Meet Joe Bahgat of Bahgat Law LLC. Drawing on his personal and professional experience, he advises clients in matters relating to intellectual property licensing and contract negotiation, drafting, and litigation; trademark and copyright protection; and Internet and privacy law.
So tell us a little bit about you and your firm.
I’ve wanted to be an attorney since I was a kid. And after struggling in Manhattan for a few years as a professional musician, I decided that when I did become an attorney I wanted to work with and help artists and musicians. I felt like there were so many artists and musicians who needed legal advice about intellectual property and performance and recording contracts, but that legal counsel wasn’t readily available to them.
That was my idea from the start, but when I got to law school, I was quickly discouraged by people telling me it wouldn’t work, that it wasn’t a viable practice area. So I put it on the back burner, and focused on other areas of law that I was interested in. I still took IP courses, but also focused on business law, constitutional and criminal law, anything that seemed interesting. I even worked in the criminal prosecution clinic, with a justice-for-children project, and competed on the First Amendment Moot Court team.
Wow. Sounds like you made the most of what law school had to offer.
I was probably a total geek, but oh well. So I kept up with the business law thing when I worked for big law; I worked in the business litigation group at first, though I ended up with the construction law group—certainly an area of law I never expected getting into. But I was happy, because I thought big law was it, what I was going to do, probably because it’s what I saw growing up, what I saw my parents doing. And when my father went solo, later in his career, it reinforced my desire to be in big law.
Because I was able to see the difference. And I didn’t like seeing my father struggle.
Interesting. So how did you get from big law to solo practice?
Having gone to Ohio State for law school, I really wanted a judicial clerkship. It’s something they drilled into us as students, I guess. So I jumped at an opportunity to clerk for one of my law school mentors, who was someone I really respected and admired. When I took that clerkship, I planned on leaving after a year, and going back to big law, but then the economy crashed, and employment prospects were nil. Luckily I was able to keep my clerkship, which was beneficial for more reasons than just staying employed. As an appellate court clerk I saw everything under the sun in terms of types of cases, and I had the opportunity to write some rather groundbreaking decisions. Not only did that give me great insight into appellate practice, but also into the various areas of substantive law that was the subject of those decisions.
But after several years of clerking I was beginning to feel complacent, and I felt like I had to move on. I started interviewing with firms, but didn’t like my prospects, what I was finding. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have dreamed of going out on my own, but I felt like I’d handled enough cases and made enough professional contacts that I could make a go of it.
So I initially joined my father’s solo practice, which was family law and criminal defense. I also brought in some business litigation matters. And after a short while I decided that I wanted to move back to Jersey, to the New York City area, so I could open up my own practice focusing on entertainment law, which comprises a lot of the other areas of law that I’d gained experience in. Of course I knew that I wasn’t likely to sustain a brand new practice on entertainment law alone, but since there are so many areas of law within the entertainment realm, I figured I could take lots of different kinds of cases.
Interesting. So what did you use before Clio?
Daylight, which I have mixed feelings about. Daylight does a couple of things really well, but what I kept finding was that the things it didn’t do well it almost didn’t do at all. For example, great contact management, fantastic, but very poor task management. Also, it doesn’t sync well with anything, which I think is because of the complex field mapping choices.
Daylight has so many different choices, ways to customize it, but the more you customize it for your own practice, the more volatile the platform becomes, and it become even more difficult to sync it with other apps. One thing that drove me crazy was that my iPhone address book started showing virtually all of my contacts’ phone numbers and addresses as “other.” When you’re looking for so-and-so’s direct dial or fax line in a pinch, it’s maddening to try to find the right number.
Yeah. But Daylite seemed like a good deal at first. A little less than $200 for the complete software. Every once in awhile I’d have to pay for an upgrade. So if you compare it, on the surface, to any other practice management system it sounds great, especially for someone just starting out, because it’s a one-time investment and you’re done.
But what I didn’t realize at the time was that I was going to have to pay consultants to set it up and show me how to use it. After paying several hundred dollars just to get it to work, I was still having some of the same problems, and what was even more frustrating was that the more proficient I got with Daylight, the more I realized that it didn’t do what I needed it to do.
For example, Daylight integrates with Apple’s Mail program, links every email automatically to each contact, project, or matter. It’s really nice to pull up a contact and automatically seeing every email you sent to or received that person. Really great, but there are catches.
Anything you get on a mobile device, Daylight won’t save it, and the email won’t be linked. You have to physically tag it on your desktop, so you have to mark the email as “unread” on your mobile device so you remember to process it when you get back to the office. It becomes a bit of a bear, even more so when you’re out of the office for a number of days.
What made you decide on Clio? Did you try out any other solutions?
I’m not sure where I started hearing about Clio, but probably on Solosez. I got hooked up with Solosez about six months before I opened my practice because I wanted to be proactive—thought I could learn a lot from all those successful solo attorneys, and avoid some beginner mistakes. I remember hearing them talk about Clio, but I think I was still like, “no,” because of the fact that it cost $50/month, $600/yr., which to me sounded outrageous. I pretty much wrote it off all together.
