Part one in our Legal Technology Trends series
Cloud technology is not new, but it is being adopted by a growing number of law firms. This legal industry trend increases mobility, reliability, and in many cases, security.
Cloud computing can reduce the costs of new software installations and IT support. At the same time, it makes a wider variety of services available to more firms. Larger firms may have their own backups and high-level security, but for most law firms, knowing their data is safe and accessible in case of natural disaster or technical failures is a relief.
Rather than buying licenses and hosting software on your own servers, cloud computing enables law firms to buy subscriptions to software as a service (SAAS). You no longer have to worry about whether your software is up-to-date or if you have the latest version because those concerns are taken care of by software providers on their servers.
Upgrades are virtually imperceptible to your attorneys and staff. Cloud computing can reduce the need for large capital expenditures because firms can just pay a monthly (or annual) fee per user.
Let’s look at just a few of the cloud-based solutions that might be right for your law firm.
1. Office 365
Many law firms use Microsoft Office, so it’s natural to consider moving to Office 365, the cloud-based version of Office. Here are some things you should consider:
- Your staff is already familiar with Office, so they will barely notice a move to Office 365. There is no additional training required.
- You won’t have to worry about which version of Office 365 you are running because you will always be using the most up-to-date version. (IT services will still need to update your desktop version of Office, but their maintenance is drastically reduced.)
- Office 365 offers sharing and collaboration capabilities that aren’t available outside the cloud.
- Office 365 may offer you better security than your current configuration depending on your current security measures.
- You can access and share your documents anywhere and from any device (this may add security concerns your firm will want to address).
You can also replace your current version of Microsoft Exchange, an email and calendaring server, with Office 365 Exchange.
Law firms should be aware that Office 365 saves and replicates data to countries outside of the United States, which may be a security concern. However, some cloud-based legal applications come bundled with Microsoft Office and Exchange. Since they are targeted at law firms, many do not send your data out of the country, but rather keep it on servers within the United States.
Certainly, Office 365 will not be enough on its own. You will also want storage, document management and the ability to search across documents. Depending on the needs of your firm, you may want to consider a private cloud that will host all your software and data
2. Practice Management Software
There are cloud subscriptions for law firms that combine many functions into one practice management package, as well as packages aimed at specific areas, such as accounting. They may include:
- Document storage
- Email Marketing
- Lead management
- Proposal development
- Social media and other marketing integration
- Time tracking
- Secure sharing
Related article: Cloud computing is also one more way to transform your office into a paperless law firm. This makes your practice greener, more agile, and more efficient.
Documents, records and data are the lifeblood of attorneys. Fortunately, there are many cloud-based storage options for law firms in 2018. Critical for all lawyers is high-end security with state-of-the-art encryption.
Features you will want to look for:
Encryption technology varies. If you have technology with zero-knowledge encryption, only you can access the encryption keys – your storage provider does not have access. Because the keys are not stored anywhere, if you lose your keys, you will lose your files.
In-transit encryption scrambles your data when it is being uploaded or downloaded. Should a hacker be able to grab your files while they are in transit, they will only have a meaningless jumble.
The tool that encrypts your data must also be failsafe. 256-bit AES has never been hacked.
Two-factor authentication requires you to input two pieces of data in order to sign in. These can be a password and a tool, such as a smartphone running an app that can authenticate you or a digital key fob.
Space and Affordability
Before you go shopping, you need to know how much storage you need now and how much you expect that to grow in the near future, because storage solutions have various pricing plans. Then you can look for the most affordable, safest solution for your needs.
Functions you will want to check for include file sharing, file link sharing, folder sharing and version control.
4. Online Payments
Your clients are busy and they expect the same conveniences from law firms that they get from other businesses. This now includes the ability to pay online.
If you are considering an online payment service, be sure to consider those that are specifically geared toward law firms. For example, lawyer-centric services take into account trust accounts and ABA billing codes. You may want to consider LexCharge or LawPay.
This article provided a brief overview of the cloud-based technology available to help law firms succeed. We live in a world where everything is expected to happen almost immediately, from communications to document production. Law firms that succeed and grow will retain their clients and get new ones by meeting their needs, and today that requires technology.