The Future of Practice Management is in the Cloud

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The trend towards the cloud has been pretty clear for some time, but walking the EXPO Hall at ABA TechShow made it clear that we have passed the tipping point for practice management software. The future is in the cloud.

The “Big Three” for cloud-based practice management software are Clio, MyCase, and Rocket Matter, and all seem to be on solid financial footing, which means they are pretty unlikely to just fold up and quit (a valid concern when a company is new and burning venture capital just to keep the lights on). Clio is profitable and flush with $18 million in new funding. MyCase’s parent company, Appfolio, is healthy and pretty clearly committed to MyCase over the long run. Rocket Matter is also profitable. Any of them could get acquired, of course, but it’s hard to imagine why a company would acquire them only to shut them down.

Established premises-based practice management software vendors, Amicus and Abacus, are both pushing cloud-based versions of their software. Actionstep is in active development, and it seems like a new option pops up every couple of weeks. (CosmoLex was the new kid on the block at TechShow this year.)

Even Lexis and Thomson are going to the cloud. Lexis is betting big, in fact. At TechShow, I learned that Lexis is putting most of its development resources into its cloud-based practice-management software, Firm Manager, although it expects to be supporting legacy systems for quite some time. I’m not sure Westlaw has made its mind up, yet. Firm Central feels a bit like Thomson is hedging its bets rather than committing to the cloud. But Thomson is definitely ready for a cloud-based future for practice management software. Even Fastcase is branching out with its bankruptcy software, TopForm, which will launch within the next couple of weeks. A move into practice management software at some point would not be much of a surprise.

Related“It’s Time for Lawyers to Re-Think the Cloud”

In other words, you will be using the cloud for practice management sooner rather than later — if you aren’t already.

This is, for the most part, a good thing. Cloud-based practice management software is ideal for collaboration across firms. The secure client portals built into many of the options are better than email for communicating with clients — and nearly as easy to use. Cloud software is platform-agnostic and usually mobile-friendly, giving more options to lawyers who use it.

Practice management software — cloud-based or not — is no panacea. It definitely will not make you a better lawyer. It probably won’t even make you a more productive lawyer, although it might help you be more efficient. But many lawyers find that their firms function better with practice management software. In the very near future, they will almost certainly be using it in the cloud.

Featured image: “Cloud computing concept” from Shutterstock.

Legal Technology

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  • Andrew Cabasso

    Great post. Completely agree about the shift to cloud-based over premises-based. It seems the shift is happening for all software now, not just legal. Photoshop, Microsoft Office (never thought I’d see the day), even accounting software is now cloud-based.

    What are your thoughts on the practicality for cloud-based practice management software for biglaw?

    • http://samglover.net/ Sam Glover

      Jack Newton just made a similar comment on Twitter:

      We’re definitely in a phase where nearly everyone is exuberantly trying to move everything to the cloud. I don’t think it will last. I think we’ll eventually concede that some things are better off locally-installed. You mention Photoshop, for example, but that’s just what I mean. There is no cloud-based version of Photoshop, and no cloud-based substitute for Photoshop on a powerful workstation for serious graphics work.

      Likewise, despite the profusion of web-based text editors, I don’t know of any serious software developers who use one. The cloud versions of Microsoft Office are, quite honestly, horrible, which is why everyone is using locally-installed apps on their computers and phones. Google Docs is showing how it’s done in this area, but it’s not catching on for a variety of reasons — in particular, because there’s no good reason why writing needs to happen in the cloud.

      Practice management software, though, is better in almost every way in the cloud. (Although even if it weren’t, all the vendors who matter building have basically decided for us that we’ll be using practice management software in the cloud soon, or not at all.)

      However, I don’t pretend to be able to know whether it is practical for BigLaw. I see no reason why it couldn’t work, that is, but I don’t know whether the model works at the scale of a firm with 1,000+ lawyers.

      • Avram E. Frisch

        Sam, having recently dropped Clio and moved away from the Cloud, I can say that I could not agree with you more. The future is the cloud, but the current choices simply are weak software. I used Clio for three years, and spent over $1500 on it, and it is simply not worth that. You are better off with a decent accounting program and cloud file storage. Clio simply adds very little to that.

        • A Oglesby

          Was it hard to transition your data (matter info, notes, etc.) out of Clio into a useable format?

          • Avram E. Frisch

            Not hard at all actually. First of all, enable the amazon web services data escrow, that will do a complete back up once a week. This serves as a good backup of the stuff Clio makes hard to export any other way.

            Next, sync your calendar and contacts with outlook or google so you know you have everything.

            Third, run reports of all your financial data. Clio’s reports look much different when in excel than in PDF, so just run each necessary report in both formats.

            The only thing to be careful about is that Clio deletes your data as soon as you cancel, so err on the side of keeping it open until you are sure you are done.

            • Avram E. Frisch

              I left out that if you go to app.goclio.com/export, Clio allows export of most, but not all data, in csv format. The amazon data escrow has everything.

  • Dan_ND

    Did you have a chance to see LawPal in action at TECHSHOW. I was wondering how that might compare.

    • http://samglover.net/ Sam Glover

      I totally missed it, but I just requested a review copy. It does look like a pretty cool option for client collaboration.