Don’t Float Past Improved Cloud Options
by Steven Nichols
loud computing has matured into a practical and attractive technology for law firms, as concerns about security and compliance have been addressed, and the advantages have grown.
Hosting infrastructure and software in the cloud (in a datacenter or through a Web service) reduces or eliminates initial capital expenditures, lowers maintenance costs and risk of failure, and provides inherent disaster recovery planning. Cloud solutions also are much more flexible and scalable than traditional on-premise models.
Cloud solutions in data backup are commonplace, as many firms have increased their preparedness and decreased their cost by sending nightly backups through an unused Internet connection to a remote server. However, firms have been slow to adopt cloud technology for business-critical applications, like practice management, document management, and document production.
Here are some front-end cloud solutions that could put cloud computing on center stage.
Cloud Practice Management
Law firms use practice management solutions for time keeping, billing, calendaring, and task management. Several software as a service (SAAS) solutions are now available.
Clio is a Canadian-based, cloud law practice management service. It offers time tracking, billing, client collaboration, document management, and task management.
The software integrates with email, syncs with Outlook, and works well on Apple, Android, and Blackberry products. The design is very stream-lined and elegant, making adoption simple and fast.
Rocket Matter originally launched in 2007, and has matured into a fully featured product, offering calendaring, task tracking, phone messaging, contact management, billing, and everything else to be expected from a law practice management solution.
The developer has deeply enriched their time-tracking features, called Bill as you Work, which is designed to capture more billable time.
Cloud Document Management
As attorneys increasingly work away from the office, managing documents in the cloud makes more sense. Whether in court, at home, or on the slopes, an attorney can quickly and securely pull up a client’s document from myriad devices.
On-premise document management solutions, such as Interwoven iManage and Worldox, are still very popular, however, cloud solutions are increasingly more common.
For more than 12 years, NetDocuments has offered cloud-based document management for law firms. It is intuitively designed and easily adopted. The software also is well supported with a large online community.
Pricing, however, for larger firms or for large volumes of documents, can quickly add up. A number of common add-ons also can increase the cost. As with all systems, buyers should thoroughly understand the future total cost of ownership before adopting software to prevent any unpleasant billing surprises.
Google Docs, DropBox, and Box
A number of online document storage systems, intended for the masses, also can work well for small firms with small expectations. Though none of these systems offers true document management, many do offer nested folders, searching, and version tracking.
Documents can be automatically or manually uploaded in their native format to these common services and shared throughout the organization.
Microsoft SkyDrive and Office 365
Microsoft SkyDrive is a free document storage offering that also allows documents to be edited online with a light version of Microsoft Office. The service probably would be a little clunky for daily use, but it is an interesting option for Microsoft lovers who prefer cloud storage.
Microsoft Office 365 is a more fully featured option that includes SharePoint and email. SharePoint offers many document management features, such as check-in/check-out and versioning, and it has some practice management features, such as calendaring and contact management.
It is tempting to consider non-legal-specific software solutions to do the work of more developed, more expensive law firm options. Carefully consider the options you need, your requirements for growth, and support before taking this leap.
Cloud computing likely will grow in popularity and become the rule instead of the exception within the coming years. Law firms that choose technology carefully will have an advantage. D
Steven Nichols works with Mission Critical Systems, a Denver IT services and training company, specializing in serving the needs of Colorado law firms.