Remote access isn’t a new concept but, up until now, there has never been a widespread catalyst that caused it to be universally prioritized.
We’re experiencing an unprecedented time in history, one in which most people are no longer working from their regular offices. For this reason, access to data from remote locations has become more important than ever.
Remote access isn’t a new concept but, up until now, there has never been a widespread catalyst that caused it to be universally prioritized. Previously, we might think about it when there was a disaster like a hurricane that kept us from our office for a few days or a week. Now, we are facing more uncertainty and possibly more permanent changes in our office structures. Even if you feel “we have weathered the worse,” it may be time to make sure you are ready for the future.
Cloud technology takes center stage. Is it time for your firm to make a change?
Generally speaking, firms have two options when it comes to data storage. They can elect to store data locally or off-site in a cloud environment. When data is stored locally, remote access can be particularly challenging. It’s no surprise that interest in cloud technology has soared in recent years, and even more so in recent months, as millions of legal professionals were forced to work remotely.
The right time to think about adopting cloud technology that affords more flexibility and greater accessibility, however, isn’t limited to a crisis. Consider the following scenarios that might signal your firm should make the move:
1. Your firm has an old server that needs to be upgraded
If you have a server that is more than 5 years old (maybe even less) or one that is running an older, unsupported operating system, you need to consider replacing the server — or, better yet, think about moving to the cloud. The fact is that servers come with costs. Not only do you have the cost of buying the hardware and software, but you also have the cost of maintaining it. This includes making sure updates are performed on a regular basis, security is in place, backups are being made and tested for recovery, and the environment housing the server is property preserved. The maintenance of servers can be expensive. A detailed cost analysis may show that moving to the cloud is economically more sensible.
2. You are juggling multiple applications and worry that upgrading one will hurt interoperability
If your firm is using multiple applications and one of them needs an upgrade that might not be compatible with another, it may be a good time to consider a move to the cloud.
It’s not uncommon for firms to utilize different programs for legal practice management, billing and/or accounting. By using different platforms for each, however, you are either doing double (or triple) entry or you have some kind of integration in place that connects the systems. Both of these scenarios can be problematic. Entering data in multiple places can lead to errors and requires constant checking to make sure all updates are accurately recorded in all platforms. If you rely on integrations, then every time one application needs an update, you must make sure that the other applications are compatible. With different programs on different upgrade cycles, and vendors concerned primarily with their own software, compatibility issues can be as complex as they are common. Integrations aren’t necessarily bad, but they do add layers of complexity that must be recognized and evaluated.
There are comprehensive, cloud-based legal practice management solutions that have case management tools and native legal billing and accounting in one platform, eliminating the need for duplicate data entry and integrations. These should be considered to maximize efficiency.
3. Your software is no longer meeting your needs
Look at your current applications — are they still meeting your firm’s needs? You may have chosen your legal practice management, billing and accounting solutions when your firm was smaller or was doing a different type of work. Are you creating spreadsheets to get reports you need to manage the business? Are you able to smoothly track the progress of a matter or find the information you need quickly? In some cases, there may be features in your current software that you have not been using that might be helpful, but, often, the solution that was right for your firm 5 or 10 years ago is no longer a good fit. If you spend more time using a bunch of workarounds than smoothly working the process, it is time to consider new software.
4. You are concerned with data security
Security may also be a key concern that moving to a cloud solution will help alleviate. What is your firm spending to make sure your data is secure? Cloud providers are focused on security and can spread the costs of top security certifications and protocols across a large client base, providing a higher level of security than a firm may be able to achieve on its own. Of course, it is important to check the data security protocols on the software you are evaluating before you make any decisions.
5. You need flexible, easy access to information outside your office
Even though states are gradually reopening and legal professionals are returning to the office, experts agree that we may never return to what were once considered “normal” business operations. A remote (or at least hybrid) workforce may be here to stay. While remote desktop connections can give employees access to on-premises applications, these gateways are often slow and clunky. If you’re looking to create an environment that gives employees access to the files and data they need 24/7 from any location, cloud-technology should be seriously considered.
6. You are tired of installing updates on your software
With on-premises applications, you (or your IT team) are responsible for installing updates which may come at a hefty cost and cause some disruption to normal operations. With cloud-based software, the vendor is responsible for updates and upgrades. When one is made, the release is available to all clients on the platform (usually at no additional cost to the firm). These updates are generally deployed during off-hours and have little effect on daily operations.
A completely cloud-based solution eliminates the need for your team to maintain a server environment. Instead, the vendor becomes responsible for all security, backups and routine maintenance.
When doing price comparisons, moving to a cloud solution is usually competitive with replacing a server. However, cloud solutions offer direct ease of access as well as ease of maintenance in that everything is taken care of for you. Most cloud-based solutions also offer apps that make it easy to work from a phone or tablet.
Making the Move
Once you’ve decided to move to the cloud, you have two different options:  replace the on-premises software with a cloud-based solution or  move your on-premises software to a hosted environment. Each of these options has advantages and disadvantages.
Hosted environments allow you to keep the software you are used to, but you will still be paying for a server environment. The costs of security, backups, and maintenance are just repackaged in an ongoing monthly cost in addition to your application costs. While this may eliminate a learning curve, you should take a look at the total cost. Generally, you need to move all applications to the same platform. So look at the start up cost, as well as the monthly cost, and consider if any of your software has different requirements for the hosted environment that will require upgrades. You will also need to make sure you understand how updates will be done and what access you will have when you need to troubleshoot a problem with the application. This can be more complex than you might expect, as you may need to include the hosting provider in the conversation which can limit flexibility and add cost.
A completely cloud-based solution eliminates the need for your team to maintain a server environment. Instead, the vendor becomes responsible for all security, backups and routine maintenance. A move to a cloud solution will ultimately require your team to learn a new program which may take some time. As you assess platforms, be sure to ask about training. Check to see how user-friendly they really are by signing up for a trial before you commit to extensive training.
With a cloud-based solution, you should know that you’ll also likely need to migrate at least some of your data from your on-premises applications to the new program. Be sure to ask vendors about what they can and cannot move. A seasoned consultant can also assist with this process.
Starting the Conversation
Now is the time to think about what you do and how you want to do it. What reports would help you run your business more effectively? What information do you struggle to obtain from your system? What do you like in your current software and what don’t you like? If you are going to move to a new practice management software, cloud-based solutions will give you more flexibility and long-term stability.
The right time to move to the cloud may be now!
Written by CARET Legal partner, Caren Schwartz. Caren has been serving the technology needs of the legal industry for almost 30 years and leads the accounting services team at 3545 Consulting – Global. Caren’s key focus is back office services, analytics and best practices for law firms. Caren is the author of QuickBooks for Law Firms.