Then I started working with a virtual assistant who kept singing the praises of Clio. As my virtual assistant, I wanted her to be able to work with my practice management system—Daylite—but because of the uniqueness and complexity of Daylite, she couldn’t use it. Not to mention the fact that I would’ve had to purchase an additional license. On the other hand, she told me that if I used Clio I could get a free virtual assistant account, and that we could be all hooked up to work together. So I signed up for the Clio free trial. It felt really easy (to use) right off the bat. I could share things with my VA. There was no real learning curve.
I never tried Rocket Matter, although it was recommended to me. Some folks even said it was better than Clio. I think it was more expensive than Clio, which is why I initially dismissed Rocket Matter, but now that I’ve been working with Clio for about a year, and I’ve read dozens and dozens of raves, reviews, and complaints about practice management systems, I know I’m better off with Clio.
If I can’t figure out how to do it on Clio, it’s probably because you can’t do it. I’ve emailed questions to Clio support, and they usually respond by saying “we don’t have that capability yet, but we’re working on it.” Made me feel better, like I wasn’t an idiot. Daylight, on the other hand, I couldn’t just figure it out. Tried reading support articles, watching screencasts and the like, but just couldn’t figure it out.
What problems did Clio help your firm solve?
First and foremost the ability to have an account for my VA, and to be able to delegate tasks that way. The fact that I can store all my documents in there for a given matter; although there are some features I’d like to see Clio add to the document management system, it’s far better than anything I had before. It’s better than using straight DropBox because I can see when the client has downloaded the document.
Clio doesn’t require extra configuration. I can share documents with clients, same file with client, and co-counsel and VA. I can set different permissions. I’d like to figure out a way to make it so that any document I add to Clio gets added automatically to its corresponding DropBox folder, and if I change either document it updates all copies. Maybe I can figure out an Apple script to automate that. Right now I drag and drop documents into Clio and Evernote, that way it’s guaranteed to be backed up or available in a couple places.
You use Evernote?
Yes. I don’t think I could live without it.
How do you use Evernote in your practice?
I drag all PDFs—correspondence, exhibits, everything from my ScanSnap—into Evernote. I can use the arrow keys to move documents around, and Evernote makes is available on all of my devices. It makes me more efficient because I can see what’s inside the file without actually opening it. So even if I don’t remember what I named the document, I can find it easily, more easily than I can on DropBox for example. I always have copies everywhere, which is great. And the ability to tag files is also helpful too. I can’t wait for Clio to implement tagging, by the way. Tagging helps me to keep folders organized. Helps when keeping a paperless office.
I’m also trying to build a library of my own forms, so having everything in Evernote makes it really easy to find the form I’m looking for. I would love to see an integration with Clio and Evernote. That would be awesome.
Will make a note of that. More lawyers seem to be using Evernote in their practices these days.
Yeah. I also use Evernote to keep track of phone calls. They’re searchable, and I can encrypt it if I want.
You prefer tracking phone calls in Evernote than in Clio?
Clio does let you do that, but I don’t like the way you have to do it. It’s too formal of a process, and doesn’t allow you full-text searching. If you forget the date of the call, or what you named the subject, it can take a while to find what you’re looking for. That’s why it’d be great to have an integration there. Then you wouldn’t need to do anything. Each client file could be in Evernote, and that’d solve the problem of the local copy and a copy on Clio servers.
I talked to Jack and Rian about it, and I think they said it was on their radar. Echosign, too, would be a really great addition.
Good to know. What did you find to be Clio’s most valuable feature?
Hard to narrow it down to one thing. I think it’s kind of the triumvirate of the client file. The way you can put all the documents in there, and then share whatever with whomever using Clio Connect, and the integrated billing.
Client Triumvirate. Great name.
Thanks. You know, different services do different things well, but I don’t think any service is coming close to doing that like Clio: getting documents, sharing documents, and getting bills out are all pretty important. Pretty critical to my practice anyway.
What benefits have you realized from Clio that you didn’t anticipate?
The document management I wasn’t really hip to before I starting using Clio. I’m sure it was advertised, I just didn’t realize what the capabilities were. Also Clio Connect—I thought it was just for bills. Didn’t realize its capabilities. Also, the LawPay integration.
Have Clio & “the Cloud” changed the way you practice law? If so, how?
Hard to say. I don’t really know another way. I have a lot of friends whose practices aren’t technologically driven, and I know for a fact that I couldn’t revert to that, to running my practice in the antiquated fashion that they do. I guess it works for them, which is fine, but it wouldn’t work for me. I would feel like I was handcuffed. So I suppose Clio has changed my practice quite a bit, I just can’t describe it because it’s the only way I know.
How did you find the process of getting up and running with Clio?
