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Product Review

No Smoke and Mirrors: Smokeball Is an Impressive Toolbox for Law Firm Management

By Jared Correia

smokeball product review

Smokeball is a law practice management software with document assembly capabilities.

Smokeball has an unusual name, to be sure. But, it actually comes from a famous legal case, which just about every substantive law-loving attorney can appreciate. (I love the smell of precedent in the morning.) Smokeball was founded in 2010 and has been adding useful features for law firms ever since. But, amidst the explosion of interest in legal tech software that has generated since the coronavirus pandemic, Smokeball has made some serious moves, including taking on $30 million in investment in early October to promote its further development and growth.

And, with that cash infusion in its back pocket, Smokeball is building on an already impressive foundation, which will be addressed below. Frankly, with all the features already in place, it’s going to be pretty exciting to see what Smokeball will be able to add, moving forward, with new investment funds.

Passive Aggressive: Smokeball’s Passive Timekeeping Application Is Smokin’

If law firm attorneys and staff hate manual time tracking — and, honestly, how could they not? – Smokeball includes a native passive timekeeping program that captures user time automatically as tasks are completed. If you’ve not heard of a “passive” timekeeping tool, it is a program that logs time automatically for specific timekeepers within the system by tracking their web-based activities. This solves the problem of contemporaneous timekeeping and allows lawyers to avoid the always-problematic situation that results when attorneys (and other law office timekeepers) have to reconstruct large swaths of time after the fact — which often results in write-offs, and missed billables.

The passive timekeeper feature available in Smokeball works for internal Smokeball operations, as well as with integrated software, like Microsoft 365. All such captured time is pending until the user manually finalizes it.

Eliminating manual time entries saves time and adds efficiency in its own right, but this feature also allows firms to more effectively and accurately generate KPIs (key performance indicators) while providing valuable business insights. Law firms can collect and analyze the correct data while also making data-driven decisions in a proactive way, rather than putting out fire after fire, without any metric for understanding where, when and how they were doused.

When law firms employ passive timekeeping programs, time is truly on their side.

More Time and Billing Features Within Smokeball

One of the best recent advances in legal tech involves the visualization of data via dashboards, rather than segregating that information only to reports. Now, of course, Smokeball features default reports and the option to customize reports. But, they’ve also added some nifty graphical displays, like color-coded pie charts, related to time capture and revenue.

Also, once time is captured, users can add that time to invoices in bulk. In terms of invoice management, users can edit line items and revise the look and feel of invoices on the fly. Invoices will capture all outgoing funds for clients, including trust funds. And, various payment options are available for clients, including e-invoice links, to which law firms can add payment reminders.

Phasers Set to Stunning: Smokeball Helps Law Firms Build Efficient Workflows

Like most case management software, Smokeball aggregates matters by matter type — which can also be used as templates to set up new matters more quickly. Smokeball, however, also captures leads, having built CRM (customer relationship/lead management software) features into its system, which is not as common for case management tools.

Modern law firms have accepted that efficiency is the main driver of law firm revenue. So, if you are looking to maximize your revenue potential, it has become essential to focus on processes and manage tasks via workflows across the practice and via appropriate technology tools. The team at Smokeball understands that need, so the software includes pre-built phases for specific case types, which can be customized from defaults by users. Perhaps the best part is that once a stage is complete, the software can generate automated notifications to clients. Not only does this save lawyers and staff time, but it also keeps clients informed. Since an informed client is (usually) a happy client, these notifications should yield the byproduct of decreasing both formal and informal client complaints.

Smokeball users get a global view of all tasks, of course, but they can also create workflows within phases. Users can generate workflows ad hoc or create matter-specific workflows and link those to matter types (so the workflows populate automatically). This saves attorneys and staff some extra effort each time the operation is executed automatically.

Clear Outlook: Smokeball Integrates with the Office Suite

Smokeball includes over 20,000 court forms out of the box – that’s a lot; and, Smokeball will build out additional forms based on user requests while also working separately to add to its existing collection. Smokeball uses a ‘hybrid cloud’ for document management, meaning that some documents will also be available offline; users can toggle documents for offline availability with the click of a button. As previously alluded to, Smokeball also offers full-scale document assembly via a Microsoft Word add-on (that’s how Smokeball gets in your ribbon) and can generate letters, other documents, and forms quickly and easily.

Smokeball also provides an Outlook email and calendar integration for law firms. To archive an email inside Smokeball, the user begins to type the appropriate matter or client name in a box below the email message. Then, when the right matter pops up, it’s just a matter (see what I did there) of clicking Enter to archive the email message automatically. The absolute best part: The user only needs to do that once per thread, and all additional messages will archive automatically. A similar feature exists for calendar appointments. LawToolBox is currently a popular integration for Smokeball, but it will soon be available natively in the product.

Communication Breakdown: Smokeball Offers Lots of Communication Options for Law Firms

As with case management software in general, Smokeball effectively aggregates law firm data to matters, including communications data — so users get that really helpful timeline view of communications.  In addition to viewing communications via the specific matter view, law firms can also access that chronological view via the Communicate tab. Law practice management software remains the most effective way to relate data to law firm matters — and that includes organizing the almost overwhelming amount of interactions attorneys and staff have with clients.

Smokeball has also added a Slack-like internal communications tool so that law firm staff can communicate via the case management software without resorting to email. Pushing all, or most, staff communication to a law practice management software can save your inbox, ensuring only mission-critical client communications show up there. Communicating in-system also means users can take advantage of this feature to effectively aggregate communications to specific matters, which is the essential benefit of case management software. Smokeball’s internal, persistent chat feature can also be used for communicating with clients.

Smokeball has added some red hot features, with the promise of additional functionality arriving in 2022.

Now’s the time to look at Smokeball — before you’re staring down the barrel of another year of being tied to substandard software.

Attorney at Work’s sponsored Product Reviews and Product Spotlights showcase news and features from legal technology industry leaders. For more information, click here.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Jared Correia Jared Correia

Jared D. Correia is CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, which offers subscription-based law firm business management consulting services, and works with legal vendors to develop programming and content. Jared is also COO of Gideon Software, Inc., which offers intelligent messaging and predictive analytics software built exclusively for law firms. A former practicing attorney, Jared is the host of the Legal Toolkit podcast and speaks frequently at industry events. In addition to his Attorney at Work column, Managing, he writes an advice column for Lawyerist and on tech startups for Above the Law. Follow him @JaredCorreia.

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