#GoneClio: Law Office of Bruce Godfrey

Meet Bruce Godfrey, a Maryland lawyer who focuses primarily on labor law including unemployment and unpaid wage disputes, criminal and motorist defense cases, and tax disputes and collection issues. He is also licensed to practice in the District of Columbia.

Tell us a little about how you started.

I went to law school because I wanted to put sex offenders in jail. I didn’t become a prosecutor though. I found other work more interesting and wound up finding I just didn’t have the stomach to handle either side.

I learned about solo practice as an option in law school, and was more attracted to it. I’m a child of a small business person. My father ran a fishing tackle artisan shop out of the home, so I grew up in an environment of self employment as a normal part of life. I didn’t make the connection with solo practice until law school. Jay Foonberg’s book was the drug “Keeping and getting good clients.”

After graduation, I worked in a medium sized firm, learned a lot there but knew in my heart I was ultimately going to setup my own practice.

I’ve been licensed in Maryland since 1994. I set out on my own in 2009, and before that I did a variety of work, from corporate support in DC to a broad-based middle class full service law firm, business and tax advice to criminal defense to traffic court, assisting large firms in international cases.

That’s quite a variety.

It is. So my background is an odd mix of different experiences. I’ve help represent billion dollar corporations and homeless people. I decided, for family reasons, to set up my own practice in 2009. I now have flexibility to be with my children.

Nice. What did you use before Clio?

I didn’t fully perceive the need for a comprehensive system for practice management. Things that Clio does, I did through various means without thinking of them as something that could be unified in a practice management set, particularly one like myself could access.

Big firms had systems that stayed on their servers, and I’m familiar with some of those programs like Needles. I once worked with one enormous and bulky program and found it cumbersome and difficult to learn. An unhelpful tool. But it didn’t occur to me that there was something I could access.

For escrow accounting I use Quickbooks, which is poorly designed for escrow accounting. I put notes in a paper file. For calendaring, I used Google Calendar, and still do but now it integrates with Clio. To do lists are kept on my cell phone or scrap paper.

So I didn’t have a good unified system. I still got my work done but it wasn’t the quality of time keeping and follow through that Clio has helped me achieve. In 2009, when starting, I had fewer files than I do now, so the need for something like Clio is more urgent now than it was in 2009, even though Clio was very helpful.

What made you decide on Clio? Did you try out any other solutions?

I heard about your esteemed competitor Rocket Matter, and I have nothing bad to say about them but I tried Clio, and the design was pretty intuitive. Things seemed to make sense in Clio. Tried it out, set up a sample client, entered data and it was simple. No unnecessary bells and whistles. I like simple tools.

What I liked about Clio was its intuitive design. I’m a picky guy, few things I’d like to tweak or relabel, but as a whole it was simple and efficient. Stored what I needed to store, presented what I needed. It’s easy to access, and I can use it from my iPhone. Reports it generated, for the most part, what it did, it did well.

It’s accessible without a whole lot of barriers. You don’t need to read a manual to learn it.

And if I made a mistake, fixing it was easy. I’ve worked with programs where if you create a mistake, the mistake becomes unfixable, causes further problems and you have to call support for what is really a simple data entry error.

Timeslips, if there was a billing mistake, you were stuck with the mistake forever. Clio is a much more forgiving system, it seems. So I began to use it more, decided on a file numbering system, made it easier to correspond between data in Clio, physical file folders and my escrow management. Reconcile and create report confirming reconciliation of escrow accounts ethical requirement. Clio made that task much easier.

I look forward to Clio’s continuing advancement of product.

What problems did Clio help your firm solve?

Escrow accounting Clio has helped with a lot. Makes escrow reporting easier.

One of the great things that Clio has done integrating with Dropbox. Not just in terms of Clio having just a storage capacity, but its ability to receive documents from Dropbox. I set it up the other day, and once I got in there I realized oh wow! This is incredibly powerful! The documents usually integrate with the Matter files, and I was stunned at how good it was. I started clearing out material from my hard drive into Dropbox knowing it would go into Clio. I’ve started setting a file in Dropbox for client archiving material, a way to get it into Clio.

It was like Indiana Jones looking at the Ark: Wow. I’m a big fan of that.

Integration with Google Apps is helpful. Integration with Google Calendar is helpful as it acts as a calendar backup.

Diligence is impossible if you don’t know when something is supposed to get done. And my malpractice carrier asks me every year “do you have a calendar?” “does it have an independent backup?” Yep. Backs up to phone, Google and Clio. Calendar system constitutes compliance with that concern of liability carriers. Half of malpractice has to do with calendar and clock. Number of days to file a motion, statute of limitations, etc.

And the statute of limitations function in Clio is an extra moment to check the date. Great thing. Adding that one alone was a morally upright act by Clio, for the interest of the entire bar and clients. One more opportunity to make sure the date doesn’t get written incorrectly. There’s an extra warning.

One thing that would be helpful would be if Clio can create an escrow reconciliation report that goes back to the beginning of time, all clients past and present. Great thing to be able to do. Also create report for specific client. Great thing to be able to do. If it were able to identify clients open, or positive escrow activity in last 30 days, I could do an analysis but have that print out from part of the reconciliation report. Instead, I cut and paste off a screenshot, essentially, the clients that are now closed.

