Larry Port consistently heard from his attorney friends in small law firms that there was a lack of options when it came to automating their office management. And Port likes options.

So while working for a Florida-based company that develops human resources and payroll software, he did some computer consulting on the side and further explored his friends’ complaints. What he found was that no Web-based practice management software existed. The traditional option was software that came in shrink-wrapped packages and required databases set-up on servers with someone assigned to maintain and monitor the system, all at a cost of several thousand dollars.

So he and a co-worker, Ariel Jatib, designed a product called Rocket Matter that is strictly online and cuts overhead costs for the solo practitioners and smaller firms that can’t or don’t want to invest in the traditional software.

And since launching its pilot version of the program last year, Rocket Matter has commanded a lot of attention in legal blogs and publications, including the ABA Journal.

Lawyers have the ability to track billable hours as they’re accumulated with a program that combines a calendar, contact manager, matter manager and to-do list manager into one product. It also relays phone messages, prints invoices and handles basic accounting tasks.

Port and Jatib will soon unveil a new feature that allows lawyers to store up to 100,000 documents in the system with tagging features that group documents by various categories to eliminate use of folders. All of it geared toward the lawyer who wants accessibility on a Mac, PC or iPhone and from anywhere they have Internet access.

“A law firm can record all baseline operations through this,” said Port, 33, who developed software for Wall Street firms after earning his master’s in computer science from New York University. When it comes to the flexibility of online practice management, “you’re going to see more and more of this.”

‘A BIG PLUS’

The company is hoping to capitalize on solo practitioners and small firms that have embraced the use of Web-based technology in their practices in the past few years.

Meriden solo attorney William E. Carter found out about Rocket Matter through a large online attorney network he communicates with through listservs. As a former IT professional who became a bar member last May, Carter was looking for an automated management system for a Mac and found few options.

“The data is secured and backed up on remote servers and that was a big plus to me,” said Carter, who handles consumer bankruptcies and foreclosures. “I could handle all of that, but having someone else do it for me was very attractive. I want to dedicate my time to my law practice.”

Kansas attorney Grant Griffiths, one of the leading voices for solo attorneys and the discussion of legal technology and the paperless office, said in a blog posting that he had been frustrated by the lack of case management software for small firms and was pleased with Rocket Matter’s performance.

“Sure there is software out there,” he stated. “And some of it is great. And you have to mortgage the house and first born to afford it.”

Rocket Matter’s pricing breaks down to monthly payments ranging from $39 to $59, based on the number of users.

ON THE FLY

Port and Jatib started discussing Rocket Matter in December 2006 and wrote the program’s first code in January 2007. By the end of 2007, the software was installed in a local Florida law office where the duo was changing the software on the fly as users provided feedback.

“We reached out [to the legal community] and thought it was just going to be a local product,” Port said. “We did not expect to launch this conversation.”

That was aided by Mac-using lawyers who got word of the new software and started blogging about it. When Rocket Matter was mentioned in a March 2008 ABA Journal article debating the use of Macs versus PCs in the law office, interest in the product grew rapidly.

“We got leads pouring in,” Port said, “and we had to really ramp up our operations.”

But naturally there are detractors.

Port and Jatib have heard concerns from lawyers who are hesitant to trust the security of a management system that does not include local servers. In response, Rocket Matter has adapted with a feature that allow clients to download and back up their information and store it locally for additional peace of mind, beyond the data backup and security features built into the system.

Port continues to push Rocket Matter out to the masses, mainly through online discussions that he and other legal tech bloggers initiate. He said firms from every part of the country in every size marketplace have signed on with Rocket Matter, and the company is starting to see more growth among larger firms of eight to 15 lawyers.

“We’re trying to just get the conversation going” Port said. “We’re trying to grow everywhere.”