Law Firms – Running Tabs3 in the Cloud (and PracticeMaster Too).
My job here at Uptime Legal is to advise law firms on legal technology and, when appropriate, assist them in a migration to the cloud. Over the last decade I’ve watched and helped hundreds such firms ditch their servers and move to the cloud. What was once a technology that was viewed by some law firms with suspicion and doubt is now mainstream, even a gold standard on how to effectively run a law practice. But in all the buzz of web apps, many law firm still depend on Tabs3 and Practice Master to manage their cases, their billing and their practice. For that reason, in this article we’ll explore Tabs3 in the cloud.
Tabs3 – A Brief Overview
If you’re not familiar with the Tabs3 and Practice Master suite (and, you probably should be), I’ll give a quick recap.
Tabs3 is a long-standing time-tracking, billing and accounting software suite favored by many law firms. Tabs3 along with Practice Master, its practice-management counterpart, helps a law firm manage its clients, cases, calendars, time, billing and accounting. And it does it with a wholistic, end-to-end approach.
When someone refers to Tabs3, they often are referring to the entire Tabs3/Practice Master suite, which is actually to complementary applications:
- Tabs3, which is the time tracking, billing and accounting application (or the “back-office” side of the suite), and
- PracticeMaster, which is the case management, calendaring and practice management application (or the “front-office” side of the suite).
While technically two separate software applications, Tabs3 and PracticeMaster are tightly integrated and are often purchased and used side-by-side. Together, they create a robust, powerful platform for law firms to manage their clients, cases, calendars, billing and accounting.
And as we’ll explore next, you can run Tabs3 on your own, in-house server, or you can run Tabs3 in the cloud.
Related: Tabs3 – An Uptime Legal Review
Tabs3 – On-Premise vs. Hosted
Tabs3 and PracticeMaster (which, from here on out, I’ll refer to the suite simply as “Tabs3”) has been around for decades. Its publisher, STI (Softwre Technology Incorporated) has been developing Tabs3 for a long time. This means it’s had years of evolution and refinement.
It also means that, being mature software, that Tabs3 is premise-based software. This means that the software was originally developed to be run in-house, on a law firm’s onsite server infrastructure.
Let’s take a step back for a moment to explain what the means, and what a law firm’s options are today, as it relates to running Tabs3 in the cloud.
Traditional software (before web-apps were commonplace) required a server. If you want to use one of these traditional practice management or legal billing applications (like Tabs3), you had to get and maintain a server in-house. That’s the way its been for decades.
Today, you can either do that, or you can implement a private cloud to host your software. A private cloud will host non-cloud based software… effectively making that software cloud-based. Again, these applications, like Tabs3 require a server (one way or another). And in the case of a private cloud platform, the private cloud is the server.
Or said another way: A private cloud will cloud-ify otherwise premise-based software.
What Exactly is a Private Cloud?
Now you understand that you can run Tabs3 in the cloud, instead of dealing with the headaches of onsite servers and local IT. And you generally understand that this is accomplished via a private cloud.
But what exactly is a private cloud?
In a sentence or less: a private cloud is a complete IT platform that will host, and provide support for, all of your law firm’s software, documents, data and email.
Since that description, while accurate, is pretty broad, allow me to break down a private cloud, and how it will help you move Tabs3 to the cloud. A private cloud service typically, though not always, includes:
- Dedicated hosted servers, private to your law firm (hence the ‘Private’ in Private Cloud).
- Hosting of your firm’s software: From Tabs3 to Worldox, to Adobe Acrobat and Phillips Dictation.
- Microsoft Office is typically included–giving each user in your firm the full, latest version of the Office suite.
- Email – via Hosted Exchange (identical to Office 365).
- Cloud storage for your firm’s documents and application data (such as the Tabs3 database).
- SQL Server – required by many of the more robust practice management applications (including Tabs3).
- Support and updates to your software, including Tabs3, Microsoft Office, and all of your other software.
- Support for your local devices including desktops, laptops, printers, scanners, wireless routers–and more.
- All necessary management, including adding and removing of user accounts.
As you can see, when it comes to running Tabs3 in the cloud, a private cloud does everything your current on-premise server and local IT support company does for you (and then some).
The Virtual Desktop
So now you understand how Tabs3 in the cloud works, at least conceptually.
But how does it work from the perspective of your law firm’s staff? What does it look like? How does everyone in the firm actually use Tabs3 when its no longer installed on your servers and desktops?
This is accomplished with what’s called a virtual desktop (sometimes also called a “cloud desktop,” or “Desktop-as-a-Service” [DaaS]).
When your firm is running Tabs3 in the cloud, each person in your firm will begin their workday by sitting down at their desktop computer (or laptop), then logging into their personalized virtual desktop.
Within each person’s virtual desktop, they’ll find all of their applications and data: Their Tabs3, their Microsoft Outlook, the firm’s (S:) drive–everything. Each person can log into this virtual desktop from anywhere, or any device (from the office, from home, from a PC, from a Mac). This un-tethers each employee from relying too heavily on any one computer or location to do their job.
Recall that in this scenereo, Tabs3 is not running on any local server, and is not even installed on each person’s individual desktop computer. What’s really happening, under the hood, is each person is logging into a remote system, kind of like a dedicated computer in the cloud. When you open and work with any application, such as Tabs3 or the Microsoft Office suite, you’re actually working in that application on the private cloud server, not the device you’re connecting from. Modern Internet speeds make this not only possible, but (with the right private cloud platform) as seamless as if you were working on your own local desktop.
It’s a powerful solution.
Related: Virtual Desktops for Law Firms
There are many benefits to cloud computing and to running Tabs3 in the cloud. But there are also some potential pitfalls.
Doing Your Due Diligence
Not all clouds are created equal. And in 2018, there are (unfortunately) many companies vying for your dollars that are not necessarily suited to the nuances and expertise required to host Tabs3 in the cloud. I recommend to any law firm that is evaluating potential private cloud providers use our whitepaper, 25 Things To Ask Your Legal Private Cloud Provider as a guide.
Are you searching for legal billing and practice management software for your firm, and feeling overwhelmed by the options? Is your law firm considering a move to Tabs3? If so, I recommend reading our article: 7 Reasons Your Law Firm Should Consider Tabs3.
Moving to the Cloud
Now that you understand how Tabs3 in the cloud works, you may be wondering exactly how to go about moving Tabs3 to the cloud. If so, I recommend our article on How to Move Tabs3 to the Cloud.
Regardless of the course your law firm charts: I encourage every law firm to do their homework, understand the playing field and understand their options.
Onward and upward.