Ever since I became interested in technology for the legal profession, I’ve been looking for two specific types of software that matched my expectations. The first, case management solutions, have been attacked from all angles, and I’m convinced they’ll get it right soon.
The second, well, I really want someone to come up with a system that can organize my damn contacts! Something short of a full CRM system (particularly the price point), yet more than what most contact books offered.
In the end, I want a contact management system that allows me to keep track of the professional contacts that I develop over my career, with limited peripherals that help with networking. So as I continued on my expedition to find this mystical program, I came across FullContact…
Ever since it’s acquisition of the mobile contact app Cobook, FullContact has been getting rave reviews for its contact management system – along with a few million dollars in venture capital funding. So I took it for a month-long test drive, to see how it would work for lawyers.
It Helps Me Do…
Essentially, FullContact helps with two primary components of contact management and address book organization. First, it combines address books from a number of sources, so all of your contacts are in one place. Then, using the information you’ve added to your contacts, FullContact helps you to combine your duplicates and keep your contact information up-to-date.
It Helps Me By…
FullContact combines various contact books and social media accounts into one list – your “Unified Contacts.” In Unified Contacts, FullContact intelligently merges, de-dupes, and supplements information from public data sources on your contacts, looking for any new information to keep your list current. Basic information is automatically added, but additions or changes that FullContact isn’t so sure about, it’ll run by you.
FullContact is available via several different tools. The primary platform is the web-based platform, but it syncs in real-time with iOS and Android apps, as well as a Mac app. It also creates daily backups, just in case.
The FullContact system has some really nice features, and it’s system of intelligent analysis and de-duping is something that could be really valuable for any attorney. Assuming it works. However, experience teaches me to make sure that the app is capable of handling the basics first. With one glaring exception, FullContact performs remarkably well.
1) Creating/Importing Your Contact List.
For me, no contact management system can truly be complete if it doesn’t provide considerable and robust options for each contact. Most of the basic systems that come standard with computers, tablets and smartphones tend, in my opinion, to be lacking in this area. The lack of options even extends to systems I would expect to have more, like those of the cloud-based case management systems by Clio, MyCase and Rocket Matter.
If not for one major missing item, FullContact pulls it off. All of the basic information that I want to add has a dedicated field.
Email and phone number options are extensive, and include a “Custom” entry that allows you to name it as you wish. Video conferencing systems have their own field, with a list of popular options already included.
Where you will be extremely impressed is in the “Website” or “Homepage” field. Only four options are listed. Until you hit “Custom,” and enter the name of a social networking site. As you’ll see below, nothing short of amazing.
Additionally, the “Relationship” field allows you to add any number of pre-listed relationships, such as Mother, Father, Friend, Spouse, Assistant, Manager. Again, the “Custom” section can be utilized to add things like “Paralegal” or “Referral Source.” Key for a lawyer’s networking.
There are also several different import options, allowing you to bring in contacts from your Gmail account, iCloud, your phone, your computer, a whole host of social media accounts, and, of course, the trusty “import from file” option.
Creating your contact list is made incredibly simple by FullContact, truly a strength of the application, but…
Not every part of the contact creation/importing system meets my expectations.
The glaring omission is that you are not able to designate a contact as a company. Nearly every contact management system I’ve used allows you to create entries for businesses, including the factory installed Address Book on my Mac. At present, there are no plans to include such a feature.
Additionally, you’re not able to directly link contacts together. Entering a name in “Relationship” or “Company” only creates a search term, rather than a link. Probably sufficient for most searches, but a little more thought would dramatically increase the options.
While the first category is largely met, the omissions I’ve discussed are significant, particularly for anyone using this as a CRM-like platform. While some of the functionality can be replaced by using the Tags available, they will get cumbersome, and tend to defeat the purpose of a contact management solution that self-updates.
2) State-of-the-Art System for Updates.
Fortunately, FullContact’s primary feature will make you forget about a lot of it’s lesser failings. It’s pretty damn impressive. Here’s how it works:
When you add a contact to your Uniform Contacts, FullContact uses any “unique” information identifiers (e.g. websites, blogs, phone numbers, and email addresses) to search publicly available records for the most current information on the contact. You’re also able to link your contact to any of over 100 social networks.
Any changes to publicly available information, social profiles, or email signatures (if you’re using Gmail), and you’ll be prompted to update the contact information on your home screen.
You are then taken to an update screen that looks like this:
You are also able to merge two contacts that have been identified as potentially similar. Usually, this happens most frequently after you add a new address book to your Unified Contacts, in which case you’ll see a screen like this one:
While all of these updates and the Unified Contact list is incredibly nice, there’s definitely a price to be paid. Since you’re not able to designate companies separately from people, your list is going to get mighty crowded, and it’s not easy to manage. Moreover, those businesses tend to not have the “unique” identifiers, and as a result, don’t get updated very frequently.
