Cloud Hosting for Law Firms: Cost vs. Value

Jim just bought a new house with a three-acre backyard.

Shortly after moving in, he realized that he would need a lawnmower.

So, he went to his local hardware store to evaluate mowers.

The ride-on mowers were priced considerably higher than the push mowers.

The sales rep told him the ride-on mower would cut his mowing time in half at least, but it came at triple the cost.

Jim considered his busy Saturday and all the things he needed to pack into the day between chores, kids’ baseball, family activities, and maybe if he was lucky poker night with the guys.

Jim deliberated briefly in his mind and concluded the ride on mower while not priced low was indeed the best value for the sake of time preservation.

This example of Cost vs. Value applies to virtually everything from cars, TV’s, food, transportation and the list goes on and on.

Sadly, when shopping for cloud hosting for law firms, many go right for the price tag and bypass the value proposition. Why? Because when you’re not sure exactly what you’re paying for, the only way to evaluate something is on price. So, the default mode of evaluation is finding the lowest-priced option.

It relies on the assumption that “all Clouds are created equal”

Unfortunately this kind of approach can result in detrimental consequences for an unknowing law firms.

The hidden fees and learning after-the-fact what is and is not included may not turn out to not be the bargain you originally anticipated.

As an example, many cloud hosting providers charge a flat per-user pricing or a round package per-month price, but there is not a standard offering in cloud services for law firms. Some come with better tech support than others. Some come with faster servers. And some platforms have better legal-industry experience.

In this article, we are going to peel back the layers of that cloud onion, and share what actually goes into the costs of cloud hostingfor law firms, to help make it so you can better evaluate your options, rather than just have “this one is cheaper” as your metric. Because the cheapest is rarely the best.

So, what goes into cloud services and hosting?

Support – What Happens When You Need Help?

Without question, the most important factor is who is going to set up your system, and who is going to pick up the phone when help is needed.

Even though this is the most important factor, it is often the most overlooked.

There tends to be an assumption that any IT professional can set up a law firm’s software.

Here is the reality of the situation: If you are dealing with a vendor that is even somewhat reputable, the physical infrastructure differences between vendors will be minimal.

Most cloud providers understand they need to host in a professional data center, and building a solid infrastructure is not rocket science.

Building a support team, on the other hand, is where corners are typically cut and where margins are made.

There is no greater expense than people.

This incentivizes many cloud vendors to outsource support to other countries, or hire entry-level technicians who can’t troubleshoot very far beyond asking you to reboot your computer.

They run a skeleton crew of IT engineers who are typically backlogged with tickets.

While your ticket may get processed right away, getting actual resolution to your problem could take days or weeks.

So here is what you need to find out:

  • Is the help desk North American based?
  • What is the average pay scale of the people who pick up the phone?
  • What legal-centric training do they receive?
  • What percentage of their calls are from law firms?
  • What percentage of calls are resolved by the person who takes the call vs. tickets that are escalated?
  • If 24-7 support is offered, find out who is picking up that phone, better yet call their support line at 3 in the morning and gage for yourself the quality of that individual.

What’s Included in Your Service

The nickel and dime effect can make the seemingly low monthly cost shoot through the roof if you don’t know what to look for. Consider the items below:

Support: It is important to know what is covered and what is not. Here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Do you offer support of my Legal software applications? A good legal-centric cloud provider will have extensive experience with your legal software, being able to fix almost any technical problem themselves. If it is a bug or software problem they should have a relationship with that vendor and a support rhythm to fix the problem together Vs pointing the finger with you the law firm trapped in the middle.
  • Is local area network, local computer, and mobile device support included? Many vendors draw the lines of support at their cloud. Others may charge you an hourly rate as this is considered out of scope support.
  • Is software upgrades and platform upgrades included? This is a huge gotcha expense if it is not part of the so called all-inclusive package.

Hosted E-mail / Microsoft Office: Is hosted exchange e-mail along with Word, Excel, Power Point, and One note included or is it a buy your own Office 365 situation? If not included add approximately $20 per user onto the overall cost.

Microsoft SQL: Many legal programs require a SQL server along with the paid version SQL licensing. If this is not included you may be forking out big bucks for licensing / additional cloud infrastructure that you were unware of at signing.

Anti-Virus: Many cloud hosting vendors will provide anti-virus in the cloud, but most will not include local managed anti-virus or it is an add-on to again your so called all-inclusive plan. If this is not covered add another $100 per user per year onto the fees.

Legal Industry Experience & Reputation

How smooth the service is will greatly be impacted by your vendor’s expertise.

Experience is great, but how long someone does something will not always equate to quality.

Thus, it is import to know who you are dealing with, and what is their reputation within your industry.

Here are some validation tips:

Reviews: You should get a general sense of what it is like to work with a company from reviews. While opinions may vary, you should see a general pattern that paints a pretty clear picture. Make sure this is not reviews on their web site. You want to find a place where people can post without moderation such as Google reviews or Capterra.com for example. But don’t stop here!

References: 1 on 1 talk with industry peers who use this vendor’s cloud service is extremely beneficial. While written reviews and video testimonials is a great place to start, it’s always good to get unscripted real talk from someone who uses the service day in and day out. Pinning them down with your specific questions and concerns. Moreover, make sure the reference you get for the cloud hosting for law firm provider is actually another law firm similarly situated to your firm.

Demo: Doing a live demo or obtaining access to a demo account is a great way to test drive before you bring this cloud service home. Good legal centric cloud providers should have some popular legal software for you to test inside of these demos. If a demo contains just Microsoft Word and Quick Books that will not be a great test of how a real world robust legal products will perform in their environment.

Conclusion

To sum it all up your time is your greatest asset.

Weaker cloud service companies will lead to down-time, poor customer service, lengthy spans of time for ticket resolution, and potentially crashes and data loss if poorly maintained.

When shopping for cloud hosting for your law firm, this is not the time to go to the cloud services clearance rack.

Your anticipated savings will dwindle in a blink of an eye while work piles up due to inefficiencies.

For example – if your servers are down for four hours – how much billable work will your firm lose?

This is something that few firms consider when purchasing cloud services for their firms, but it can have a huge impact.

Ensuring that you have consistent uptime is key. And in the event your systems go down at night, someone needs to be on-call to help you. Especially considering many lawyers work late hours.

Technology’s core purpose is to better our productivity. Don’t risk taking a step backwards with weak service. Do your homework and look for the best value, not the cheapest option!

Hopefully these tips can help you determine what’s the best cloud hosting for your firm.

About the Author: Aaron Eittreim
Aaron Eittreim is the Chief Business Development Officer of Uptime Legal Systems, North America's leading provider of technology, cloud and marketing services to law firms. Aaron oversees Uptime's new business and channel departments. Follow Aaron on LinkedIn.

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