Hosting PCLaw in the Cloud – Overview, Benefits and What You Need to Know.
Many law firms in the US and Canada use PCLaw to manage their clients, matters, time, billing and accounting. PCLaw is a long-running, popular Practice Management and Legal Accounting application that, to its credit, has been powerful, useful and relevant to this day. Today, however, many aw firm require the benefits of cloud computing. Law firms today need to be able to work (and bill time) from anywhere. They need better information security. They need a reliable IT platform, and many of them would like to avoid owning and managing servers. These needs bring many law firms to explore hosting PCLaw in the Cloud.
PCLaw – a Brief Overview
If you’re not familiar with PCLaw–or need a brief recap–PCLaw is a powerful software application that manages a law firm’s clients, contacts, calendars, time, billing and accounting. PCLaw is most known for its robust billing and accounting functionality. PCLaw is one of the few legal practice management suites that have deep and rich tools to manage billing in a variety of ways, manage business and trust accounts and generate comprehensive financial reports that other applications in the space just can’t do. Many years ago, PCLaw really only managed a law firm’s billing and accounting, leaving many law firms to use PCLaw for this back-office functionality and acquire another piece of software to manage cases, calendars and other front-office functions. PCLaw has come a long way, and today has tools to manage the full cycle of many law firms: both front and back office.
PCLaw is used heavily in the United States, but also has a strong presence in Canada, where the Law Societies have strict rules on legal accounting (rules that are met by PCLaw).
Related: PCLaw – an Uptime Review
PCLaw – Under the Hood
One of the draws of PCLaw (apart from the all-in-one nature of the software) is that it requires minimal effort to set up. PCLaw doesn’t require a lot of customization: You can install it, define a few basic accounting preferences, and you’re off to the races.
Under the hood, PCLaw is a traditional database-driven, client/server software application. The client software (what your firm’s users see and interact with) is installed on each employee’s computer or a virtual desktop, and the database runs on a server in your law office or within a private cloud. Earlier versions of PCLaw ran on a database engine known as C-Tree. C-Tree is a low-cost, lesser-known database engine. More recently, PCLaw leverages Microsoft SQL Server, a more robust database engine that more robust, less prone to data integrity problems and more widely supported in the IT community.
The upside: Your PCLaw database will be more reliable, have less errors and be more widely supported by IT professionals.
The downside: SQL server is a more powerful database engine, which means it requires a more powerful server to run. This can be accommodated by a sufficient server within your law office or via a suitable private cloud.
Related: PCLaw is Moving to SQL Server
PCLaw – Setup & Support
I did say that PCLaw requires little in the way of customization and setup. You will, however, need an IT professional who can install it to your desktops, your server, setup SQL server and setup and manage regular database backups. This means you’ll want to find an IT consultant who not only is a talented IT expert, but also knows how to manage the technical aspects of PCLaw and SQL Server. Alternatively: a suitable private cloud platform that is meant to host PCLaw in the cloud will (or should) include the resources, backups, management and support that PCLaw requires.
Hosting PCLaw in the Cloud
It used to be that the only way to enjoy the benefits of PCLaw was to buy a server, install it and pay a professional to keep your server infrastructure up and running. On-site server and local IT consultants were viewed by many law firms as a necessary evil.
In the era of cloud computing: this is no longer the case. Law firms across the US are hosting PCLaw in the cloud, which allows them the benefits of cloud computing and the benefits of using PCLaw to run their practice. Hosting PCLaw in the cloud provides all of the benefits of PCLaw (robust case management and accounting) and the frills of a cloud-based platform (mobility, reliability and security).
The technology that makes hosting PCLaw int he cloud possible is: a private cloud. A private cloud is a platform that hosts all of your firm’s software (PCLaw and other software that your firm uses), your documents and your email on a single, centralized, fully-managed platform. This makes all of your software, documents, email and more available to your entire firm wherever they may be. It also puts the onus of backing your firm’s data up and keeping it secure onto the cloud provider. With a private cloud, the cloud provider, in effect, becomes your server (so you don’t have to have one) as well as your IT team.
Benefits of Hosting PCLaw in the Cloud
So, why exactly should a law firm consider hosting PCLaw in the cloud? There may be one or two reasons top-of-mind for you, but there are numerous benefits to having your entire law office in the cloud:
- Keep using the software your law firm is committed to (PCLaw). Not only is changing legal software difficult and time-consuming: it’s often not the best move. I’ve watched many law firms move from server-based software to a more basic, web-based platform only to be disappointed… and move back to PCLaw.
- Don’t sacrifice functionality. You don’t have to switch to a watered-down web-based legal case management system to get the accessibility, reliability and security of the cloud. A private cloud will host your PCLaw in the Cloud–along with the rest of your software, your documents and your email.
- Security. Information security is a serious issue: and as a law firm you probably store sensitive, privileged information. Hosting PCLaw in the Cloud will usually bring a level of information security that is significantly higher than owning your own server and managing security (or attempting to manage security) on your own.
- Mobility. When hosting PCLaw in the cloud – your entire firm can access PCLaw (and other software and documents) from anywhere, on any device. Lawyers are mobile and need access to case and client data anywhere.
- Reliability. As is the case with security, by hosting PCLaw in the Cloud, the reliability of your systems and date will be significantly better than a server sitting in your law office. Most cloud service providers have very reliable infrastructures and boast 99.99% uptime. And–any technical problems that do arise are their problem to solve: not yours.
- Scalability. With most private cloud solutions, you can add (and remove) resources as you need them–including users, drive space and more. This pay-as-you-go and grow-as-you-go model makes scaling your law firm easy and predictable.
- Economy. Finally, for most law firms hosting PCLaw in the cloud is more economical that hosting in on an onsite server. With the on-premise model you have to buy a server, pay an IT professional to manage it, pay for antivirus software, pay for backups, pay to upgrade the server as necessary, pay to repair it when it breaks… and on and on. Compare this to the flat fee per-month of most private cloud solutions. An on-premise infrastructure is not only more expensive to manage: your costs are almost certain to be sporadic and difficult to predict.
Your Entire Firm in the Cloud
A final note as we close the loop on hosting PCLaw in the Cloud. If you do decide to go the route of hosting PCLaw in the cloud: don’t piecemeal your practice.
There may be a temptation, as a quick-and-dirty way to move PCLaw to the cloud of moving only PCLaw to the cloud. Maybe you’re looking for an easy-button to give your firm remote access to PCLaw, and promise yourself: you’ll deal with your other software and documents later. Avoid this temptation at all costs. This half-in-half out approach doesn’t eliminate the headache of servers–and it really creates more technology, to manage, not less. In this scenario, you still have onsite server infrastructure to manage, have some software on your servers and desktops, some in the cloud, and a patchwork of technology and accountability.
Just don’t do it.
Add to that: think of how your PCLaw interacts with your other software. Matters in PCLaw can link to documents. Emails can be copied from Outlook to PCLaw. Your Outlook calendar can sync with your PCLaw calendar. For these integrations to work properly, your PCLaw, documents, email and other software must be on the same system, not spread across multiple ones.
Doing Your Due Diligence
If your firm is serious about exploring private cloud solutions (and it should be!) I recommend downloading our checklist: Private Cloud Due Diligence – a Checklist for Law Firms.