Cloud software and platforms for lawyers and law firmsThe ABA Tech Show 2012 is currently taking place in Chicago.  If you are attending or just following the action on Twitter, you know it is a very exciting time for legal technology.  For an industry historically tech-adverse, it now seems like myriad new and cutting edge technologies are emerging that offer significant value to lawyers, especially solo and small firm lawyers.

One of the hottest areas is cloud based practice management platforms.  If you are not familiar, this software allows you to manage most aspects of your law practice (time, billing, documents, tasks, etc.) from one comprehensive platform.  More importantly, it is completely web-based (in the cloud), which means you do not need to purchase, download, or manage any software.  You simply access the platform via a web browser – it is always up to date, and accessible anywhere with only a web enabled device (just like RFPattorney’s legal marketing software).

The players are:

As you can see, there are a number of options, and we are sure to see even more competition in the future.  If you are considering any or all of these platforms, we offer the following five questions to ask in evaluating a cloud practice management platform and determining if it is right for you and your law firm.

  1. How secure is it?  There are several aspects to consider.  Is data secure when being transmitted (SSL encryption) and what level of encryption is used?  Are the data centers that store your information secure?   What types of audits are conducted by the provider?  Finally, and often overlooked, how secure is the access via your login credentials.  How often are passwords required to be changed and are any additional safeguards offered such as two-factor authentication (i.e. RSA SecurID)?
  2. Backups and uninterrupted access?  Systems crash, websites go down, problems happen.   Explore how often backups are conducted and how long are they maintained.  Is there 24/7/365 tech support?  Importantly, what procedures are in place if the website is unavailable. What if it is five minutes before you have to be in court and you need a crucial document, but the website is down…?
  3. Getting data in and out?  Unless you are just launching a new practice, you already have clients and files.  Can you bring all of this data into the new platform and how easy is it to do so?  Is there training?  Conversely, if you leave, can you easily take your files with you?  Make sure the format for the exported data is usable.
  4. Mobile availability?  Smartphones are pretty much standard now and tablet use is growing.  Make sure the platform is mobile optimized.  Are there apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices?  If not, how does the website and interface render on a mobile device?
  5. What are the real costs? Thoroughly examine the cost structure.  Do they charge per user and are there different types of users (attorney v. non-attorney)?  If you scale users, are there discounts?  And be sure to ask about premium features (i.e. extra storage) that cost extra.  Can you pay as you go or do you have to commit to a certain period?  Finally, insist on a free trial so you can get in and kick the tires.

Ryan Bowers

Founder of and author of the RFPattorney Blog. Over 8 years of experience practicing law, including past experience at an international law firm, a national law firm, and a small firm. Currently GC and VP Operations for large mechanical construction company. Midwesterner, home renovator, golden retriever wrangler, new dad, Wolverine, & avid hockey fan.

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  • Debra L Bruce

    It’s important to engage in a trial period with several different vendors. I recommend making detailed notes to help compare apples to apples, too, because the features and detriments will soon run together in your memory. Invest time on the front end of the decision process, because changing platforms is a huge hassle. In our investigation, we have not found any vendors who can migrate all the data from our previous well-known vendor to their platform. Most of them can migrate your contacts and perhaps the calendar, but not the notes, custom field entries and years of other data you may have accumulated.

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  • David

    Your article is very helpful. Thanks for taking the time to share this information.