LegalTech has come a long way in the past couple of decades. Firms are increasingly going paperless, with 60% now operating in the cloud. Tech-savvy firms have realized that tedious manual tasks—from document creation to client communication—can now be almost entirely automated. Indeed, with every passing year, technology continues to redefine the legal profession. As a result, firms are looking for new tools, including free case management software solutions.
Practice management and case management solutions are key tools in 21st-century attorneys’ armories. They provide a single, cloud-based source of truth where firms can manage their workload and grow their business. However, with so many options on the market, including free practice management software, it can be hard to choose the right case management software for your firm.
This article explores what case management software is, explains what to look for in a provider, and assesses the top vendors currently on the market, including free case management software providers. Note: This article also discusses providers that offer free trials. The features available during free trials may differ from those available in paid subscriptions.
What is case management software?
Case management software provides firms with a single source of truth where they can store, access, and manage key client data. This includes case notes, contact information, appointments, client communications, billing details, and more.
What to look for in case management software: Six benefits to prioritize
It’s worth noting there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. Every firm’s needs are different—solo practitioners practicing wills and estates virtually will likely require different features and integrations than a 10-person general practice firm.
That said, some common must-haves apply across the board.
1. Advanced integrations
Law firms should seek out case management software that prioritizes integrations. This is crucial. The vast majority of firms use multiple tools within the space of any given day: Case management software, email software, accounting software, and so on. Integrating these tools ensures data passes seamlessly from one tool to the next, eliminating the chance of data silos. Conversely, firms that can’t integrate their tools will struggle. Attorneys will waste precious time digging around for disparate data stored here, there, and everywhere. They’ll lack a single source of truth—and they’ll lack clarity.
2. Cloud-based software
Firms should opt for cloud-based case management software providers. This allows attorneys to work productively from anywhere, anytime, and using any device. With remote working set to continue moving forward, this is more important than ever before. Of course, its benefits also extend to attorneys who regularly spend their days in court or meeting clients—in other words, away from their computers.
3. Reliable customer support
Select a case management provider who delivers reliable customer support. Who knows when you might encounter an unexpected technical hitch. However, when they do occur, you need to know your vendor will work tirelessly to help your firm get back up and running from a technical standpoint. Tip: Look for award-winning, 24-hour customer support from your vendor. Along the same lines, an uptime guarantee is also something you should confirm with your vendor.
4. Straightforward fees
Prioritize working with a provider who is upfront and transparent about their fees. There’s nothing worse than seeing an unexpected line item pop up on your invoice, only to be told that this was indeed in the original contract you signed (albeit in the tiniest font possible). Avoid these types of vendors at all costs. Partner with software providers who are honest from the get go.
Protecting the security privacy of your clients’ confidential data is one of your top priorities as a legal professional. It should also be a top priority for your case management service provider. Look for a vendor that offers dedicated security professionals, runs regular security checks, and is compliant with the latest privacy and data security standards.
6. Time-saving features
Last but not least, firms need to implement case management software that provides value-add features. For example, that offer sufficient document storage, are versatile, provide data-driven insights, help with client billing, and offer advanced client management capabilities. A mobile-friendly solution is also critical for today’s on-the-go clients.
Is free case management software worth it?
After reading the above list of features, you might wonder if a free case management solution can check all the boxes. It’s true: entirely free tools will always have their limitations. Consistent cash flow is critical for developers to create, maintain, and support their solutions; things like security updates and top-notch customer success representatives cost money.
In addition, free software is often “open source” software, which means there isn’t one “owner” or organization standing behind the solution; it’s a community of developers. This has advantages—many smart minds are working on the software—but has inherent risks as well.
Limitations of free case management software
Beware the following limitations of free case management software solutions:
Security and privacy: Because a large number of developers may be working on a free open source software (FOSS) solution at any time, and you don’t know who they are, it’s impossible to know how skilled they are, or what their intent is. Furthermore, those developers may not all adhere to or have the same standards of security and privacy, two areas of critical importance for any industry dealing with confidential client information, like law.
Reliability and uptime: With the resources of an organization behind it, paid solutions can offer guarantees and warranties for things like uptime and availability. FOSS solutions can’t offer the same. And should the community lose interest in the solution, it may become “orphaned,” meaning no further updates or support are available.
Maintenance and support: Although there may be a community behind the solution, that community may not always be available or reliable when you need help most. Updates may come fast and furious as one or two power users work on the software…but then might disappear as those users move on to new projects.
Usability: The development community may not include actual users, especially in an industry like law; after all, few lawyers are also software developers. FOSS solutions aren’t typically user-tested in a controlled environment. You may find FOSS solutions have a steep learning curve, aren’t particularly intuitive or user-friendly, and lack documentation.
Integrations and compatibility: The developer community may or may not be able (or interested in) integrating the FOSS with other, paid solutions that you use every day, such as Google Workspace or Microsoft Office. You’ll also need to confirm that the FOSS works on your current hardware or preferred operating system.
“Hidden” costs: The software itself may be free. But you may find added costs when setting up the system, and training yourself or your employees on its use.
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Open source and free case management software
Is Clio biased towards paid solutions? Of course—this is our business. But we recognize that not every firm is in position to invest money in a new solution. For new firms especially, it might be worth the time to try a completely free solution as you get your firm up-and-running and onboard new clients.
