Recent Adventures in the Cloud

It’s been a while since my last post. I have been active in the web-space, mostly on LinkedIn where I manage a few special interest groups: (1) The Virtual Lawyer, (2) Future Automation (Documents, Data and the Cloud), (3) Time Matters Connection, (4) HotDocs Wizards, and (5) Amicus Attorney Wizards.  The first two groups have been pretty active, growing with interesting discussions, but I have neglected this space where I have a better opportunity to express myself. And so, below are some thoughts on areas I have been exploring.

Cloud-Based Practice Management

I have done reviews of AdvologixPM, RocketMatter, Clio and Houdi.  These systems do much to remove remove the shackles of an office-based, big-hardware, client server based system.  They enable lawyers to “be virtual” and to be free.  And in these times of downsizing, resizing, and cost-cutting, the ability to have a flexible and scalable practice management system that doesn’t require too much capital investment is quite worthwhile.  It allows attorneys to form “ad hoc” groups, practicing together, often from their homes, or wherever there work in.  The potential of cloud based practice management really lives in the “collaboration features.” For those who have followed my discussions on LinkedIn or participated in them, the economics of Cloud based practice management have come to be comparable to those of a client-server model.  If your firm is looking at getting a “new license” and getting “new hardware” or replacing a “server”, the economics of a Cloud solution start weighing in their favor.

Most practice management vendors have moved to “annual pricing” for their software.  This is often in the form of an annual maintenance plan, or some other structure that requires users seeking tech support, service releases or upgrades to pay some percentage of the cost of the software each year.  Fees range from 20% of list up to 33 1/3%.  In my view, these fees are reasonable and justifiable.  They provide ongoing revenue to the software vendor to improve the software and fix the software, as well as pay for responsive support staff.  That said, these costs need to be factored into a TCO (“total cost of ownership”).  If you already have a functioning server; and already have case management software in place, you need to be aware of some significant costs that should be considered in making a decision to move.

Pro-Cloud Costs

You need to factor in the software vendor’s annual maintenance fees.  You also need to factor in the cost of applying service releases and upgrades.  Just because the software is “included” doesn’t mean that you will not have disruptions in service during the upgrade or application of the release.  Some of these disruptions come form the time of migrating the data to a “new platform”.  There are consulting and training costs surrounding the new features.  Some upgrades have required new hardware and new operating system and database software.  If you haven’t put a backup system in place, you need to factors the costs of that solution.  You need to evaluate what “redundancies” you have in your hardware and software in the event of disaster.

Costs of Moving to the Cloud

If you have “nothing in place”, the start-up costs are negligible.  You can take your “Outlook” contact list and synchronize or import it into the cloud system.  However, if you have been running as a business for a while, you will have large contact lists, active matters, email repositories, and documents.  The decision will be what to do with these items.  You may decide to “import” this data into your Cloud system.  If it is just contacts, that can usually be done pretty easily with wizards.  If you wish to bring in custom data, you will be best served to work with a consultant.  They will identify the fields that need to be customized in the practice management system, help you cleanup your data, and set up import templates.  If you are moving in “documents”, you need to be aware of “size” limits.  The base fee includes a certain amount of storage.  If your files exceed that storage, you will incur extra changes.  In the greater scheme these are nominal, but you need to be informed what the charges are and be realistic as to what you are storing in the cloud.

There is so much more I could write, but I will be coming back to this topic on a more regular base.  As many of you know Basha Systems has signed up as reseller partners with AdvologixPM and NetDocuments. There is a philosophical reason.  I believe that lawyers have different needs and uses for their practice management systems and that no single configuration of intake forms and calendars will satisfy all attorneys.  In that light, I prefer the “platform” approach adopted by Time Matters (in the Client-Server world) and by AdvologixPM in the Cloud.  The platform approach presents a base configuration that meets MOST of the needs of MOST attorneys.  But at the same time, it allows the individual organizations to disable features they don’t need, modify features they do need, and extend the program by adding additional features.  Moreover, a platform approach allows 3rd party vendors to create applications that extend the features of the shipping application.

As for NetDocuments, I favor that platform over DropBox,, iGNYTE, and GoogleApps, for two reasons.  First, it was developed “FOR LAWYERS”.  That means it was designed to meet the security, encryption, and document integration needs of lawyers. Second, you cannot adopt a Cloud practice Management system and then leave your documents in the “MyDocuments” folder or on a local Server; this position is inconsistent.  So you need a viable cloud-based stoage.  Moreover, you need a system with an API (Application Programming Interface) so it integrates with your cloud solution and isn’t a separate repository.