CALA Update: Five Months of Smokeball


Written by:

Jane Oxley


December 17, 2015


It has been five months since we began our partnership with CALA, and we are excited to bring you this update the Executive Director, Lam Nguyen Ho.

Five Months of Smokeball: Improved Technology, Increased Productivity

By: Lam Nguyen Ho

It’s been five months since CALA (Community Activism Law Alliance) started our partnership with Smokeball under the Legal Clinics & Pro Bono Attorneys program. Simply stated, we are absolutely thrilled with how much Smokeball has improved our organization, and our productivity—even more than we initially envisioned! While there are numerous ways in which Smokeball has helped us complete our work more effectively, save time, and improve the quality of our services; some of the components that have been most impactful for us are document production, time management and organization, and mobile, comprehensive access to case data information.

Automated document production has saved us countless hours.

The feature that we use, and are enormously grateful for, every day is Smokeball’s automated document production. For virtually every case, we rely upon Smokeball to create case documents: court pleadings, discovery, and even correspondences. What used to take an hour can often be completed in less than 15 minutes, or multiple hours reduced to less than an hour. Importantly, Smokeball continues to increase the number of documents, and types of cases, supported by the feature; the additional immigration and criminal records documents that can be automated have been particularly useful for our target clients (undocumented immigrants, day laborers, and victims of human trafficking). Even for documents that are not currently supported, CALA attorneys can create and upload their own templates, allowing us to extend the feature for our specific needs. Honestly, our staff can’t imagine ever using a case management that does not have automated documents.

CALA’s work is so much better organized.

Unlike the previous systems we’ve used, Smokeball integrates many functions for organizing our case handling. Since legal practice—especially in legal aid, where there are so many more low-income individuals needing legal help than we are able to serve—involves lots of timing requirements, being able to keep track of deadlines, assignments, and case activity is critical. We’ve relied tremendously on the various tools that Smokeball provides for these needs such as daily e-mail digests with all our tasks for the day (including overdue items!), a task manager, checklists, and a “next step” tab. By far, it’s the best program I’ve used (in over 10 years of experience) for not only handling my caseload, but also for managing the entire organization’s docket.

Smokeball recently updated the software, so there are even more case organization tools that we are learning to use. We’re particularly excited about the new workflow feature that allows us to create time-organization templates based upon case types. This means that we can create  schedules of tasks and deadlines that will automatically be loaded for any new cases; very useful for younger attorneys working on cases in which they have less experience.

CALA needs to be completely mobile, and Smokeball makes that happen.

CALA’s unique model brings legal aid directly into the communities that need our services; this means that we need to be completely mobile. Instead of sitting in an office (downtown), waiting for our clients to come to us, we do our work all inside community locations on the south and west sides of Chicago. We were initially most excited for Smokeballs’ generosity in providing us free licenses because we saw that Smokeball would allow to easily access our files in whichever community we are working. After 5 months of travelling between our four clinic locations and numerous community legal education and workshop locations across Chicagoland, Smokeball has proven itself over and over again. We’ve been able to connect to clients, takes notes about their issues, help them fill out life-changing applications, create court documents, and so much more…all thanks to Smokeball.

We can’t express enough how much Smokeball has made our work better, more efficient, and faster. Our partnership has been a tremendous success for CALA, and more importantly, for our low-income, underserved clients!


For more information on CALA, please visit the CALA website or to find out more information about Smokeball program for legal clinics and pro bono attorneys.

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