Another problem: no matter what you do, FullContact simply does not combine all the duplicates, mis-identifying a few along the way, too. Additionally, once you get to more than 400-500 Unified Contacts, which is definitely not out of the question for lawyers, technical issues abound across all platforms.
One click while something is loading, one hiccup in your internet, and the work you’re doing on the “S” section of your list resets up to the top, and has to re-load the entire alphabet up to that point (because you’re not able to reverse the alphabet search or simply start at a particular letter). All while consuming most of your computer’s resources – oftentimes more than 1/4 of my MacBook Pro’s available memory.
However, even with the frustration of messing with duplicates, no one can deny how awesome the contact update feature is. Users of the free account will see updates done once per week, while paid users will be updated once daily.
3) Connecting FullContact with a LOT of Social Networks.
Seriously, I mean a LOT. FullContact will look to find your contacts in a TON of available social media and content sites it’s incredible. Just a quick review of a few of my contacts showed that FullContact was drawing information from all of these networks:
There is a lot of good information on those social networks, and as FullContact searches the web for your contacts’ available information, it’ll add new social profiles that it finds. For those of you using FullContact to create and increase your referral network, that information will really come in handy.
Unfortunately, some of the more successful social networks have been pulling back on the amount of information they share for free. The biggest issue as far as FullContact is concerned is with – surprise surprise – Facebook, who only allows you to import your friends if they also use FullContact.
Still amazingly useful.
4) Relying on Tags and Advanced Search to connect Contacts.
Since there is no way to designate a contact as a company (other than leaving its name blank and listing its name in the Organization field – which if you try, you’ll see creates its own headaches), there’s no linking companies to their employees.
I find this particularly irritating from a CRM or networking perspective. To me, it’s crucial to be able to link contacts together – so I can see all the contacts in my book who work for Allstate, or so that someone who refers someone to me gets linked to their referral (for better or for worse). Moreover, the ability to view a company hierarchy is pretty important too.
FullContact’s alternative is to either create Tags for all the businesses and categories you want – in my opinion, this is simply not realistic, because it’s too hard to tell who has been tagged without opening every individual contact – or to use Search. I will say, the search feature is pretty effective, and advanced search allows you to search by Organization.
But your contacts better have the company listed, and it better not be out of date (because of all things, their previous jobs will remain, out of order, on their contact info even when FullContact itself updated their job).
This, to me, is one of only two serious issues that FullContact has (the other being some maddeningly frustrating technical problems that appear to include all platforms), but it is a big problem for anyone looking to FullContact as an option for CRM or networking.
5) Amazing FullContact Peripherals.
Aside from the company problem, the other tools for facilitating networking are, well, amazing.
First, I have to talk about the Gmail app you’re able to plug in on Google Chrome. While I don’t use Google Chrome, I legitimately might start solely for the purpose of using this app. Anytime you open an email, the FullContact app will open next to the email, with, well, a lot:
You get your basic contact info, and a lot more. Leave notes on your contact’s page without leaving the email, get information on the contact’s company (information curiously unavailable in the primary FullContact Web Platform), and even see your contact’s most recent Tweets.
Then, there’s the FullContact iOS and Android apps. (Oh, and they might not want Facebook to know about this, but the iOS version apparently also has a workaround to allow you to import some Facebook contacts!) And they’re full versions, I mean full like the Gmail version, not like the (sadly incomplete) Flagship Web app. You even get full access to your activity log:
Oh, and don’t forget that they have a Business Card reader app too.
FullContact by FullContact, Inc.
Price: $9.99/month (free version likely insufficient for fully active use)
Key Feature: FullContact’s Intelligent de-duping and updating your contacts information based on publicly available information and their social media profiles.
Fatal Flaw: Tie between technical glitches that severely hamper use once your Unified Contacts exceeds 500 contacts and the lack of ability to designate a contact as a company (and link its employees).
My Rating: (4 out of 5)
The Final Word:
Overall, FullContact is an amazing contact management program with absolutely unique tools for making sure that your contact list is up-to-date. However, it’s impossible to overlook the glaring weaknesses that prevent FullContact from truly being a potential option for lawyers to use as a basic CRM platform, and even has some gaps that would be difficult to fill for networking.
Without the usefulness as a CRM platform, can you justify spending $120 per year just to keep your contacts’ social media profiles straight? I’m not sure.
About the Author
Brian Focht is a civil litigation attorney and technology enthusiast. In addition to being the author of The Cyber Advocate, he is also the producer and host of the Legal Technology Review podcast, and co-founder of B&R Concepts, a small business technology consulting company.