If you’re in the market for a practice management system, you are probably overwhelmed with the growing list of solutions to choose from. There are quite a few things to know about this relatively new, but fast-growing provider to help you understand what separates Smokeball from the rest of the pack.
First, full disclosure. I had the great pleasure of serving as the Vice President of Marketing for Smokeball for two years. During which time, I watched this product mature from its early beginnings to the serious contender in the case management marketplace that it is today.
To be the full featured case management platform of choice for attorneys looking to create efficiency in their practice by leveraging the tools they use most, namely Microsoft Word and Outlook. The application includes practice area specific case management features, document management, billing tools, workflow rules, email integration one of my personal favorites… bad-ass document automation and time tracking magic.
What to know:
Smokeball is a Windows based, and cloud hybrid case management software solution. Which means that you need to install it locally on your computer, and update it manually when you are prompted to do so. By doing so, new features, forms and practice area specific documents are added to your suite of Smokeball options.
Now, let’s get into it. Here are some of the most common questions I still hear about Smokeball. Plus, so of their latest work, a feature called AutoTime that *billing magic* I alluded to, which I’m practically drooling over.
Time in the Marketplace
A little-known fact, Smokeball was designed and built by a team whose been delivering case management, document automation and billing tools for law firms for over twenty-five years. So, their approach isn’t to do what’s necessarily the sexiest thing in the marketplace. But instead, what will shave minutes, hours and days off case preparation for their clients. Based solely on what they have seen work first hand, learning from customers by training them in their office where possible.
Runs exclusively on a PC with Microsoft Office
When you see a demo of Smokeball, it’s easy to understand why they insist on keeping their platform in a windows environment. The power they can harness, ease of use… and quite honestly the ability to summon some *billing magic* is well worth being tied to a PC. Smokeball is deeply integrated with Microsoft Word and Outlook..
Commitment to Client Training and Practice Area Specific Configuration
In my opinion, the one reason why law firms don’t get a return on the technology investments they make is because they do not commit to training or require that the staff using it does either. They fly through the setup, then often complain that “the software doesn’t do what I want it to” and start their search again, thinking that something new will solve their problems.
False, one of the reasons why Smokeball clients are so successful is because of their required onboarding and training process. Not very many platforms charge for training, but that’s because this isn’t just training. Upon the purchase of Smokeball there is a training and set up period. 10 of your law firm’s documents are automated for you, they make sure you have the right form libraries for your practice area and district. Completely automated task lists, work-flow rules and more are all set up and tested with your team. Some law firms go as far as to set up unique workflow processes for each practice area group to save hours per week.
Case types, documents, forms and fields are all specific to practice area. Which saves a tremendous amount of time in the document preparation stage. For example, if you practice real estate law, you’ll be filling out the case intake information with purchase price, tenant type, the estimated closing date, corresponding deadlines, etc. Compared to a family law case, which will have fields related to child custody, separation, third parties and more. You can have as many practice areas in your account as you would like, each with their own separate document and form libraries.
Then, after the initial set up period the Onboarding Team will be available for training session if needed. I don’t know of any other providers who are willing to do that, without extra fees.
Document Automation & Document Management
Why would someone go through all the trouble of entering in every granular piece of case and client information if they couldn’t do something with it? To which Smokeball answers: What can’t you do with it?!
Automate letters, court forms, motions, agreements, complex calculations such as a closing statement, even everyday emails with Smokeball’s seamless integration with Word and Outlook. After each automated action the file is saved in the case’s document library with a built in document management versioning and PDF conversion.
Most popular practice areas include, but are not limited to: Real Estate, Family Law, Personal Injury, Criminal Defense, Civil Litigation and Estate Planning. If Smokeball doesn’t have your jurisdiction’s court forms in their existing libraries, they will automate them for you as part of the setup process. Plus, any proprietary forms you have, are saved in your law firm’s library.
Now, the pièce de résistance! Can you tell I’m just a little bit excited to share the awesomeness of AutoTime with you? For real, this is the most exciting thing to happen to time and billing since you could print checks out of the printer in your office.
Welcome, AutoTime! What’s better than being able to enter information from the computer in your pocket? Having a computer track your time FOR YOU. A feature that began as Smokeball AI also known as activity intelligence has transformed into AutoTime. A tool that leverages the native integration with Word and Outlook to track and find the time you spend on anything you touch related to a case, automatically.
Now, before we have a deluge of comments about inactivity in a document. It’s been solved. There is a thirty-second idle monitor so if you leave a document open it won’t keep the clock running. Imagine starting your day, with a time sheet that’s been created and emailed to you that includes a list of related activities for each case.
Another arrow in Smokeball’s billing quiver is their Performance Tracker, which cross-references the activity intelligence and AutoTime data with what you’ve invoiced for a case. A feature that will finally give small law firms a clear estimate of profit. And may I just say, that accurately measuring time and profit has been the Achilles Heel of small law firms, especially those who bill on a flat-fee basis.
Ease of Use
When using Smokeball, just remember one thing. Right-click is your friend! A benefit of a locally installed application is that you get to take full advantage of section specific menus. Wherever you are, just right click and the most common next steps are at your finger-tips.
Users also find that because of the practice area specific nature of the matter layouts, intake sections and client information sections inside Smokeball, can be learned by staff of any skill level. You don’t need to try and figure out how to make it work for you, it’s built to feel like home using tools you already have.
Technology is an investment that should either improve, expedite or streamline the way you serve your clients. If you are looking for the least expensive solution on the market, or comparing cloud providers on price alone, Smokeball is not for you.
The monthly fee per user, and onboarding costs are for law firm owners who see value in the way technology can improve the delivery portions of their business. Increase security, save time, capture more billable hours, or provide them with data that helps them make better business decisions.
In the ever-expanding practice management landscape, I strongly suggest, as you evaluate your options that you ask yourself; What ‘business win’ would make a technology investment worth it for me? Then approach each demo you schedule with that answer in mind.