I think I follow. Can you give an example?

Baker and Delta were closed clients back in 2009, so escrow account balances are $0. They still show up in current report if I print it out. If I want to incorporate data into a current activity report, I have to spend a lot of time grabbing the data, throw it into a Word doc, then go through and itemize. Open or closed client? No activity, closed client so I cut it out of the report.

It’d also be nice to have a search function that would allow removal of clients that are closed or have $0 balance, no activity in 90 days or a $0 balance for 30 days so clients that are essentially in the archive do not get commingled with current, active clients.

Ah. OK. Will make a note to pass on that suggestion. So, what did you find to be Clio’s most valuable feature?

For me and my low overhead, light practice, most valuable feature is probably the simplicity of keeping track of accounting per clients, escrow and operating per client. The per Matter escrow and operating accounting features are the most valuable to me.

I can see an argument for others. The to do list is pretty good. System for setting up Matters is pretty good. Numbering systems are good for keeping track of files. Having Clio’s numbering system become my numbering system has made administration easy.

Per Matter escrow accounting single most valuable feature for my own practice model. Close with that is the Billing functions, which I regard as integrated with escrow.

What benefits have you realized from Clio that you didn’t anticipate?

It’s an intangible one. The benefit is the psychological benefit of debraining my practice so my brain is only engaged in the things its good for.

With everything I’ve got going on, running this practice, being a father to my children and having some type of personal life, trying to have what in the 11th grade we would’ve referred to as “having a life.” The more I can disengage my brain from anything the better. If I don’t have to remember something, I shouldn’t have to remember it at all. Should be recorded outside my brain. Using Clio to store Matters, having it be the repository for Client Notes, to do lists means my brain is not trying to be a hard drive, not trying to be an online cloud storage.

Now, legal analysis, judgement calls, my brain is free to do that. Shouldn’t be using lawyer brains as storage memory, not for work. We shouldn’t be remembering the name of a witness. Clio should remember it. And then we can go back and get that data.

Clio lets me use my brain for what it’s good for. I can disengage my brain from things that Clio is better at doing.

Have Clio & “the Cloud” changed the way you practice law? If so, how?

Don’t know that it’s changed the way I’ve practiced law as a whole. It’s changed how much I enjoy practicing law.

Clio makes it easier to move towards paperlessness. Indirectly, Clio handling the admin back end has given me more confidence and willingness to take on cases that were a little tougher. I kind of straightened my back and say “yeah this is actually something I can take on.” I was intimidated by the shear administrative burden of a case. Now I know that I can trade punch for punch.

I handled a federal wage case against Jackson Willis, the same firm that Walmart uses. They were very professional but tough. Having Clio increased my confidence to be able to say “yeah, I can fight these people.” I can go to federal court where the stakes are high, even though I’m a solo with no employees. Wouldn’t have taken on without good administrative backup from Clio.

How did you find the process of getting up and running with Clio?

It wasn’t too hard. Signing up was fairly easy. Payment method is straightforward. Sometimes it’s a little unpredictable what day of the month payments will debit the account but it can be weird to look at the bank balance and say “gee that doesn’t make sense.” Not a big deal but sometimes surprising. Might be helpful if Clio were a little more swift in its clock billing.

There is a difference between setting up and getting comfortable with it though. Took a little while to get comfortable but a good deal less than if I’d bought Amicus Attorney. Getting generally accustomed to the Clio interface didn’t seem to take too long. Fairly straightforward.

Has Clio improved your firm and the service you offer your clients?

I believe it has. It’s made it easier for clients to get documents. Sometimes I share documents, with some clients. There’s the communications email portal, and email address created for every Matter. I’ll CC it on ordinary emails so that they land immediately into Clio’s backup.

Have you had any experiences with Clio’s support team?

Yes. Just the other day, there seemed to be a problem with the physical layout. Either Clio or the browser, not sure which one it was. Gave me some advice on clearing my cache, which didn’t make any sense but they’re Support, but whatever happened it went away. Menu bar at the top of the welcome screen was misaligned so buttons were unclickable, sliding them below the image that’s part of the welcome screen. Don’t know what it was, in the browser or something experimental Clio was doing, I couldn’t get it to go away. But Clio Support was helpful, do this, do this see if it goes away, was very happy. A pleasure working with them.

Would you recommend Clio to your colleagues?

Yes, and I have done so and will do so again. Meeting with a young law student who wants to setup his own practice. Still in law school but starting to think “what do I need to do now” and when I meet with him for coffee, he’ll probably ask “how do you do it,” talk about escrow, marketing, what tools I use, website hosting, what practice management I use.

Mac or PC?

Macs exclusively.

Eighteen months ago I wanted to upgrade my computer and I’d be using a PC. In college I used Macs exclusively, and I had heard a number of good things about lawyers using Mac, and decided I wanted one.

I didn’t want to have to deal with viruses, the bugginess of Windows annoyed me. Not that Macs are perfect, but I made the choice to buy a Mac laptop, and I’m extremely happy with the choice. Everything a Mac prints can be a PDF, which has saved my practice an untold amount of time and money on conversion software. Saved my practice a great deal of aggravation, too. I like the style of the Mac, I like it’s efficiency and it’s intuitive interface.