Firm Central Reviewed (Finally): Amazing, if You Love Outlook, WestLaw - Technologist
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Firm Central Reviewed (Finally): Amazing, if You Love Outlook, WestLaw

Finally! We have gotten our hands on the once-elusive Firm Central. Our corporate parents (Thomson Reuters) entered the crowded cloud-practice management field only recently, after competitors Clio, Amicus, MyCase, RocketMatter, and Total Attorneys had already launched their products.

How did the first Firm Central fare? Read on to find out.

This review proceeded a bit differently than previous reviews. For those, we were on our own, both with the install and the “figuring it out” stage. The kind folks in Eagan, Minnesota, provided me with a different experience. They treated me like any other client, volunteering to remotely install the Outlook and Windows extensions, and providing a quick training session to keep me from floundering.

Loved

The interface is clean, quick, and intuitive. Adding faux-clients and matters took seconds, even though I had never used the platform before.

Westlaw Doc & Form Builder is an amazing product in its own right, and the integration here is flawless. Once you’ve created a client and a related matter, Form Builder will auto-populate that client’s information into the forms, saving you from manually copying in case numbers and addresses. This is a feature missing from every other platform we’ve reviewed so far, though Amicus did tell us that their version is in development.

The document storage and Outlook integration are features unique to Firm Central. The system has folders for Open Matters and Closed Matters. A desktop add-on, much like DropBox, syncs your files in those folders to the cloud. Outlook integration allows you to copy emails to those folders for keeping track of correspondence.

Loathed

The calendar. The integration with desktop Outlook is nice, but it seems that if you activate the integration, the ability to edit the calendar on the web is disabled. This becomes a problem when you want to edit your calendar through the web interface, presumably because you are not in front of a computer (perhaps you are on a tablet?) with Outlook.

You can probably go the long way. Add an appointment to your phone’s calendar, which syncs to Outlook, which syncs to Firm Central. But not being able to edit it in Firm Central is a pain. And even with the Outlook Sync disabled, it seems that you can’t edit it from the global calendar — only from the individual clients’ calendars (which all sync to the global calendar).

Sound overly-complicated? It is.

The compartmentalization of everything is also a tad bit annoying, mostly because it’s unique to Firm Central. Unlike MyCase, Amicus, and Total Attorneys, billing is handled through an outside site (eBillity). You jump back and forth between sites, and the eBillity site isn’t nearly as smooth. The initial setup (gracefully handled remotely by a Thomson Reuters rep) was also overly complicated.

On the other hand, Form Builder is also handled outside of Firm Central, but the integration is so smooth, you barely notice it. Hopefully, that smoothness rubs off on eBillity in a future update.

Finally, the price is a factor. It says $35 per user. Add monthly fees for billing, for Form Builder, and even more for WestlawNext, and your overhead is growing exponentially. Then again, WestlawNext and Form Builder are features that others lack, so it’s hard to fault TR for charging extra. Plus, rumor has it that they bundle.

Verdict

Do you already use WestlawNext? How about Microsoft Office Outlook (not the free web version)? If you do, Firm Central is the most robust, feature-packed choice out there, and the marginal cost of tacking it on to your existing Westlaw subscription is worth it. But, if you don’t use desktop Outlook, are a Lexis devotee, or are concerned about monthly overhead, you’re probably going to want to go in another direction.

(Disclosure: As noted, Thomson Reuters is the parent company of FindLaw and provided a copy of Firm Central to the writer for testing. All opinions are the writer’s own.)

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