The following is an excerpt from Cloud Computing for Lawyers, Chapter 7, “Cloud Computing Applications for Your Law Practice.”
General Cloud Computing Services vs. Law Practice Specific
There is no shortage of cloud-computing services specifically tailored for the practice of law. The most obvious example of cloud-based legal software is the law practice management suite. This type of platform provides lawyers with an assortment of tools designed to make running a law firm more efficient, ranging from case and matter management, time tracking, billing and reporting, and client contact management. However, unlike some cloud-computing applications not specifically aimed toward lawyers, most legal cloud-computing services are not free. Most are subscription-based services that require you to pay a monthly fee for continued access to the service.
Even so, you may find in many cases that cloud-based legal apps will save you money in the long run compared to traditional desktop and server-based legal software. That is not always the case, however. The potential cost-saving benefits are necessarily specific to your particular law practice, and you must carefully assess the financial benefits and drawbacks of moving your law firm’s processes to the cloud by carefully analyzing your current costs and systems.
Of course, even if you decide to move to cloud-based services, the issue then becomes: why bother with arguably pricey legal cloud-computing services when there are free cloud-computing applications available for use in your law practice? The answer is not particularly surprising—the legal cloud-computing services were created with lawyers in mind and thus offer features specifically tailored to law firms and their needs.
A law practice can undoubtedly take advantage of free, cloud-based software applications to handle certain important functions. As discussed above, there are many free, Web-based programs that can be used by law offices, including e-mail, contacts management, calendaring, word pro- cessing, and online data storage platforms.
Also readily available are many cloud-based programs created for businesses in general, as opposed to lawyers specifically. These SaaS products, which generally are subscription-based rather than free, assist with many business functions, including billing, document management, voice mail systems, online collaboration, and productivity needs, such as note-taking and task management.
However, for many lawyers, running a law practice using a jury-rigged system of unrelated software programs is less than desirable for any number of reasons, not the least of which is the complexity inherent in such a system. Problems with a particular software program or conflicts between disparate software programs can lead to costly and time-consuming troubleshooting sessions.
In addition, for the software programs provided at no cost, customer service can sometimes be virtually nonexistent. In many cases, you will find that there is no customer-service phone number available, and even if one is provided, the hours that the line is open are limited. More often than not, instead of a dedicated phone number, customer service will be confined to an online help system. If you are lucky, e-mail support will be available. However, much of the time you will be forced to seek help using online customer service platforms or customer help forums.
At these online forums, you can search for posts related to the particular problem you have encountered, and there is a chance that you may find that someone has provided a workable solution to the problem. If not, you must resign yourself to posting about your problem and hope that either a company representative or another customer responds to your plea for help.
For these reasons, it may make sense to consider using fee-based cloud- computing services created specifically for use in law firms. The software likely will be easier to use in your practice because it was developed with the needs of law firms in mind. In some cases, you will find that different legal cloud-computing systems have partnerships and therefore work together well as part of a seamless system, and because it is a fee-based service, you can expect that there will be more flexible and helpful customer-service alternatives available. Many offer a twenty-four-hour help line in addition to e-mail-based customer service.
There are cloud-computing products for nearly every law office function that you can imagine. Whether you choose to rely on free services, general business applications, legal-specific platforms, or a combination of the three, your choices are virtually limitless. Some provide just one function; others consist of law practice management suites and offer a number of useful tools. Some are stand alone platforms, while others integrate easily with other popular SaaS-based applications. And, some are relatively new, while others have been around for a few years or more.
In the next section I will cover the Google Apps suite, e-mail and encrypted communications systems, law practice management systems, billing systems, time tracking systems, online back up and storage platforms, document management platforms, and online collaboration platforms, among others…
Excerpted from Cloud Computing for Lawyers by Nicole Black. Published by the American Bar Association, 2012.