July 24th, 2012 by Gwynne Monahan
Meet Michael J. P. Schewe, the founding attorney and chief operating officer of Schewe Law LLC.
Tell us a little about your practice, and your firm.
My main office is in Newark New Jersey and I have a satellite office in upstate New York. My practice covers employment, immigration, family and criminal law.
Interesting. Sounds very specialized.
It’s funny how you fall into certain things. Get a little experience here and there and it takes on a life of its own. I don’t believe in the whole general practice idea. It is impossible to be great at everything, so you should specialize in things that you know and for which you can provide excellent client service.
I’ve always been very passionate about employment-related issues. I worked for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington, D.C., for a summer and for a very well-known attorney in New York City as well. In law school, I did Immigration work with solo practitioner. I didn’t know anything about it, didn’t take any immigration law courses, so it turned into an independent study. I learned pretty fast because I had to.
At orientation for Seton Hall, the dean told us that “If you think you know what you’re going to do after law school from day one, you’re probably wrong. Go in with an open mind.”
How did you get from law school to opening your own firm?
I joined up with the solo I was working for during law school. I wanted to get my feet wet, and it was a trial by fire. I think the first day I got my lawyer’s ID card I was in Court. After about a year, I found some cheap office space in downtown Newark. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, so I moved downtown and never looked back.
It doesn’t feel like it, but that was about two years ago. I knew after that first year I had enough experience to handle it on my own. I had been in immigration court 20-30 times, family court a bunch, 3-5 civil litigation cases, and a full federal court trial. Been where I needed to be, seen what I needed to see.
When the opportunity presented itself, I decided it was time to make the jump. I was 25 at the time, and I told myself that, if I really want my own practice someday and I’m not going to take the risk now, when am I going to do it? When I have a family and kids going to college? I said, if it blows up in my face, I’m still young and I can just transition into something else.
In hindsight, it was the right move. Then again, what isn’t?
What did you use before Clio?
With my other firm, I knew we had to modernize to compete. No one was talking to each other and our idea of task management was stacking files on each other’s desks. I pushed hard to get something in place to help shore it up.
I ended up starting with Abacus. It was very expensive, especially right out of the gate and it was “clunky,” I think is the best way to describe it. It’s not a web-based program, but instead software you had buy and install on the network with individual licenses for every machine. One of the benefits I thought we’d have was being able to work from home and seamlessly transition back to the office. Unfortunately, because it wasn’t web-based, unless you were in range of the server, you had to work offline and then sync up when you got back to the office. That seems like what we had already.
Abacus was not what I was looking for. I wanted something that would update from everywhere we were and make real-time changes. Create a task, enter a call, everyone can see it immediately.
Even the layout looked like something that was on my old IBM when I was 7 years old. Gray boxes, Clipart icons, etc. It had some intriguing functionality where you could have task rules that built off one another, but you basically had to program that all yourself. I didn’t have time for that. Not user friendly.
And because it was so hard to use, we weren’t really using it. I didn’t have the time to transition the entire office to paperless and train everyone.
When I started my own practice, I knew I wanted something out of the gate and (now knew) I wanted a web-based option: something that would sync everywhere with a low monthly cost per month. I surveyed the options and Clio was far and away the best choice. There was Rocket Matter, and Advologix, and some hybrid models like Chrometa, but Clio had all the functionality from the start.
What made you decide on Clio? Did you try out any other solutions?
Everything works together: documents, tasks, matters and billing. Everything is in the same place, it’s all connected. I don’t have to keep skipping from one program to another.
What problems did Clio help your firm solve?
Billing. With the increase in the time that you actually capture and bill, Clio pays for itself every month. Even just tracking down who owes bills. Try doing that when you have 110 cases in Redwells. Now, I just click on the Bills tab and I see it all right there. Trust me, it is a lot easier to collect that way.
