Navigating Legal IT Solutions

In this article we’ll focus on helping you asses the costs of implementing a cloud-as-practice management (CPM) service, which lets lawyers use ‘software-as-a-service’ to manage legal practices—from calendaring, contacts, to documents, e-mails, tasks, and billing. We’ll highlight some of the costs for you to assess if you are considering legal software migration to a CPM service.

So, what is CPM, how does it work, does it keep client data secure and what are the typical costs involved? We offer advice, information, and perspectives on CPM and its major features:

Pros and Cons

To begin, let’s briefly review the pros and cons of CPM.

The biggest benefit of CPM also happens to be its biggest obstacle for many lawyers: reduced need for expensive hardware, software, and maintenance. CPM software runs in someone else’s data centre, so you don’t have to maintain a powerful server or workhorse workstations for the software.

Another benefit of CPM is mobility; now your software and files are accessible wherever you have Internet access, and many programs have an app for your mobile device as well. Whether you are in your office, in a conference room with a client, in your home office, or traveling, you can resume work wherever you previously left off. Your calendar, files, and information are all immediately accessible and up-to-date.

A weakness of CPM to consider, is that you must pay to access your data on a monthly or yearly basis, and when you decide to stop paying, you lose access to the software (although you can retrieve your data in one form or another). The CPM monthly subscription may end up costing you more money than if you had paid for a desktop/server-based program, but you should make up for that cost by lowering your hardware and maintenance costs.

Perhaps the biggest benefits of CPM are the reduction of psychological stress and “soft” cost. You spend less energy and valuable, unbillable time addressing software problems and dealing with computer downtime. You avoid “upgrade fatigue,” having to install yet another upgrade that may malfunction or break links to other software.

With CPM, you outsource the burdens and problems of updating and maintaining your practice management software.

Security

The most common question lawyers ask about moving to CPM applications is “How safe is my client information?”

Most fears about trusting client information to “the Internet” are misplaced. One misconception is that client information may be intercepted as it travels across the Internet. Modern encryption has progressed to the point where it is unbreakable. The only way to decrypt information in transit across the Internet is to break a weak password or obtain the cloud subscriber’s password or pass phrase.

The real dangers to confidential client information lie in using unsecure passwords or in failing to follow important security precautions. These dangers apply to everyone: your law office, cloud service providers, and non-cloud companies alike. You face them even when you don’t use cloud applications. Hackers can break into the computers in your office if you don’t use strong passwords, maintain a good firewall, and protect against new viruses and malware. Poorly implemented security precautions could threaten your information stored by both cloud and non-cloud businesses such as banks, credit card companies, law firms you communicate with, and your own law firm.

The keys to meeting your ethical obligation to safeguard your confidential client information in a CPM system are:

  1. Use strong passwords or pass phrases.
  2. Select cloud services from companies with solid reputations and documented, appropriate security precautions.

Cloud companies understand that their reputations for protecting customer information are crucial. A single security breach would cost them dearly. Your client information is more secure stored on a reputable, professionally managed cloud server than on your office computers.

Costs

Expect to pay from £35 to £45 and up per user per month for a CPM system. Allow c. another £20 to £35 per month for an online accounting system for your office or for each entity that you manage in your office.

It can be difficult to compare the overall cost of a cloud-based service versus a traditional desktop/server practice management system. Rather, the attractions of the cloud are reduction of technological hassles, elimination of unpredictable expenses, and easy, immediate access to all your information and documents anywhere.

In your office, you probably still need a central computer operating as a file server, but you don’t need the complexities and expense of a pricey server that runs Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SQL Server, and other expensive networked software.

Even though your CPM system includes perhaps a week or two of cloud-based backups, it’s recommended that you back up all your cloud-based information and files and periodically download them to your computer. Then automatically back them up using an independent, professional-grade online backup service. This is not an extra expense. Using an online backup service is something you should do in any case. You are well advised not to rely entirely on a single onsite backup system, whether or not you use cloud-based services.

Alternatives

Hosted desktops, hosted servers, and hosted networks are rather new alternatives to CPM systems. It is now both practical and reasonably affordable to outsource your network to a cloud-based company.

When you subscribe to a hosting service, your network server and all your personal computers are virtualized and run on a professionally managed server farm far from your location. You connect across the Internet and work on your hosted computer desktop using Microsoft Windows and all the traditional software programs that you are used to. The difference is that you don’t buy and maintain a server and you don’t pay for everything up front. The virtual desktop computers provided by the hosting company are fast and powerful. You need laptops or personal computers to work on, but they can be inexpensive.

Advantages of this approach are (1) highly predictable monthly costs and (2) outsourcing of the hassles, updating, and maintenance of not only your server but also most of your desktop programs. No large initial investment for purchasing a new server or replacing an old one is required.

Disadvantages include (1) significant subscription costs in the range of £70 to £105 per user per month and (2) the complexities of traditional law office programs linked together. In contrast, CPM software tends to include almost everything together—contacts, calendars, matters, documents, notes, tasks, timekeeping, billing, and trust funds.

We hope that we’ve highlighted some of the typical costs, and some of the pro’s and con’s of such a system, should you be considering implementing a cloud-as-practice management (CPM) service.

Over the last 10 years, Computer Geeks have developed a formula that provides the ideal IT solution for you and your business. From our Bristol offices, we supply IT expertise across the UK. Whatever your requirements, and whatever sector you operate in, we can support you through a bespoke service adapted to the needs and nature of your business. Contact us on 0117 325 0370 to find out more about how we can help you.