Essential Tech, Tools & Talent for Small Law Firms Working Remotely

Maddy Martin

During a recent webinar on COVID-19 between Profit with Law, GNGF, and Smith.ai, a wide range of software and services were mentioned as critical resources for lawyers who suddenly find themselves running their firms remotely.

From time tracking tools to case management systems, email providers to calendaring solutions, this is our list of the heavy hitters in each major category. We've seen them all, and tried many ourselves, so our hope is to spare you the extra time that extensive research requires.

Here are the essential resources to help you run and manage a remote staff at this time, during the COVID-19 crisis. If you have any questions about these tools, or we didn't touch on a resource you need, please don't hesitate to get in touch at support@smith.ai

Task management 

  • Slack - This is for team chat. It's web-based, for daily conversations. It includes calls, video calls, and screen sharing. Free to use, but we highly recommend paying the ~$7/user/month because you definitely want the full access to conversation history that paid plans give you.
  • Clubhouse - This is a project management tool that we use internally at Smith.ai. It's not for case management, but more for business, marketing, and other projects. It's free for up to 10 users.

Note: With respect to combining Slack and Clubhouse: These programs work well together, and that's part of why we recommended them as a pair. They integrate; so, for example:

  • You can start discussing a project in Slack and link to it in Clubhouse for reference, or 
  • You can come up with a project in Slack during a team discussion, and then create a task in Clubhouse for it directly from the click of a button in Slack, and even assign its owner and due date under a specific project.

Case & practice management

  • Clio, Filevine, Practice Panther, Rocket Matter, and Lawmatics - Just a few of the law firm and client management tools we see most often used and adored by our clients, options abound. You can only get away with spreadsheets for so long until you need a relational database that tells you what's happening at your firm, what work needs to be completed, what's held up (and by whom), and so much more.
  • Many of these systems, like LeadDocket, now also include sophisticated email, intake, and calendaring systems, and some, like Cosmolex, also include robust accounting tools. View the full list of our CRM integration partners to learn more about specific tools.

Case alerts

  • Casestatus - This deserves its own category because it's often overlooked and deserves more attention. If your clients call you for updates or neglect to return documents on time (or push it to the last minute, causing unnecessary stress), this is the tool you need. It proactively updates clients and reminds them about their case, building good habits for them and reducing interruptions for you and your team. The cost is per-case as a flat-rate, and the company recommends you pass the cost on to clients.

Time tracking

  • Accelo - This tool includes email, meetings, and tasks in their tracking capabilities, and a lot more. There is an overview here and an interesting article on the revenue-impact of email tracking here. They receive very high marks on Capterra, too.
  • Timely - The AI-training component built into Timely means it learns and tracks better as you use it.
  • Email Stopwatch - For Outlook users only, this is a well regarded work timer.
  • PayDirt - This one helps you identify which specific client is related to the email you're working on, reducing the time spent tagging time to the correct client.
  • TimeMiner - This smart app integrates with RingCentral, Clio, Gmail, and Outlook. It tracks time spent on calls, texts, and emails, and it also mines time spent in the past on those activities, which makes it quite comprehensive (it even integrates with client invoices). But, its narrow focus on those four programs lessens its utility if those aren't programs you're already using (or likely to start using soon).

Email systems 

  • Front - This is a great tool for assigning and monitoring emails. It is also an email collaboration tool. Pricing starts at $9/user/month.
  • Gorgias and TextExpander - Front has canned email responses you can save as templates and share with your team, but Gorgias and TextExpander also work outside of your email (Gorgias for Facebook, LinkedIn, and other channels; and TextExpander for SMS, legal document generation, etc.) These solutions help your staff use the same approved responses, correctly worded, so your team represents your law practice accurately, every time, no matter the communication channel. Gorgias is free; TextExpander is ~$3-8/user/month.

VoIP/Cloud phone systems

  • RingCentral, Phone.com, and Nextiva - If you don't have a great VoIP phone solution already, we tend to recommend these three for tried-and-true connectivity. They all support business texting and run about $10-25/month/user. Adding a line for staff working from home is easy, and everyone on your team can add the VoIP company's app to their cell phone, so they have the portability they need right now, without disclosing their personal phone numbers.

Tip: If you have had a VoIP phone system for a while and haven't tested your call routing and call quality, do so now. Seriously, right now. And during work hours, have someone "secret shop" your business line. Latency, ring delays, and broken connections happen, and this is the easiest way to lose clients and never know (because they couldn't reach you). Give yourself peace of mind and check your phone system every few months to ensure it's functioning properly.

