By now you’ve heard of the cloud and have at least a general understanding of what it is. Maybe your law firm has even implemented one or more cloud solutions into its practice.
Has your firm adopted the right cloud solutions? What other cloud applications would improve your practice? You have cloud practice management, cloud billing, cloud storage, private cloud–and more. Which systems should your firm implement?
Cloud Apps for Law Firms
In this post we’ll answer these questions and more as we explore the broad landscape of cloud apps for law firms. We’ll cover the leading cloud-based Practice Management and Document Management apps for law firms, general-purpose cloud solutions and private cloud apps for law firms.
Legal Practice Management
First we’ll cover a staple in cloud apps for law firms: cloud-based Legal Practice Management apps. These are natively cloud-based applications, run in a web browser—as opposed to server-based Practice Management apps, which can be hosted in a Private Cloud (more on this later.)
Cloud-based Legal Practice Management applications—as the name implies–help you manage your practice. Typically these applications serve as a single database and place to manage your firms:
- Client and contacts.
- Matters and case-specific information.
- Calendars (usually per-user and firm-wide)
- Tasks and to-do’s.
- Documents (though to a lesser degree then a full-fledged Document Management System).
- Time-tracking and billing.
- Accounting (in some cases).
- Client portal (in some cases).
Being cloud-based, these applications run in a web browser. This not only makes the application easily accessible from anywhere in the world, but means the law firm does not need to maintain an onsite server and does not need to install any software on their desktop computers.
Most or all Legal Practice Management apps include the basics like client and matter management, calendaring and billing. Others offer additional functionality such as MyCase’s client portal and CosmoLex’s integrated accounting.
Popular Cloud-based Legal Practice Management Apps:
Practice Management cloud apps for law firms:
Document Management & Cloud Storage
Next: Where to put all those documents? If the goal is to eliminate the need for on-premise servers (and it should be), we’ll need a system to store and manage documents.
Your first option is simple cloud storage. These solutions, such as DropBox, Google Drive and Microsoft’s OneDrive are just that: basic file storage in the cloud. They provide a place to create folders and store documents—nothing more, nothing less. They’re a decent general-purpose storage solution for a garden-variety business, but lack the sophistication required by most law firms.
Your next, and better option is a cloud-based Document Management System (DMS). Which brings us to cloud apps for law firms that perform document management. Document Management Systems do more than just hold/store documents, they provide tools to help law firms manage them. Functionality including:
- Matter-centric organization and storage.
- Document indexing for fast search.
- Versioning: See, restore or compare previous document versions.
- Document tagging / profiling / categorization.
- Document check-out/check-in.
- Email Management (save and manage emails like any other document).
- Automatic OCR (in some cases).
- Local sync with offline access (in some cases).
Like Practice Management software, Document Management applications come in two formats: natively cloud-based (web-based) or server-based/hosted. Cloud-based DMS’s are run from a web-browser and don’t require the firm to install software one each computer or maintain a local file server. Server-based DMS application require that the firm either maintain an on-premise server or run the application in a Private Cloud (which we’ll explore more later.)
Most Document Management Systems include staple DMS features such as version management and check-out/in. Others offer more sophisticated functionality such as LegalWorks’ automatic document OCR.
Popular Document Management apps:
Document Management cloud apps for law firms:
- Worldox (Server-based or Hosted)
- iManage (Server-based or Hosted)
- NetDocuments (Cloud-based)
- LegalWorks (Cloud-based)
- Cloud Storage Comparison Chart
- Legal Document Management Comparison Chart
- Case Study: How One Law Firm Implemented Document Management
General Purpose Cloud Apps
In addition to legal-centric practice and document management apps, the cloud offers a litany of general-purpose software useful to business of any flavor. There are cloud apps for accounting, stand-alone time/billing apps, cloud apps for communication, productivity and more.
General purpose cloud apps for law firms:
Slack is a team messaging and chat tool. It’s a great way to keep your legal team connected and collaborating; Slack includes direct messaging, group channels and more. It’s a great way to keep messages organized and de-clutter your inbox.
Need a stand-alone app to take and manage notes? Evernote is a great app that serves as a cloud-based version of your trusty legal pad: But one that you can take anywhere, organize and keep forever.
If you don’t want an all-in-one practice management and billing solution, but would rather have a leaner, stand-alone app to track and bill time, Bill4Time is a great solution. Run entirely in a web browser Bill4Time includes a Legal Edition optimized to track and bill time for lawyers.
How to manage all those cases, projects, tasks and to-do’s? If you don’t want an all-in-one practice and case management system, Wrike is a great stand-alone tool to manage projects and tasks. Wrike allows you to create and assign tasks, track progress, organize by project and more.
Private Cloud Apps
No post about cloud computing for lawyers would be complete without exploring private cloud solutions.
For those unfamiliar: a private cloud is a dedicated cloud workspace where a law firms can run any server/desktop-based software of their choosing. A private cloud gives the law firm the ability to run software that is otherwise not cloud-based: in the cloud.
Private clouds allow law firms to eliminate on-premise servers but keep the software they’re committed to. Server-based applications such as PCLaw, Time Matters, ProLaw, Tabs3, Worldox iManage used to require a hefty onsite serer (and IT support to keep it up and running). Today these applications can be run in a private cloud: secure, accessible from anywhere with no servers required. (A cake-and-eat-it-too situation.) Law firm employees access their private cloud via a virtual desktop, or Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS).
Accordingly, we sometimes refer to server-based apps that can be hosted in a private cloud as hosted apps, or, private cloud apps.
Popular Private Cloud (Hosted) apps:
Private cloud apps for law firms:
Closing the Loop
We hope this list of cloud-based Practice Management, Document Management, general-purpose and Private Cloud apps for law firms helps your practice as it explores solutions. There are a lot of options out there—many of them great fits. Which solution (or combination of solutions) is right for your firm depends a lot on your firm’s requirements, culture and budget.
Uptime Legal has helped hundreds of law firms evaluate and implement software for their practice: our experience with the landscape of cloud apps comes from years of helping law offices implement the right solution, one firm at a time. Contact us to schedule a consultation for your firm, and we’ll help you explore options and implement a cloud solution for your practice.
Related: Legal Software Comparison Chart
Looking for the right cloud apps for your law firm? Check our our Hosted Legal Software Comparison Chart. Or read our eBook on how and why to move your law firm to the cloud.