Not too long ago, in the law firm software space, the acronym ‘CMS’ generally stood for Case Management System. Or, to some: Content Management System. Today, CMS has come to stand for the three legs of the modern technology platform: Cloud, Mobile, Social.
We will leave it to others to discuss the importance and methodology of leveraging Social Media for the advancement of small law practices so that we can focus on Cloud and Mobile applications.
So what should small law firms know about ‘the cloud’ and mobile applications and how can they leverage them to their advantage?
First, let’s look at some definitions. Cloud computing can generally be defined as “computer services which are supplied over the internet on an on-demand basis.” They allow firms to access storage, programs and data that reside on remote resources.
The cloud is generally separated into two conceptual subdivisions: Private Cloud and Public Cloud. To establish a Private Cloud, a law firm would contract with a hosting provider to install and maintain server hardware at a remote location. Ultimately, however, there are few, if any, shared resources. The servers are dedicated to the law firm but the law firm saves on capital investment (the servers are rented by the month), back-up management (provided by the hoster), and utilities (part of the monthly fee).
A law firm wishing to take advantage of the public cloud, however, would contract with a number of solution providers each of whom offers a different technical solution. The law firm would be one of many sharing each solution providers’ resources.
In the public cloud a law firm could contract with a Hosted Microsoft Exchange Provider who offers email, contact and calendaring instead of installing it on a dedicated server. In the public cloud a law firm could contract with an Accounting Solution provider to host their Accounting Systems such as QuickBooks. They might utilize a web-based document management system to store, manage and back up critical work product or a cloud-based Practice Management Solution to assist in organizing day to day office tasks and deadlines. Even telephone services can be provisioned as a shared service over the web, so that the law firm can project a professional image without installing an in-house PBX.
The benefits of this model are especially valuable to the small firm:
– Reduced reliance on in-house (or contracted) IT support
– Elimination of server costs (acquisition, operation, disposal)
– Built in back-up management
– Reduced energy consumption
– Organic growth – upgrades are continuous and non-disruptive
– Anywhere access – one just needs an internet connection
– Mobile enablement – most cloud-based solutions have mobile access by smart phones and tablets built in
– Cost certainty – IT becomes a monthly charge like utilities or rent
What are the drawbacks? The most oft-cited concerns for firms thinking about utilizing public cloud services are Security and Data Control. With regard to security, public cloud providers offer better security than any small firm can construct on their own:
– Backups and redundancy are built in
– Hardware is located in secure locations with excellent environmental controls
– Mobile access means that sensitive data does not have to be stored on local computers or laptops
– Devices can be remotely erased
– Hardware disposal is not an issue
As far as Data Control is concerned, license agreements should be examined to make sure that the firm can access its data anytime and provisions should be made for regular exports. Cloud Data Escrow services are beginning to emerge to provide third-party sites to protect firm data.
In summary, public cloud solutions offer the small firm location independence, integrated backup, advanced features and improved security which will allow them to grow and operate with reduced overhead and expense.