That is finally changing, with ODR gaining broader acceptance, as evidenced by the recent announcement by Modria.com that its ODR platform was recently adopted by the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals to provide an online resolution center for cases there. “Taxpayers, agents, and attorneys can now file online, gain instant access to their electronic case files, negotiate settlements, and take actions on cases, all from the convenience of their computers or tablets,” the announcement said. Modria was founded by Colin Rule, one of the true trailblazers in ODR.

Finally for today, the Sony Digital Paper — the not-quite-a-tablet device I’ve written about here, here and here — has released a software upgrade to provide functional improvements, stability improvements and enhanced security. Most notably, the update enables the ability to encrypt the Digital Paper’s internal memory and to use a more complex password. The upgrade also adds support for PDF forms, along with various other improvements.

With that, I wish you all the best of the holiday season. Thanks for reading this year.

DeadlineAssistantScreenshot
Once a deadline is added to the calendar, clicking it opens a box showing the details.

Firm Central, the cloud-based practice-management platform from Thomson Reuters, now offers rules-based court calendaring through a new add-on module called Deadline Assistant. The feature calculates litigation dates and events based on the court rules specific to the jurisdiction.

Deadline Assistant is sold as an additional subscription to Firm Central. The cost is $40 per month for the first user and then $20 a month for each additional user. The basic Firm Central subscription is $40 a month per seat. Continue Reading Firm Central Gets Court Rules Calendaring