The following free and open source solutions offer features that may help you get your feet wet with case management software:
ClinicCases – free and open source
ClinicCases is a free, open-sourced, web-based case management software It’s mobile-friendly and semi-customizable. While it’s sparse in the integration and reporting department, trialing a free tool while you’re starting out is certainly beneficial.
ArkCase – free and open source
Another completely free tool is ArkCase. With CRM capabilities and some integrations, it might be worth trialing this tool at your firm. Unfortunately there’s no mobile functionality, so, depending on your working-style, it might not be a long-term solution.
Long-term, we’re confident that you’ll see the need for a fully-secure and supported solution that sets you up for sustained success.
The best free trial case management software
The following case management software providers offer free trials or plans, as well as paid versions. Therefore, if you’re unsure which one to pick, you always have the option of signing up for a free trial to test them out before you commit fully.
Clio – offers free trial
Clio is the legal case management software 800-pound gorilla. It’s 100% cloud-based, offers over 200+ integrations with firms’ most well-used and well-loved apps, and is easily customizable. Most importantly, it boasts a rich array of features that helps firms of all shapes and sizes to operate more efficiently and effectively.
This includes secure cloud-based storage, Clio Payments (a secure clients payments portal), seamless client intake/scheduling, and 24-hour award-winning customer support five days per week. Hence, it’s no surprise that 70+ Bar Associations and Law Societies recommend Clio to their members. While Clio’s plans vary in price according to your firm’s specific requirements, they do offer a free trial too. Learn more about how firms use Clio here, or go ahead and sign up for a free trial.
MyCase – offers free trial
MyCase is a cloud-based practice management and payments software provider that offers a rich set of client intake and lead management, case management, billing and payments, document automation, and client communication features. While MyCase’s plans vary in price, they do also offer a free trial.
However, it’s far from the best option on the market. MyCase has limited integration capabilities, especially compared to leading case management software. Consider Clio, for example, which offers 200+ integrations and whose open API allows firms to scale and connect tools as needed and as their business grows.
What’s more, MyCase has relatively high credit card fees. Conversely, Clio Payments offer simple and transparent pricing. In short, your monthly invoice with all those fees (including card brand network fees), may surprise you. With Clio, there are never any hidden fees—ensuring your monthly bill is clear and predictable.
Smokeball – offers free trial
Smokeball is a “hybrid cloud”-based practice management software designed for PCs. It boasts a rich set of productivity, organization, and profitability features geared towards helping small law firms operate like their larger counterparts. Smokeball offers various paid plans as well as a free trial for their basic plan.
Unfortunately, Smokeball’s “hybrid cloud” nature means it’s not nearly as flexible as fully cloud-based tools, like Clio. Smokeball users generally operate primarily on a laptop or PC, but can also sync data into the cloud if they want to work on the go. Clio, on the other hand, is cloud-first—data is automatically stored in the cloud at all times. Plus, Smokeball only works on PCs (i.e. Macs aren’t supported), unlike Clio which allows firms to use whichever tools they’re most comfortable with.
AbacusNext – offers free trial
AbacusNext is one of the original case management software providers, boasting over 30 years of experience. However, it’s worth noting that AbacusNext actually has three separate case management products: AbacusLaw, Amicus Attorney, and ZolaSuite. AbacusLaw provides more robust accounting features and is generally better suited to larger firms, while Amicus Attorney provides a larger number of integrations and is ideal for smaller firms. Again, both of AbacusNext’s software offer paid plans and free trials.
Unfortunately, both AbacusLaw and Amicus Attorney only offer long-term contracts that lock customers in for at least a year. Compare this to Clio, which allows users to add licenses or users on a monthly basis and cancel any time.
AbacusNext also charges extra fees for new features, like their mobile app, and incremental fees for extra document storage. With Clio, however, you instantly access all features in your plan and pay one price for your software—what you see is what you get. Lastly, AbacusNext only provides limited customer support capabilities.
PracticePanther – offers free trial
PracticePanther is a cloud-based practice management program that provides simple case management, billing, time tracking & automation features. This program features three paid plans—solo, essential, and business—and offers a 30-day free trial.
Despite its features, there are a few notable downsides to PracticePanther. For example, it lacks automation capabilities and doesn’t offer pipeline reporting. Compare this to Clio Grow, which offers a platform to fully automate client intake processes and provides tools that facilitate firm growth. What’s more, there’s little focus on documents within the PracticePather portal. It doesn’t offer any features for editing/saving documents, unlike Clio Drive, and sharing documents via the client portal is a cumbersome process.
Final notes on the best free case management software
Case management software is a must for all firms. It provides a single place for operations, helping firms onboard clients, automate tedious processes, and bill for their work. Better still, leading case management tools integrate with the rest of firms’ tech stacks, allowing them to create automated workflows and eliminate data silos.
While there are several free case management software providers to choose from, long-term, we think you’ll see that investment in a paid solution is the best option for your firm. We also think you’ll see that Clio is head and shoulders above the rest. Clio is flexible and feature-rich. It boasts fantastic customer support capabilities, integrates with leading tools, and has been recommended by leading Bar Associations.
If you’re looking for the best case management software, look no further. Clio has you covered.
We published this blog post in July 2022. Last updated: .
Categorized in: Technology
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