I’ve never had any malpractice-type issues, but I feel much more confident with Clio in place so if something does come up, I have notes from all the phone calls, court, and emails that come in. Clio gives me the confidence that if a malpractice issue does come up, I can show that we’re doing things the right way, thinking out problems, checking conflicts, those kinds of things.
Another nice thing about it is that Jack’s very approachable, and they listen. When there’s something people don’t like, or something that isn’t working exactly right, they go in and fix the system. I’ve had email and phone conversations with Jack before, and some of things we discussed have been put in place or are in the works.
So Clio solved the problems right from the beginning that I thought it would. Now it continues to get better and improves by listening to what actual customers are thinking.
What did you find to be Clio’s most valuable feature?
What I like about Clio is the Billing. Time tracking is so easy, and they just improved the functionality again by allowing for flat-fees and alternative fee arrangements. It is so easy to track bills too. You can figure out your Accounts Receivable with a glance and that saves time. And anything that saves time, saves money.
I haven’t even had the time to get into document templates. That’s going to be an absolute life saver. It we’re having this conversation a year from now, that would probably be my answer. But, right now, it’s the ability to track time and bill. I’ve never had a client argue about a bill because it’s all there. Every call, every email, clearly expressed, and they appreciate that.
Send a bill that just says four thousand dollars and your client will undoubtedly respond: “what’s that for.” With Clio, it’s all laid out and your client can say: “wow, I can see that you really worked hard on this.”
Billing isn’t sexy, but it’s important. You’re not going to be able to help people for very long if you have $0 in your bank account.
What benefits have you realized from Clio that you didn’t anticipate?
I had thought about this document automation idea before, but I didn’t know that Clio would go fully into it , so that was a surprise. I mean it makes sense. You’re inserting so much content into your Clio database: contact info, matter numbers, docket numbers, statute of limitations, etc. So for Clio to take that to the next level and automatically input information into your templates, that’s awesome. There are a multitude of document management and form creators out there, but if Clio can really develop this and make it competitive with those, that’s one less thing your firm needs. And who wouldn’t rather do it all in Clio?
At my previous firm, we had a form creator, so you had to put all the data into that. And then we had our practice management software, so we copied it all in there. But the point is, if you don’t have to do it twice, you save time. When you consider all the things Clio does that others don’t, and Clio does it all in the same place, you’re saving time compared to having a separate program for each.
If document management takes off, and the functionality is good, Clio is going to see a lot more people converting over who are paying ridiculous prices for whatever the other software is.
I also think Clio getting out to all the bar associations and offering a discount is helping them grow. People not only like a discount, but once people see their bar association has put its stamp of approval on web-based practice management software, a lot of attorneys with ethical questions will start to say “well, how bad can it be if the bar association is supporting and promoting this software?” I think that’s a smart move that worked well for Fastcase as well.
Have Clio & “the Cloud” changed the way you practice law? If so, how?
It’s made the way I practice law a lot lighter. I still have very skinny paper files (you can say you’re paperless, but you’re never truly paperless…just “less paper”). As far as what I need on a day-to-day basis, going to court, sometimes I don’t bring the paper file. I just bring my laptop, especially if I am going to a court with Wi-Fi. Everything is there, even on my phone.
For example, one time a judge asked for a marriage certificate and, while the other attorney was shuffling through his file, I pulled it up on my phone and showed it to the judge. The judge was impressed.
I walk just about everywhere, so lighter is better. That’s the beauty of being downtown, being able to walk to the courts, however, I wouldn’t have that liberty if I was constantly dragging around giants Redwells.
Clio Connect is another way Clio has changed the way I practice law. It’s a great way for me to stay connected with my clients, give them access to bills and documents. Communication is the number one problem that clients cite with their attorney. Clio Connect helps bridge that gap.
You can’t be a solo practitioner and not try to get a leg up on the big guys. Technology is leveling the playing field. If it wasn’t for these little techie shortcuts and devices we can use to leverage ourselves, we couldn’t be able to compete. Clio is a big part of the reason I can compete with the big guys.
