6 questions that lawyers have about cloud-based practice management software.
1. Can a law firm even use a cloud-based software in its practice? The answer is yes. The North Carolina State Bar was one of the first in the country to weigh in on the use of cloud-based practice management in the practice of law. In 2011 Formal Ethics Opinion 6, the said bar association ruled that a lawyer may contract with a vendor of software as a service, or Saas, provided that the lawyer uses reasonable care to safeguard confidential client information.
2. Why would anyone even consider using a cloud-based legal practice management solution? Generally, cloud-based solutions allow law firms of any size to use technology to cut costs and waste, increase workplace efficiency and become nearly paperless. So why the cloud rather than an internal server based solution? Cloud-based legal practice management offers:
- Lower cost of ownership.
- Peerless reliability and security.
- Remote access to your data from anywhere at any time.
- Ability to manage multiple offices without the risk of data transfer failure between databases.
- Instantaneous updates.
- No need for server upgrades or updates.
- New features on a more regular basis because of the ease of implementation.
- Integration with third-party products (Google Drive, Gmail, Dropbox, etc.)
- Browser based so the software can be used on PC, Mac or any other platform that can access the web.
- No maintenance or upgrade fees.
3. How secure can cloud-based practice management software be? Well, there are several things to consider when talking security. Is data secure when being transmitted (SSL encryption) and what level of encryption is used? Is what is provided the highest level available? Are the data centers that store the information secure? What types of audits are conducted by the service provider to ensure that the data is secure?
Additionally, you should always be concerned about security protocols that you have internally. For example, how secure is the access via your personal login credentials? Also, how often are passwords required to be changed in your office and are any additional safeguards offered to increase security such as two-factor authentication?
4. Can cloud-based software crash or otherwise be unavailable to me and my firm? When dealing with any service or solution that is web-based you should always consider the providerâ€™s backup schedule and guaranty of uninterrupted access to the software. Systems crash, servers go down and problems happen, so it is important to know how the practice management software provider is prepared to handle these issues in a timely manner. It is important to know how often backups are conducted and how long are they maintained. If a backup is only maintained for one week and you donâ€™t notice an issue with the data for a week then you might have major issues.
Also, always ask if there is 24/7/365 technical support available to customers and if there are â€śtiersâ€ť of representatives. If you have ever had an experience where you had to go through multiple tiers of customer service or technical support representatives you probably never want to deal with that again. Some practice management software providers have up to three tiers with the last tier being completely unavailable to you until you have done everything asked by the first two tiers even though the problem is the same as the one you had last time. As a lawyer you understand that time is money so having to wait for three hours to speak to the only person that may be able to help you is something to consider when purchasing the product.
Notwithstanding any guaranty offered by a cloud-based solution provider, internally you should always prepare for the worst case scenario and have procedures in place if your practice management software becomes wholly unavailable to you.
5. Is it safe to migrate the data from my current practice management suite to a cloud-based solution? Unless you are just launching a new practice, you already have clients, files, contacts and other information that would need to be migrated to a new software platform. You should always ask a software provider if you can bring all of this data into the new platform. It is also important to know who will perform the migration and what his or her qualifications are. If your practice is significant at all it is very important for you to utilize a very skilled data specialist to transfer the data. If the software provider claims that you should be able to do it yourself then it might be better to seek a different solution for your legal practice.
You also need to know if you can you easily migrate the data from whatever cloud-based solution you have chosen if you decide to terminate their services. Sometimes it is very easy to get the data into the cloud because your practice is small or for any other reason, but after five or ten years of working in the cloud you may find that the data is not as easy to migrate elsewhere. Donâ€™t become stuck with a software solution that you donâ€™t want or that has become antiquated simply because you didnâ€™t ask the right questions up front.
6. What are the real costs of a cloud-based solution? When analyzing any software solution it is important to thoroughly examine the cost structure. Does the provider charge per user and are there different types of users (attorney v. non-attorney) that result in different fee tiers? It is also always good to find out if the software provider provides discounts at certain tiers depending on how many users your law firm has. Generally though, insist on a free trial for a few months and have one attorney or one practice group work with the software. If the software provider has a good data migration team it will be relatively simple to migrate the data for a few attorneys and their teams, and if it doesnâ€™t work out then you can migrate it back or over to another solution.