Rocket Matter is one of the most likable online services for small law offices. It handles case management, timekeeping, and billing in clean, well-designed screens presented in a web browser, with all data stored online. Take a few minutes and sign up for a demo! It’s an easy, pleasant way to get an idea of how an online program can take over functions that have traditionally been done by programs installed on your local computer. I watched a demo last week and came away with warm fuzzy feelings – nice people offering a nice product.
I’m not going to describe all the features – the Rocket Matter web site does that better than I can. Instead, let’s talk about a few things that came to mind while I was watching the demo.
- COMPETITORS Rocket Matter has been around since the beginning of 2008, making it one of the old men in the field. Clio started up at about the same time; Advologix followed it in 2009, and LexisNexis stepped in with FirmManager earlier this year. There are many more cloud-based case management services already available and many more in the pipeline. Some of them won’t survive, leaving you with difficult problems if the one running your firm goes out of business. Many of these are privately-held companies and it is essentially impossible to find out if they have ten thousand customers or twelve customers. On the other hand, sometimes it seems like the big companies are more likely to make capricious decisions about products and leave customers stranded. See if you get a gut feeling about a company’s long-term commitment to the product you’re considering and its financial worthiness. You want that company to exist for the life of your firm.
- SECURITY The debate about cloud security will rage on in bar journals and ethics committees and there will be no shortage of scary anecdotes. At this point it’s almost a religious conviction: you either are or aren’t a believer that your data can be safe outside your office walls. I’m a believer. I’ve come to think that a lot of the hard work has already been done on the technical underpinnings to make online services a safe place for your data. Responsible companies are offering storage that meets all reasonable security requirements for small firms. You’ll want each company to reassure you about that; you’ll hear stories about server complexes with tight physical security, heavy duty encryption for the data, multiple locations for redundancy, and more. It’s all true. Each company is desperately trying to stay ahead of hackers trying to steal data but you know what? So is Google. So is every big law firm. So is the government. So are you, if you have any method of remote access to your office, whether you realize it or not. I don’t expect one of these companies to have negligent security practices. If your information is stolen, it will most likely happen because you chose a poor password, and that will compromise you just as readily in your own office as in an online service.
- INTEGRATION If you just bought your first computer and hung out your shingle with the paint still wet, congratulations! You can choose freely and grow into whatever you choose. Everyone else is likely to have a relationship with other programs already. Maybe it’s as simple as using Outlook for mail, but maybe you’re also already using a case management program or a billing or accounting program. One of your most important questions will concern what it will mean to integrate a new service with your existing programs. Almost all case management services can send data to and from Quickbooks, for example, but making that link work requires far more planning when the new service is set up. If you have years of data in an unsupported accounting program, you might have a difficult problem. Your choice of a case management program may be driven by the choices you’ve made in the past.
- ROCKET MATTER & DROPBOX With that in mind, take a look at one specific example that stood out from the Rocket Matter demo. Rocket Matter has integrated its service with Dropbox. Users can associate a case in Rocket Matter with a Dropbox folder and view a constantly updated list of files associated with the case from inside the Rocket Matter portal. That’s a very smart way to leverage simple, familiar technology; it’s far less scary than full-scale document management solutions.
- DATA CONVERSION The potential problems are astronomically greater if you are considering a conversion of the data in one program so it can be used in another program. There are a lot of reasons that you might want to stop using Time Matters or Abacus or one of the other old warhorses, for example, but you have a difficult problem if those programs are holding years of your data: you can safely assume that the cost of converting your data for a new program or service will outweigh almost every other consideration. The cost will be measured in money and time and sweat and anger management classes. Don’t trust anyone who tells you it will be easy to move from one platform to another.
- PRICE Online case management programs typically charge a monthly fee per user. I’ve seen elaborate calculations attempting to compare the subscription fees to the costs associated with running an onsite server and locally installed programs (Time Matters or Prolaw, say). When all costs are taken into account, those calculations come out surprisingly even. Some people are perfectly at ease with monthly bills, even fairly hefty ones. Others are more comfortable with large up-front expenses for hardware and software and slightly hidden continuing expenses for maintenance. Think about what kind of person you are but don’t fool yourself into thinking that the cloud services are more expensive than traditional case management and billing software – it doesn’t work out that way when everything is taken into account.
Give me a call if I can help you evaluate Rocket Matter or any other law firm services!