Many firms are facing enforced remote working amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Firms that are already in the cloud can focus on building great team collaboration and client communication rather than struggle with system access and performance.
For the majority of firms that are not in the cloud, it is a real struggle to get up and running remotely. Some firms may have “workarounds” like VPNs or hybrid-cloud log-ins which at least allow them to access their data in the short-term. However, legal technology has evolved rapidly over the last 10 years. Many of the work-around systems that firms have in place are not fit for today’s standards of security and connectivity. Cloud-based systems offer much more security and allow people the full breadth of functionality they need to do their jobs well.
Technology is not the only aspect firms are struggling with. People are working from home indefinitely, sometimes in less than ideal environments. For many, this is a completely different way of working—adopted overnight. Team collaboration, information sharing, and morale can suffer unless you are used to operating this way. So, for these firms, it might not feel like an ideal time to change IT infrastructure with so much other change occurring. But when is the right time? How are you going to keep managing through this crisis without making a change? Is your goal to just get through it, or to use the time to position your firm well for the future? We don’t know how long it will last. And when it’s over, being ready for the next unpredicted crisis will be even more valuable.
Why Now? Business Benefits Of Practicing Law In The Cloud
Work from anywhere
When you are in the cloud, if you have an internet connection, you can be at work, wherever you are, using an internet browser. Today, that flexibility to be able to access your full systems and work effectively with your team is the difference between surviving and thriving. The best cloud software providers offer mobile apps, or full system access via tablets or phones also, so you’re not restricted by which device you have at hand.
Staff Training and Succession
Most firms say that their value to their clients comes from the quality of their work and the quality of their people. This doesn’t fare well when people leave or transition to retirement. It can leave gaping holes in knowledge and skills. Having processes that work, are replicable and consistently create great client experiences is crucial to growing a practice, increasing your firm’s value and building a reputation for excellence in your market. Cloud-based software allows you to build these processes into your software so that new staff training and handover is easy. Customizing your technology like this will also open up options for succession planning, as others can pick up ongoing work and follow the processes being used. If you go to sell your firm, your processes, built into your technology are evidence of your IP and value to potential buyers.
When your teams (and clients) can access, edit, and share documents anytime, from anywhere, they’re able to do more together and end up with a better result. Cloud-based workflow and file sharing mean your team can access the same document, work on it together or with clients in real-time, and have full visibility of the contributions of each person in one document.
With the ability to access and collaborate on documents comes the greater the need for watertight document control. Before the cloud, workers had to send files back and forth as email attachments to be worked on by one user at a time. This regularly ended up with a mess of overlapping versions, variations of content, and confusion over which version was the most up to date. When your document management is cloud-based, all files are stored centrally, version control timestamps each change and tags it to the author, so there is only one version of the truth.
Attract Legal Talent and Staff
Whether you are a smaller firm thinking about succession planning or a growing firm that needs to build your team, attracting and retaining talent is crucial. Younger lawyers and staff have grown up being online and using mobile devices. They expect to be able to access work and information systems in the same way. The concept of having to use a designated Windows machine with special software installed is alien to younger generations. They want to work for progressive firms with the flexibility of remote access. They are also more aware that any other generation that having the right technology in place can protect their productivity and protect their jobs in tough times.
Stay in Step with Microsoft 365
If, like most lawyers, you spend a lot of time in Microsoft Office, you need a system that can stay in step with Microsoft’s cloud strategy. Your practice management system should integrate well with Office and Outlook so that everything you do works across systems. But unless your practice management system is fully cloud-based, it won’t stay integrated for long. This is because Microsoft’s strategic direction has clearly shifted to the cloud with Microsoft 365 and Online. By adopting Microsoft 365, lawyers and staff automatically stay up to date with the latest versions of Outlook and Word and can use the online versions of those applications. With that in mind, in order to stay in step with these Microsoft products, you need a practice management system that is already in the cloud and integrated with Microsoft 365.
Moving to the cloud means you don’t have major hardware costs eating into your capital expenditure budget. You’ll have a predictable monthly fee on a subscription-based model that’s kind to your cash flow. Project set-up and training costs are also generally much lower and can usually be financed. In fact, the upkeep for on-premise solutions – both the Annual Maintenance Plan and hardware upgrades and maintenance—can end up costing more month to month than cloud-based practice management systems.
The cloud helps businesses of all sizes have robust disaster recovery in place. With on-premise or “Hybrid-Cloud” systems, firms rely on a routine of backing up your computer’s data to a nearby external hard drive or server. The risk is that your PC, local backup drive, or server could be lost to theft, cyber-crime, flood, fire, or natural disaster. With a fully cloud-based system, your data and information are automatically backed up to an offsite repository that never goes offline and is available from anywhere, preventing catastrophe.
Ready for the future
Fully cloud-based practice management systems keep your firm future-ready by routinely updating their technology and security systems. This makes sure your firm is compatible with the latest versions of Microsoft 365 and all the other online tools lawyers use. It also means that as new features are developed and rolled out, your firm automatically receives them, rather than having to schedule a designated “upgrade” with associated downtime. There shouldn’t be any business disruption required to stay on the most up-to-date technology. You can stay focused on your business with the knowledge that you are on the best technology for your firm’s future.
Sometimes people feel that if the data is saved nearby, it is more secure. In reality, data saved to the cloud is much more secure than on a local server because reputable providers will have bank-grade data encryption and regular independent security audits in place to prevent unauthorized access or alteration. Another major benefit is that if someone in your firm loses their laptop, no-one outside the firm can access its data without knowing the passwords. The laptop’s data is stored in the cloud, your team can access it no matter what happens to the machine. And you can even remotely wipe data from lost laptops so it doesn’t get into the wrong hands.
Moving to the cloud gives your firm access to enterprise-class technology that previously only the elite few could afford. The agility of cloud software gives firms of all sizes an edge over competing firms that are still tied to on-premise technology. Cloud software gives you more flexibility, more up-to-date technology, more access to talent, more collaborative systems, and more control over your firm’s data and costs. So, your firm can evolve, grow and even disrupt the market with new law firm models, while remaining lean and nimble
About the Author
David Hepburn is the president of Actionstep. Actionstep’s practice & business management software gives law firms the freedom and tools to evolve and grow their practice. Built in the cloud, with workflow at its heart. Actionstep gets rid of law firm administrivia and simplifies how you work. So you always have the headspace and time to create outstanding client experiences.