Cloud computing’s silver lining is that it helps law firms cut IT costs while requiring minimal in-house technology expertise. Now, thanks to web-based applications, even small firm practitioners can have the equivalent of BigLaw IT services. Caveat: To protect confidential client data, buyers need to choose vendors carefully.
The concept of cloud computing is simple. Instead of licensing, installing, and maintaining software, legal professionals access web-based versions of the applications. It’s also known as SaaS, for “software-as-a-service.” The vendor, not the firm, maintains the program online, and keeps it updated and running.
Though trendy, cloud computing isn’t new — it’s just the latest nickname for what was called application service providers about a decade ago. But ASP never really took hold in the legal community, primarily because of slow and expensive connectivity. That’s solved by today’s fast and inexpensive internet access.
There are, of course, many cloud-based general business software systems that a small firm can use to run its daily operations. These include software for word processing, e-mail, contact management, and presentations — such as Microsoft Office Live Small Business, Google Apps for Business, IBM LotusLive Symphony, and Zoho Business. Need online document storage? Choices include Amazon Simple Storage Service, Dropbox, and Nasuni, among others, and you can stop paying fees to house all those bankers’ boxes.
But when it comes to managing the practice of law, firms that want to move to the cloud will want practice management tools that are tailored just for our profession. Many vendors now target solo practitioners and small firms — among the offerings are LexisNexis’ Firm Manager, Rocket Matter’s and RealPractice’s namesake systems, World Software’s Worldox GX2, Themis Solution’s Clio, and HoudiniEsq.com from LogicBit. Typically, these offer secure, encrypted services that include personal and firmwide calendars, document tracking and templates, task scheduling, contact management, time tracking, billing, and invoicing systems, marketing tools — and the ability to generate a variety of reports. All offer a dashboard — a summary home page that helps users see a snapshot of their appointments, matters, tasks, etc. (See examples on lawtechnologynews.com.)