I’ve been waiting a long time to write this post — almost four years! Ever since Apple introduced the iPad in 2010, I believed it would make the perfect platform for a practice management tool. Attendees at iPad seminars also asked about it: “What practice management tools are available for the iPad?” For a while there, I didn’t have a good answer for them.
The major cloud practice management companies eventually rolled out iPhone apps, Android apps, and web apps for their services. While these tools are undeniably useful, I’ve always thought that a mobile practice management tool should offer that full-featured dashboard, so you can see your entire practice at a glance — just like on your laptop or desktop computer. With the recent rollout of Rocket Matter for iPad, mobile lawyers finally have that option.
In my experience, the iPad won’t work as a desktop replacement for most lawyers. It often works best as a supplement for the desktop, by providing access to information a lawyer needs when he or she is away from the office. I have two primary criteria for apps that act as “companions” to a broader service: a lot of features, and a layout that’s easy to use. By those standards, the Rocket Matter app definitely succeeds.
When you open the app, your dashboard, which roughly corresponds to Rocket Matter’s desktop view, gives you an overall view of your day; upcoming events, pending tasks, recent matters you have viewed, and billing for the day, week, or month. You can add new events or tasks directly from the home screen.
There are separate screens for Matters, Calendar, Tasks, Billing, Notes, and Contacts. Each of these screens allows you to enter new information. For example, on the Matters screen just press +Matter to add a new case. It’s also a snap to add new calendar events, tasks, notes, or contacts to your Rocket Matter database. Everything synchronizes to the cloud, so anything you add on the iPad will be available to you and your team anywhere they happen to be.
The Matters screen provides you with a list of all your Open, Completed, and Closed files. Just press one, and you’ll be taken to another type of dashboard, one that rolls up all of the other areas. On one screen you’ll have access to a lot of detail about the individual matter, including upcoming events, tasks, billable activities, account balances, invoices, contacts, and notes. You can edit just about anything on this screen (except the stuff related to money, of course).
There are two persistent buttons on each screen, and they are especially handy. From any screen you can start a timer and record your time, or easily enter a firm expense. You can create multiple timers to track different tasks you encounter during the day, but can only use one at a time, which is a nice guard against double billing. Once you’re done tracking your time, press Bill, and your time is automatically added to the database.
Another nice feature you’ll find on most of the screens is a filter, which allows you to view the information a number of different ways. For example, on the calendar and billing screens you can view items by the day, week or month. You can view pending, completed, or all tasks, and you can even sort your contacts by people or companies. These are simple but thoughtful details that try to bring you as much of the Rocket Matter desktop to the iPad without becoming overwhelming.
The only part of the app that didn’t work well for me was the Search function. When I typed in search terms, I got a listing of all the results for the keywords, like I expected — but when I pressed a result, nothing happened. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, or maybe this is a bug that will get ironed out in future releases, but it really wasn’t that big a deal to me.
If you’re already a user of Rocket Matter, or thinking about subscribing, you should understand that the iPad app does not duplicate the desktop experience. There are no trust accounting features on the iPad app. You can’t go in and make administrative changes for your account. You can’t create invoices or legal forms. There are a lot of things you can’t do on Rocket Matter for iPad — and that’s okay. The app doesn’t need to do those things to be a successful mobile tool — it just needs to provide you with the right information to get work done while you’re out of the office, in a clear and easy-to-use format. And in that respect, it’s a great success.
So, to the other cloud practice management providers, I ask: What are you waiting for?
UPDATED: As pointed out by Niki Black in the comments below, MyCase introduced an iPad app for its practice management solution last year.
Tom Mighell is the author of the ABA’s best-selling iPad in One Hour for Lawyers series, including his latest, iPads in One Hour for Litigators. A Senior Consultant with Contoural, Inc., he helps companies and in-house counsel with records management and electronic discovery issues. He is a past Chair of the ABA Law Practice Management Section and ABA TECHSHOW, and co-presenter of The Kennedy-Mighell Report Podcast on the Legal Talk Network. Tom blogs at Inter Alia: A Legal Technology Blog and at iPad 4 Lawyers. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomMighell.
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