Receptionists for calls, chats & texts

Smith.ai can work with any phone system you have, and we can accept all calls and then transfer to your team, or we can be your backup, if you have someone to answer, but they're not always on, since they likely have other work and personal tasks to attend to at times that cannot always be put on hold for an incoming call. The kids are at home; they can't always be put on "hold" so easily. We also make outbound calls, so we can call back leads who complete a website contact form, clients who need a court date rescheduled, directions for a deposition that's now being held online via Zoom, etc.

Plans start at $140/month for phone calls or website chat. Live chat agents can also answer business texts. We have a 24/7 free chatbot, too, so at least website visitors get a helpful and prompt response even when your budget is tight.

The 20-call trial we normally offer still stands, but we've added another free month of our Starter plan (20 calls' worth) and free chatbot installation (normally $150) to help firms dealing with so many other new costs right now. The code is SMITHCOVID19 to get the extra 20 calls and chatbot installation for free ($290 value). We can do almost all of the setup and legwork, so it doesn't consume much of your time. Plan to be up and running in just a couple days, and possibly even sooner if it's urgent. Sign up here.

Calendaring

  • Calendly and Acuity - These scheduling tools work with any calendar system you're currently using (Google, Office365, iCloud, Outlook). Both have free options, but you'll end up likely needing a paid plan at $8-15/user/month to support multiple calendar types, consultation fees, intake questions, etc.

  • ScheduleOnce - Time-tested and just $5-10/user/month, this one is ideal if your calendar shifts often. You can use their Booking with Approval function so people can select 3 times, and then you pick the one that's best for you.
  • ClientRock and LawTap - These legal-specific calendaring tools offer features lawyers will appreciate:

    The ClientRock Scheduler is a stand-alone appointment booking solution that integrates with LawPay to charge for consultations, and it can even draft your fee agreements and set up a client portal if you use ClientRock for payment management, as well. It's priced at $10/user/month and the full system is currently available for early access pricing at $49/month.

    If you're looking to increase your visibility online, take a look at LawTap, which not only provides online calendaring inside a complete profile page, for $20/attorney/month, you also get listed in their attorney database where potential clients can find and book attorneys online.

Note: Any scheduling tool worth its salt these days allows you to add in questions before booking, accepts credit card payments, and offers email follow-ups so people are prepared with the information they need to have a productive meeting. The solutions above satisfy those requirements. You can review more scheduling tools that Smith.ai works with on our Scheduling Integrations page.

  • Doodle has fully featured free plans, and is used for polling individuals' availability for a group meeting. It's especially useful for setting meetings with 3+ people, particularly those you work with outside the office (think opposing counsel, consultants, co-counsel, etc.). No more back-and-forth hassle of coordinating meetings via email.

Billing & payments

  • Xero, Quickbooks, and PayPal - For invoicing and general online payments, these three are trusted standards, easy to setup, and integrate well with other systems.
  • LawPay and Headnote - For lawyers specifically, these legal-specific payment processors can handle credit cards, debit cards, and echecks, and they're totally compliant and set up for IOLTA/IOLA/trust accounting.
  • Affirm, Square, PayPal, and Splitit - Split/installment payment plans for clients can be a wise solution for clients right now, who may be light on liquid assets. You can offer these options for this brief time, or make them a part of your firm's standard payment options permanently. Be sure to check their fee structures and payout rules before deciding on one. Some offer all the payment upfront, despite the client signing on to an installment plan; others pay you upon receipt of each installment.

Virtual paralegals & assistants

  • Lawfecta - Starting at a special price of $50/hour right now, Lawfecta's seasoned legal secretaries, assistants, and paralegals help scale a firm on an as-needed basis, when the idea (or reality) of paying for a salaried staff member is untenable or inadvisable. Stay in budget, and on task, with help from a team where every assistant has at least 10 years of relevant experience and specializes in legal work.
  • OT Paralegal Services - Also staffed by paralegals with 10+ years of experience, OTPS rates max out at $50/hour and that’s for more substantive projects by certified paralegals. Most of their rates are $25-35/hour, and that can include billing, invoicing, bookkeeping, social media management, in addition to standard paralegal tasks. They also have a 15% sale running until at least June 1, 2020, for law firms affected by COVID.

What do you recommend?

Do you have other essential tech and tools to recommend for lawyers running remote firms? We are passionate about equipping small businesses with the key tools they need, and many of our clients are law firms, so we have especially deep expertise in that domain. Please share your advice with us in the comments below or contact us at support@smith.ai. We'd love to learn about your favorite software and services.

Maddy Martin

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