Thomson Reuters’s Firm Central: New technology that actually does make your job easier

November 1, 2013

Man using digital tabletI write a lot about new technologies in the legal field. 

On the other hand, I’m admittedly not one who adopts new technology merely for its own sake.  I will typically refrain from using technologies that fail to present an immediate benefit to my practice – with the most recognized benefit being making my job easier.

Simply put, I won’t use new technology that doesn’t immediately save me time or energy.

A lot of advancements tout the ability to reduce the amount of time and energy that a lawyer expends, but I honestly have not found this to be the case with the vast majority of the new technologies that I’ve tried out.  Maybe I don’t give the particular technology enough of an opportunity, or maybe I’m particularly lazy, but most of the time, the new technology just adds another step in my established workflow without significantly reducing the time I spend on others.

As you can probably guess by now, I’m pretty skeptical when it comes to new technologies and their claims of making my job as an attorney easier.

I approached Thomson Reuters Firm Central with the same skepticism.  When I first heard about it (after Thomson Reuters approached me to write a review about it), I initially thought, “Here’s another new technology that I’ll use for a week or two, and then forget about because it will be too much of a hassle.”

Well, I’m happy to report that I was wrong.

Firm Central truly is one of those rare new technologies that actually makes your life as a practicing attorney easier.

How does it accomplish this?  It’s basically an office assistant that lives in the cloud.

Here is a list of the kinds of things it does for your law practice:

  • Case management;
  • Calendar and scheduling;
  • Billing and invoicing;
  • Document storage, review, and retrieval;
  • Contacts phonebook; and
  • Legal research.

The short description given for each doesn’t begin to explain what Firm Central can actually do, so I’ll go through and explain them all in more detail.  First, though a little about the layout.

One of the aspects of Firm Central that first appealed to me was the ease in which it is accessible.

You can access it from anywhere by just going to the login page (the easy to remember firmcentral.westlaw.com).  You’re then brought to this screen, from which you can access any function of Firm Central with just a mouse click:

 Firm Central screen 1

The folks at Thomson Reuters don’t just throw you into the deep end once you get signed up for Firm Central; you can actually schedule a call with someone from Thomson Reuters to walk you through the website (if you elect to do so).  The individual who helped me was quite thorough (although I’m fairly certain that she had no idea that I was going to be writing about my experiences with the website).

In any case, the website is very accessible, and help’s very easy to find if you have any questions.

Now, on to the good stuff.  First, the case management feature, which is one of the most significant offerings of Firm Central.  Actually, it is its primary descriptor, and the case management aspect ties into everything thing else I described in that bulleted list above.

So to avoid stepping on the toes of any of the other features, I’ll just cover this feature in more general terms.

You can access all of your cases by clicking on the “Matters” tab on the top navigation bar.  From there, you can just click on the case you are looking for; or, if you have quite a few cases, there’s a search function that allows you to locate a specific case (you can also filter your cases by practice area and the date which the case was opened).

Once you actually click into one of your cases, you are brought to a screen that looks like this:

 Firm Central screen 2

It gives you the basics about the case at the topc and left side, and in the main part of the screen, you can find a bunch of tools to help better manage your case.

I personally find this section extremely helpful.  Instead of jotting down a to-do list on a notepad in the client’s file, there’s a “tasks” section that allows you to make an online list of what you have to do and when you have to do it by.  Likewise, instead of scribbling a note on a sticky and placing it in the file, you can add your own notes about the matter that are visible on its profile page.

Instead of having to look up a phone number in your phone directory (one maintained either electronically or in paper form), any and all contacts that you’ve entered in to the system are visible from the Matter Profile Screen.

Also, if you work in a larger firm, access to certain cases can be limited to certain users in varying degrees.

The “Recent Documents” section is where you’d find both your uploaded documents and saved research from WestlawNext (I’ll get into this more in the second part of this post, but WestlawNext links directly to Firm Central, which allows you to, among other things, save research to client matter folders).

Speaking of “Documents,” you can access all of your uploaded clients docs and saved research in the “Documents” tab, and you can access your schedule for this matter (and only this matter) from the “Calendar” tab (you can view your comprehensive schedule from the other “Calendar” tab in the main navigation bar).

And that about wraps up the basics on the system’s case management function.  As you can see, this aspect of Firm Central alone offers quite a bit on keeping your cases organized in a central, easy to access location.

But there’s quite a bit more to each aspect within the case management function, which I’ll delve into in greater detail in the second part of this post.

(Disclaimer: The author was compensated for writing this post and received free trial access to Firm Central to test out the product.)