Taking a holistic approach to cloud-enabling your law firm
Today’s professional legal practice has a number of issues to contend with, not the least of which is technology. While IT has been part of the practical law firm for years, shifting paradigms in computing are leading professionals to wonder exactly which direction they should turn for advice. It’s easy, at a high level, to see the value and benefit of outsourced IT services and being able to focus on your core offerings, but it’s a little harder to find exactly which path your firm should follow. One thing has proven true over the past few years: taking a holistic approach to cloud-enabling your law firm is far better than any uncoordinated exchange of applications and services.
There are four areas the firm should explore when looking to more fully leverage technology to its benefit, which is what “cloud-enabling” the practice really means:
- Transitioning to a paperless (or less paper) office
- Exploring alternative billing methods (value versus time?)
- Outsourcing non-core and non-strategic tasks and processes
- Streamlining procedures to create consistency in service levels
The challenge is that these firms have numerous options and approaches being thrown about, none of which represent obvious solutions to the entire problem. In pieces, cloud services and online applications can deliver new capability and functionality, but a legal practice has the requirement for systems to work together to be effective. Re-entry or redundant storage of data is inefficient, and it’s difficult to streamline procedures when the tools in use don’t facilitate that.
One approach is the “hybrid” approach, where you take the best of the tried and true, and deploy it in new ways to create new capabilities. Additionally, introducing cloud-based and SaaS solutions where they can truly help the firm innovate makes sense, as long as those solutions can connect back to the core systems.
A simple example of this approach is to consider the use of a solution such as Clio (goClio.com), described as a “completely web-based practice management system that is specifically designed for solo practitioners and small law firms. Your important client data is securely accessible anywhere—from your PC, your Mac, and even your iPhone.” The product gets great reviews, and provides a number of innovative features for the forward-thinking practice.
The problem? It doesn’t have general accounting functionality. The solution? Well, theirs is to export data to QuickBooks, running on your desktop, meaning you still have to maintain software and valuable business data on your PC or network. Maybe the better answer is to take a more holistic approach, and run the QuickBooks desktop editions with a hosting provider. The desktop editions of QuickBooks remain extremely popular with law firms, but the firm doesn’t have to be tied to the local desktop in order to keep their software. When the QuickBooks desktop software is hosted by an Intuit-authorized commercial host for QuickBooks, the user benefits from the same advantages as a SaaS solution, including the managed service and anytime/anywhere access.
The Remote Desktop offerings from an Intuit-Authorized QuickBooks hosting provider allows the user to access a “desktop in the sky” with their business applications, including QuickBooks and even Microsoft Office. The desktop is a true Windows platform, so the features and functionality are just as they are on the local PC installation. The QuickBooks hosted service, when delivered on a Remote Desktop, is also generally provided with a browser on the remote desktop. This allows users to run the SaaS solutions they’ve subscribed to (in this example, Clio), and leverage the MS Office integrations as well as the export to QuickBooks, yet still remain in a totally virtual and mobile working environment. This approach allows the firm to reduce if not eliminate use of internal servers and sophisticated networking equipment, and establishes predictability in cost as well as advanced mobility and constant system management.
The thing to remember is that one size does not fit all, and every firm will need to work within their own requirements and motivations to come up with the proper approach. What works for a solo practitioner or small firm won’t necessarily work for a larger firm. There are a lot of options with the cloud when it comes to outsourced information technology models, online practice management and other law office solutions, and mobile services which reduce the impacts of time and distance. It’s time to start exploring your options before the competition leaves you behind. Interestingly enough… that competition that looks like a huge and successful firm could be just one guy with some really good IT supporting him.