October 12th, 2011 by Gwynne Monahan
Meet Andrew Kawel (pronounced Kav-el), founder of Kawel PLLC, an appellate boutique that handles cases in Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and the Fourth Circuit. He also practices criminal defense and commercial litigation.
First, congratulations on the launch of your firm!
What prompted you to start your own law firm?
I grew up with idea of having a family business. The dream just grew and grew to the point where I got disenchanted with the idea of working for someone else, and not being the captain of my own ship.
There is a lot more upside potential by having my own firm. Plus, I can practice law the way I think it should be practiced, take cases I want, refuse cases I don’t want, and basically call the shots. Now I’m master of my domain. I love it.
And the endeavor has been a great success so far! The whole key is staying positive. I no longer have time to entertain negative thoughts, and I don’t have room in my life for negative people. What they say is true: if you put good energy into something, good things come of it. I’m living proof: in just a few weeks, I’ve realized my dream and already have more clients than I can handle coming in. And my positivity has been the driving force.
Did you decide to incorporate?
Yes, as a PLLC for additional liability protection. It doesn’t provide professional liability protection (at least while I’m a solo), but it does cover business liability and it makes it easier to separate expenses for deductions and all of that.
What did you use before Clio?
I was working at a large AmLaw100 firm, and they had their own systems. They used DM5, also known as Hummingbird, for document management, and Provantage for billing (but I didn’t really get into that part). Since settling on Clio that’s all I’ve been using.
What made you decide on Clio? Did you try out any other solutions?
I like that it puts everything together: billing, timekeeping, client contact information, case numbers. It all relates to one another and I really appreciate that. I can keep track of time with timers, and link time. I like the communications tabs to jot down phone conversations, and the ability to import email into the system. I can see all the contact I’ve had with the client, and see how the case progressed.
That was really difficult at the big law firm. Some attorney notes were hand written, some were in Outlook. I can’t stand Outlook. It’s too hard to search, so I setup a Google Apps account for my firm. And with Clio, I can bcc a client file when sending and receiving emails, which helps cut down on search time and frustration. Makes my day go much more smoothly, and saves time and improves my bottom line.
The less time spent tracking down notes and finding emails, the more time I have to make money.
I did look into Rocket Matter, but I just remember the functionality wasn’t as robust, and data exporting and all that wasn’t quite as good. I don’t remember if Rocket Matter allows Quickbooks connection, or whether it has its own accounting, but Clio had it all connected, which makes my trust accounting that much easier. Everything is connected to the case so I can make sure balances in single trust accounts are correct.
What problems did Clio help your firm solve?
In starting out on my own, I was looking for an affordable way to set up shop. I didn’t want to go out and buy 5 different pieces of software and try to put it all together, Frankenstein-style. For the low monthly fee, Clio provides all the functionality at once and saves me from paying for additional IT support.
Also, as a solo and a younger attorney, I like the mobility. I can access Clio on my iPhone, my iPad, my MacBook Air, and my iMac. I operate a virtual office on Capitol Hill, so it’s helpful to have access to all my files when I go there. I use Dropbox, too, to keep files straight and synced across all computers—and I’m very excited about Clio’s new Dropbox integration! Client notes, trust accounting—it’s nice to have it all at my finger tips. And when I visit family in Michigan, I can log on via my parents’ computer and everything is right there.
The father of a friend of mine has a practice that focuses on medical malpractice, out on Long Island. He suggested I use Daylight and FileMaker Pro since he does that, and it works for him. He has to maintain the database himself, though, and backup all the files. I didn’t want to have to do that. With Clio, it’s like having an IT department without having to hire anyone.
What other technology do you use for your law practice?
Apart from the hardware I already mentioned, I use Dropbox, Google Voice, and Gmail (via Google Apps). It would be cool to integrate Google Voice into Clio, too. Then there would be a record of the call to associate with client file. I realize there’s a lot of difficultly setting that up, but it would be fantastic. I also use a ScanSnap S1500 to run (almost) paperlessly.
I’m a stickler for data backup, so I run several redundant backup systems with my files. I use Time Machine and have separate off-site backups. I have a bootable backup drive attached to my iMac. And Clio is like an additional redundant backup. I appreciate that. It’s kind of a safety net, just in case.
And whether you consider them to be “technology” or just creature comforts, I have a standing desk and a gel pad to stand on, a portable bookstand for reading, and several full-spectrum lights.
What did you find to be Clio’s most valuable feature?
The integration. It’s not particularly one feature over another, it’s the fact that all of them are there. I love the communications tab: it’s nice to jot down attorney notes from phone calls and client meetings. And, of course, the e-mail dropboxes are tremendously helpful. I can see everything that is going on in the case at once.
What benefits have you realized from Clio that you didn’t anticipate?
None come to mind. When I buy software I expect it to be excellent. I’m pleased that it’s operating as expected.
I do have a suggestion.
Sure. What’s your suggestion?
The Calendar tab is great, however, people who use Google Calendars share them often, so to protect client confidentiality I have a separate Google Calendar for firm-related things. I don’t want others to have access to that, to see that I’m meeting with a particular client. Although it’s nice that Clio can show me the law firm and personal firm calendar, there’s no way to import, as far as I can tell, someone’s personal calendar into Clio so you can see how the schedule all lays out. It’d be nice to be able to see work-related events and personal events on the same screen to detect overlaps.
Probably more on Google, but it’d be nice if I could somehow import my Clio calendar into my personal Google Calendar, too, just so that it would show my time is blocked.
The Clio Calendar and Tasks are the two things I don’t really use. And I don’t use Tasks because I use Omnifocus. If there were a way to connect Clio to Omnifocus, that would be like the holy grail for me. Same thing with Evernote, you know, be able to link an Evernote Notebook to the file in Clio.
Good to know. Will pass those on. So, have Clio & “the Cloud” changed the way you practice law? If so, how?
Generally yes, personally probably not. Even at the big law firm, I would use tools and technology that were efficient, and worked with my style. It would’ve been more difficult to start my own firm without Clio, though.
How did you find the process of getting up and running with Clio?
Pretty painless. I kinda poked around when I first signed up, but you don’t really see how it works until you start putting client information in. Once I started getting clients, it all came together. But it’s kind of a no-brainer. Seems idiot proof to me.
Has Clio improved your firm and the service you offer your clients?
Yes, just because I have more time available. I have access to all or most of my files wherever I’m at, as long as I have an Internet connection. I can travel freely, and still work on cases when away from my desk.
Have you had any experiences with Clio’s support team?
Yes. I signed up for Clio, probably in August, and at that time I wasn’t sure what my last day at the old law firm was going to be. I didn’t have any clients coming in at the time and I wasn’t able to explore Clio to make sure it was what I wanted. I called up to see if I could get the trial period extended, and give it a test once I was up and running and you guys put that through without a hitch. I was really thankful for that.
Would you recommend Clio to your colleagues?
Yes, I definitely would. I have a buddy who is planning on leaving his job at a big firm and going out on his own in January or February. I may have already recommended it to him, but I will certainly recommend it to him again.
Mac or PC?
Mac. The summer I took the bar I bought an iPhone. I’ve had it for over 2 years now and it still works, flawlessly. So the iPhone started my love affair with Macs. I bought an iPad 2, and liked it just as well, and that led to an iMac desktop (great for word processing!), and finally a MacBook Air to access everything at my virtual office. I’m certainly a Mac convert.