It couldn’t be much easier. The learning curve is next to zero, which is another real plus to the system. It doesn’t take much to learn how to use it. Pretty dummy proof. Hardest thing was getting my calendar and contacts into it, but most of that was developing my own sync strategy.
What do you mean by that?
I think that everyone has to come up with their own objectives for data syncing, based on whatever is important to them.
From my own experience, I used to think the more devices and apps that you can sync, the better you are, but that’s really not true. When you try to sync too many different databases you really create opportunities for things to get fouled up. Once I figured out what needed to sync in order for my life and practice to function smoothly, it didn’t take me long to get things in sync with Clio.
My difficulty wasn’t specific to Clio, though. It would’ve happened regardless of what system I was switching to. I spent quite a bit of time playing with different options and variations of syncing with Google, which was the key to make it work with Clio. If I do say so myself, I believe I came up with a ninja setup, at least for Mac users.
Oh? Now curiosity is piqued. Will you divulge some details?
The thing that keeps it all together is BusyCal. You can use the iCal app but it lacks some robust features for business that BusyCal has. I think it’s partly because BusyCal uses its own WebDAV server, whatever that means, but it integrates seamlessly with Google, and Google Calendar, and that’s your conduit to Clio.
You’ll have to do a little bit of work, ask yourself some questions on how you want to setup your calendar. For me, I have my main calendar for the firm, and put everything in it unless it’s clearly not firm related. If it’s personal or family related, I put that in a different calendar. It still shows up in Clio, as a household event or whatever, but it won’t show up to whomever, like my assistant won’t see that.
Right now, it’s just me and my assistant on my Clio account, but I do anticipate having more people eventually, so it’ll be nice to be able to keep my personal life sectioned off.
The other key to my organization is keeping all my tasks in OmniFocus, which also syncs easily with BusyCal. Just follow the instructions. For me, an added benefit of using OmniFocus is that I can use it as the go-to app on my iPhone: If you set it up to show appointments and tasks, you can edit them via the native iPhone app, and everything just fits together really well.
Daylite had a great mobile app, which would give you a snapshot of your daily tasks, appointments, projects, whatever, but Clio’s mobile “app” leaves a lot to be desired—doesn’t work without an Internet connection, for example—but using OmniFocus solves that completely, and I also get the powerful task management capabilities that OmniFocus is famous for. So by integrating OmniFocus with Clio I’ve turned a negative into something very positive.
Yeah. I can just empty out my head, don’t have to think about it, don’t have to worry about it. It’s in OmniFocus, and will come up on my screen when I need it to. It’s a GTD thing.
How has Clio improved your firm and the service you offer your clients?
It’s just the ability to share. Share documents, bills, accept payments if I need to. I didn’t have those capabilities with Daylite.
Have you had any experiences with Clio’s support team?
Much. A lot. My first experience was trying to get my data migrated, so I had several email exchanges and phone calls, a couple conversations with George Newton, and with Rian, over the same issue. I pretty much ran into a wall syncing contacts and calendars, and ended up with 2-3 copies of everything; just couldn’t figure a way to get it to work. But it was only after spending time with Clio’s support team that I was able to find the solution that I did, so I’m grateful for that. The Support team was really patient with me, willing to help. It was really great.
Support is really great at Clio. I guess it’s not really a selling point, because you rarely need Clio’s support. I think I needed it though because I’m extremely OCD about my data, and the fact that I was coming from Daylight, which is not where most people are coming from. My experience would’ve been different if I’d been coming from Outlook, or Amicus. But for that, and some advanced features I’m trying to figure out how to use, I wouldn’t have been in touch with Clio Support at all.
Clio Support gives a real response, though, which isn’t just regurgitating or telling me to do what I’ve already done to fix the problem. I appreciate the fact that I don’t get that canned, BS response when I contact Clio Support.
Would you recommend Clio to your colleagues?
Absolutely. I mention it to people, but for many, email tests the limits of their technology. It’s tough to get people like that to buy in. But what happens is, when I’m working with someone else and they see how easy it is to do something using Clio, they get interested. So I expect it’s only a matter of time before people start asking me about Clio.
Mac or PC?
Mac. Everything Mac.
And is there anything you’d like to add?
Yeah. We were talking about costs earlier, $600/year, which seems like a lot of money, and perhaps it is, for someone who has a solo practice or has no present practice management system. But I spent close to $1000 getting Daylight up and running, not counting time spent trying to figure things out. Sure, costs were going to go down, but I still needed a consultant. If you average those costs out over several years, the difference between Daylite and Clio isn’t as staggering as they first seem. And I think that’s important for people to consider.
I was at an ABA conference in Denver a couple months ago, and one of the presenters, Ross Kodner or Jeff Allen or Brett Burney, one of those guys had a great comparison of the costs of cloud-based SaaS v. traditional software apps, and it was kind of an eye opener because although cloud services were generally a little more expensive, the difference wasn’t nearly as significant as you might think.