How did you find the process of getting up and running with Clio?
For me it was easy because, when I started, I only brought a few files with me from my other office. I did have to convert those in, but that was good practice of how I’d be doing it moving forward. It was a big undertaking, since I went back in time and put everything in that I would’ve if I’d had Clio the entire time, but it ran pretty seamlessly after that.
Having tried to do it with earlier with Abacus, I can see how if you have a lot of files, the transition would be more difficult. If I was going to compound what I had to do by 20 or 30 times, that’s a massive project. If you’re coming at it after years of paper files, you’ll have to decide if this what you’re using from now on, or you anticipate going back in time and converting everything over.
That would be a tougher transition but, for me, it was easy. I knew I wanted to have something in place before I even opened the door. I converted the little bit I had over, and everything since has fit right in after it.
How has Clio improved your firm and the service you offer your clients?
Clio Connect gives the client a window on what it is you’re doing. Task management, making sure deadlines and don’t get forgotten. If I am walking to the courthouse and remember something I need to do, I just pull up the Clio App and enter it. I’m not relying on my brain or sheets of paper. I’m not missing deadlines, or important hearings, and when a client comes in I can pull everything up and know very quickly what’s going on in their case.
The thing clients complain about the most is that, when they go in to their attorney’s office, they feel their attorney doesn’t know what’s going on in their case. The attorney is trying to catch up, flipping through their paper file, asking the client the same questions. The nice thing about Clio is that, right before client comes in, I can run through my notes, our last few phone calls/emails, so I know exactly what’s going on with the case.
It’s the little things; things maybe they don’t even notice but concerns I appreciate and anticipate. I also see their satisfaction come out in their comments when we do exit interviews. People feel very involved with their case, and tell us how they think we did a good job with their case.
You do exit interviews?
Yes. Every case has an exit interview. There’s the closing letter for liability purposes, essentially saying the case is over, their documents were returned, and the attorney-client privilege no longer applies, but I also have a client satisfaction survey. It’s optional, but almost every client fills it out, and then we talk about it. What they liked, what they didn’t like, and what I can do better.
If you’re not getting feedback from clients, how do you improve? I tell them to be honest, especially on things we could’ve done better. One wished we had PayPal, so we got PayPal right away. Another said we took too long to return a call, so we restructured the call policy.
You have to ask them or you’re not going to know. The exit interview is a relatively small time investment, but it yields amazing results. Not everyone will respond in a meaningful way, but many clients who come back do, and the next time they come in and see you’ve made changes, they’re certainly going to appreciate that.
Have you had any experiences with Clio’s support team?
A little. Whenever I run into questions or things, there’s usually enough information available already in the forums.
I haven’t had too many issues with Clio really. Sometimes I have suggestions to improve the functionality, and when I do reach out they have responded promptly.
Would you recommend Clio to your colleagues?
I would and I frequently do, whenever it comes up. I’m a big supporter of practice management software period and, whenever someone’s talking about the transition, I’m always a big Clio ambassador just because I’ve had such a good experience with it. I can’t imagine my practice without it.
I see other attorneys struggling and floundering to stay organized. I want to help other attorneys imagine how much better the practice of law would be if we were all doing it this way. We would all be a lot happier I am sure.
Mac or PC?
PC. Last time I upgraded my laptop I was threatening to join the cult of Jobs, but I couldn’t. I’m not cool enough I guess (or a graphic designer). I’ve also been avoiding the iPhone. Just got my Droid Razr Maxx, and it’s fantastic. Screen is huge, battery lasts forever, and the functionality is amazing. The 4G is lightning fast.
Phones are getting to the point now where I can’t even keep up with all the stuff they do. I’ve been really trying to get into voice recognition now. I feel there is so much phones can do, but all I pay attention to is their music. I’m working on it.
In the end, I’m a PC guy. If that’s dorky, too bad, I’m dorky.