In my experience of managing law firms over the years, I have concluded most lawyers were never trained to manage a business. Lawyers were educated and trained to practice law, which makes their priority the resolution of legal matters in exchange for the billable hour. This means the responsibilities of law firm administration and day-to-day operations are left to the firm administrator.
A firm administrator must wear many hats and is often responsible for office and facilities management, accounting, human resources, technology, monitoring productivity to ensure profitability, and more.
Many law firms are “stuck in a rut” because administrative staff are over-utilized. They perform their tasks with frustration due to antiquated hardware, server-based software, and no ability to access data or programs remotely.
In many law firms, the management team consists of lawyers who do not know or understand the latest technology or how to use it to improve efficiency. What they do understand is they have technological challenges of working with, accessing, and managing data—with costs out of control.
As in many businesses, the management team will do everything to resist change because change means downtime, learning curves, and of course, spending bonus profits. I have found that management is content to stick to the status quo and the mentality is, “If it’s not broken, why fix it?”
With that said, because lawyers do not always understand how to grow their firm to this boutique level of service using state-of-the-art technology, I educate, consult, and work with law firms on how technology will change the way they practice law and manage their law firm. By implementing and utilizing state-of-the-art, cloud-based technology for law firms, alongside software as a service (SaaS), the law firm will increase client retention, provide better value to their clients, have happier employees, and improve productivity. All of which means increased profitability.
In our current society in which situations change daily, where work-from-home may be the new norm for the unforeseeable future—your firm must implement this cutting-edge technology. By implementing cloud-based technology, your law firm will change the way your employees work and how the business operates.
Where do we start? That’s the question!
Understanding What Cloud-Based Computing is (and What it’s Not)
Cloud-based computing for law firms is configured to allow you to store and access data on-demand with browser-based delivery over the internet—instead of from a workstation to the on-premise server. Simple, right? Not so much!
Understanding Cloud-Based Computing Models
Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) contains the basic building blocks for cloud IT and typically provides access to networking features, computers (virtual or on dedicated hardware), and data storage space. IaaS provides you with the highest level of flexibility and management control over your law firm IT resources via the cloud but gives similar functionality and features that many IT departments and developers will be familiar with.
Platform as a service (PaaS) removes the need for organizations to manage the underlying infrastructure (usually hardware and operating systems) and allows you to focus on the deployment and management of your applications. This helps you be more efficient as you don’t need to worry about resource procurement, capacity planning, software maintenance, patching, or any of the other heavy lifting involved in running your application.
Software as a service (SaaS) provides you with a completed product that is run and managed by the service provider. In most cases, people referring to SaaS are referring to end-user applications. With a SaaS offering, you do not have to think about how the service is maintained, or how the underlying infrastructure is managed; you only need to think about how you will use that software.
A common example of a SaaS application is a web-based time, billing, and accounting solution that allows your firm to have access to your financial data and bill time and expenses anywhere, anytime. Email is also a great example: You can send and receive email without having to maintain the servers, operating systems, or host the email on your on-premise server.
Understanding of Cloud-Based Computing Deployment Options
Cloud deployment provides an application that is fully deployed in the cloud, allowing it to run from anywhere you choose. Applications in the cloud have either been created in the cloud (cloud-native) or have been migrated from an existing infrastructure to take advantage of the benefits of cloud-based computing. Cloud-based applications can be built on low-level infrastructure pieces or can use higher-level services that provide abstraction from the management, architecting, and scaling requirements of core infrastructure.
Hybrid deployment provides a way to connect infrastructure and applications between cloud-based resources and existing resources that are not located in the cloud. The most common method of hybrid deployment is between the cloud and existing on-premises infrastructure to extend and grow an organization’s infrastructure into the cloud. This also allows you to commit cloud resources to an internal system. For more information on how AWS can help you with your hybrid deployment, click here.
On-Premises deployment offers virtualization and resource management tools and is sometimes called the “private cloud”. On-premises deployment does not provide many of the benefits of cloud computing but is sometimes sought after for its ability to provide dedicated resources. In most cases, this deployment model is the same as a legacy law firm IT infrastructure while using application management and virtualization technologies to try and increase resource utilization.
Once your firm understands what cloud-based computing is and is not, you must then do your due diligence.
- Know What Your Firm Spends
- Cost of servers and hardware
- Cost of outsourced IT provider
- Back-up services
- Disaster recovery
- Cost of downtime due to antiquated and/or band-aided solutions
- Know Your Firm Requirements
- Goals of moving to cloud
- Pain points with current law firm IT infrastructure
- What is your ROI?
- Space required now and scalability for growth
- SaaS solution requirements
- Migration needs and expectations
- Data conversions
- On-going support and maintenance
- Know What Questions To Ask When Selecting A Cloud Solution Provider
- Where is the data stored?
- Are the servers replicated and where are the secondary data centers?
- What are the performance metrics of your cloud?
- How is data backed-up, how often, and is it in real-time?
- What is your disaster recovery plan if my firm goes down?
- If I end my hosting service—how do I get my data back?
- What is the time frame for a full data migration?
- What are your data center and vendor certifications?
- Are there additional charges involved?
- References and testimonials from existing clients
As you learn more about cloud-based computing for law firms and understand the challenges your firm faces in not implementing state-of-the-art technology, you’ll start to see the following benefits:
- Cost Savings Benefits of Cloud-Based Computing
- Reduction in outsourced IT cost to maintain on-site servers
- Reduction of assets for IT staff and management
- Purchasing servers have a short lifespan and will be obsolete
- Office space reduction for storage of hardware
- Scalability of costs and only pay for data storage you require
- Consistent monthly costs for budgeting and forecasting
- SaaS software solutions offer support and automatic updates with subscription
- Accessibility Benefits of Cloud-Based Computing
- Freedom and mobility from the physical office
- Anytime, anywhere access for all employees
- Client portal for document sharing
- Can run on all operating systems—PC or Mac
- SaaS solutions are always up to date
- Consistent, automatic real-time back-ups with server replication
- A higher level of security than a firm can usually afford
- Disaster recovery is instantaneous—little or no downtime
What Cloud-Based SaaS Solutions Do Law Firms Need?
- Time, billing and accounting SaaS solutions
- Email hosting, storage, and access
- Telephone hosting
- Calendar entry and access
- Tasklist entry and access
- Court docketing calendaring solutions
- Document management, scanning, and storage
- Document assembly
- Case management and work-flow processes
- Human resource management
In conclusion, for law firms that currently are and will be dealing with work-from-home staff in the foreseeable future—it is important to realize that the changes made in technology today, will make the difference tomorrow.
About the Author
Rosemary Kupfert is Product Expert, Core Legal at BQE Software. She has more than 30 years of experience as a firm administrator and as a consultant to over 1,000 law firms nationwide, helping to improve their workflow and administrative efficiency through business and technology.