PCLaw is moving to SQL Server

What this Means for Your Law Firm

With the next version, due out soon from LexisNexis, PCLaw will finally abandon its long-time database engine C-Tree, and will be an SQL-only application. What does this mean for your firm? What steps should you take before you update? We’ll break it down.

A Quick Primer: What is SQL? And what is a database engine?

Microsoft SQL Server is a database engine developed and licensed by Microsoft. Most database applications–from accounting, to contact databases, to legal practice management, use a database engine as the foundation, so the creators of the software don’t have to worry about basics and mechanics like tables, rows, what does a date field look like, and so forth. When developers decide to write a new piece of software, they often start by selecting a standardized database engine (Microsoft SQL being a very popular one.)

The database engine manages data integrity, backups, and other low-level functions and they are almost completely under-the-hood (i.e., the end user can’t see it and doesn’t even need to know it’s there).

PCLaw + SQL: Its Good News

Okay, back to PCLaw. C-Tree, a lesser-known database engine was PCLaw’s first database engine. C-Tree did its job, but was more subject to data integrity problems than a commercial database engine such as SQL. Add to this the relative obscurity of C-Tree, which made support difficult.

Microsoft SQL, on the other hand, is more stable, less corruption-prone, and more universally supported by software developers and IT professionals alike. In short, it will keep your database application running faster, for longer, with fewer calls to the software’s technical support (in this case: LexisNexis).

SQL: Free or Not Free

But will this enhancement cost you more? Microsoft SQL is available in a variety of editions depending on the size of the implementation. But to keep things simple, SQL editions fall into two categories:

  • SQL Server Express – Free
  • Every Other SQL Server Edition (Standard, Enterprise, Datacenter, etc.) – Paid

The primary difference in each edition is the limit on the size of the database. In most cases, any software application that uses SQL (like PCLaw) doesn’t care what edition you have; rather the size of your database determines edition you’ll need.

NOTE:Your firm may need to purchase Microsoft SQL licensing to use the latest version of PCLaw. In the 2012 Version of SQL Server, the database limit for Express (free) is 10 GB. Fortunately, that would make for a large PCLaw database, and most law firms databases for PCLaw are much smaller than the current limit.

So…the enhancement of SQL won’t cost me anything, right?
Not so fast. Unlike C-Tree (a relatively thin, lightweight database engine), a modern SQL Server requires quite a bit more hardware horsepower (processor, RAM and disk speed). In fact, to meet with Microsoft’s best practices (something this author strongly supports), and for optimal performance, Microsoft SQL server should run on its own stand-alone server.

So if you’re one of the many small law firms using PCLaw, and you have a single server, you’d should get used to the idea of having two. That’s two servers to buy, two servers to manage, two servers to repair, two servers to maintain with software patches and updates, and two servers to replace every 3 to 5 years.

Better in the Cloud

As is often the case, the Cloud may save the day. With the right Private Cloud solution, your law firm doesn’t need to worry about any of this: buying SQL software licensing, adding a second server, and even keeping SQL itself up to date. (Yep–you’d have to do that too.)

A Private Cloud solution like Uptime Practice™ comes standard with:

  • A dedicated Private Cloud + Virtual Desktop environment
  • An additional cloud server to host Microsoft SQL (for PCLaw–and your other SQL-based apps)
  • Appropriate Microsoft SQL Server licensing
  • Optimization for PCLaw

The Uptime Verdict

To summarize, PCLaw is moving to SQL Server. This is a good thing: the software you know and love will only become more reliable and more robust. But be prepared to make an investment to upgrade your infrastructure, or evaluate a law firm Private Cloud solution as an alternative.

About the Author: Dennis Dimka
Dennis Dimka is the CEO and founder of Uptime Legal Systems, North America's leading provider of technology, cloud and marketing services to law firms. Dennis is the author of Law Practice as a Service: How and Why to Move Your Law Firm to the Cloud, and was an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist in 2016. Follow Dennis on LinkedIn.

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