Virtual Desktops for Law Firms

Virtual Desktops: How They Work, and Why Your Law Firm Should Probably Use Them.

Introduction

You’re a law firm. You need reliable, secure technology. And you need your team to work from anywhere.

When one thinks of “the cloud,” we often think of web-based software such as Clio law practice management, or FreshBooks accounting, or simple cloud storage solutions like Microsoft OneDrive, DropBox and Google Drive.

But there’s a lot more to the cloud than just web-based software.

Many law firms, particularly those that have 8 or more team-members, need tools more sophisticated and more robust than the web-based software available and basic cloud storage. Many firms need comprehensive case management and accounting software. And many firms need a document storage system that’s more than just basic files and folders.

What’s more, many law firms are committed to the practice management software they already use, applications like ProLaw, Time Matters, Tabs3, PCLaw, Worldox, TrialWorks and others.

For these law firms, a Virtual Desktop might be the perfect fit.

What is a Virtual Desktop?

It might sound techy, but it’s really straight-forward.

A Virtual Desktop is a desktop, like the Windows or Apple desktop you log into and use at home and work, that is hosted in the cloud, and that you can access anytime, anywhere. Typically, your Virtual Desktop will have the software that you need every day, like Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, along with your law practice management software, accounting software, even your document management software.

The Virtual Desktop makes your law firm’s software, which is otherwise only available from your work computer or while connected to your office’s servers, available from any computer in the world.

Virtual Desktop solutions are sometimes also referred to as “Desktop-as-a-Service,” or DaaS (analogous to “Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS).

Behind-the-scenes, the Virtual Desktop solution is powered by servers, in the cloud, managed by a professional Cloud Service Provider. Typically this means that the Cloud Service Provider manages all system maintenance, software updates, backups and security… and all you (and your team) have to do is log into your Virtual Desktop, and log out when you’re done.

How Virtual Desktops Work

In a traditional computing environment (called the “client/server” model), your core law firm software and files/folders/documents live on your law firm’s server. Your main applications (such as Microsoft Office, your law practice management software, your billing/accounting software) is installed on your physical, local desktop. That is: The workstation or laptop you use in the office.

In this traditional model, everything runs locally, and your applications are installed on your individual computer.

A Virtual Desktop is different. In a Virtual Desktop environment, very few, if any, applications are actually installed on your local computer. Often, the only icon on your local desktop is a shortcut to log into your Virtual Desktop.

When you (or anyone in your team) logs into your Virtual Desktop, you’ll have access to all of your law firm’s software, documents and data, including:

  • Your Law Practice Management Software
  • Your Productivity Software (Microsoft Office)
  • Your Billing & Accounting Software
  • Your Document Management Software
  • Your Email
  • Your Files and Folders

This gives your entire firm access to all of your applications, documents and data, from anywhere, on any device.

Virtual Desktops also mean that you no longer have to install, update and maintain each of your applications on every computer within your firm. Instead, your Cloud Service Provider simply keeps all software updated for you.

What Software Can Be Used in a Virtual Desktop?

With the many clear advantages of using a Virtual Desktop for law firms, the question becomes: What software applications can run within a Virtual Desktop?

Virtual desktops can host virtually any Windows-based software. This is especially useful to law firms who run Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat, WordPerfect, and a myriad of practice management, case management, billing, accounting, and document management applications.

This includes today’s most popular law practice management and document management software. Traditional, premise-based practice management applications in particular tend to be more robust and feature-rich than their web-based counterparts. Virtual Desktops enable law firms to take advantage of the benefits of cloud computing, without abandoning their software for more basic, “watered-down” alternatives.

Quite a few software packages used by law firms can be run in a Virtual Desktop.

Law firm’s should seek out a Cloud Service Provider that has extensive experience hosting these titles, and a cloud platform specifically optimized to run these specific law firm applications.

It’s also important to find a Cloud Service Provider that understand the workflow and the culture of law firms.

Related: Learn more about hosting your law firm software in a Virtual Desktop.

Under the Hood: Private Cloud

The Virtual Desktop is how each member of your law firm interacts with your cloud system. Under the hood, your Virtual Desktops are powered by something called a Private Cloud.

A Private Cloud is a hosted server (or set of hosted servers) that provides the necessary IT platform to host and run your legal software. In a Private Cloud solution, you’re effectively leveraging another company’s server, as opposed to buying/managing/maintaining your own.

Specifics vary by solution provider, but generally, a Private Cloud includes:

  • Hosting for your Server-based Legal Software
  • Secure Storage for your Documents and Data
  • All Necessary Maintenance and Backups
  • All Appropriate Data Security
  • Updates, Patches, and Fixes As-Needed
  • And of course - a Virtual Desktop for each member of your firm

Learn more about Private Cloud for Law Firms:

Should My Law Firm Use Virtual Desktops?

Virtual Desktops bring many advantages to law firms. Specifically, Virtual Desktops are likely the best technology route in any of the following scenarios.

  • Your firm is committed to it's (premise-based) law practice management software
  • Your firm uses a combination of devices (Windows, Macs, Tablets)
  • Your firm needs to be able to work from anywhere
  • You're tired of dealing with servers and IT headaches
  • Your firm needs to keep your applications an data secure

We’ll cover selecting the right Virtual Desktop provider, and doing your due diligence, shortly.

Virtual Desktop Costs

The cost of a law firm Virtual Desktop solution will vary based on the number of people (users) in your firm, and the specific legal software your firm uses (more heavy-duty software requires more computing power). The cost also varies based on the number of applications you’ll be hosting in the cloud, and (to a lesser degree), how much data you’ll store in the cloud.

  • A simple Virtual Desktop implementation for a single application might cost less than $90 / user / month.
  • A more sophisticated Virtual Desktop implementation for multiple applications might cost $150 / user / month or more.

Virtual Desktop platforms, and Private Cloud solutions in general, are almost always more economical than owning and managing in-house servers.

If you compare the up-front and ongoing cost of buying, managing, maintaining and repairing servers over a multi-year period, to the predictable, straight forward per-user-per-month cost model of a Virtual Desktop, you’ll see that near and long-term: a Virtual Desktop almost always has the financial advantage.

(You can do your own side-by-side comparison with our Cloud Cost Calculator.)

Related:

Virtual Desktops Demonstrated

Understanding how law firm virtual desktops work, conceptually, is one thing. You might be wondering: What does working in a Virtual Desktop actually look and feel like?

Most Virtual Desktop platforms look, work and function like any other (Windows) desktop.

You have a desktop for shortcuts, apps and files. You have a start menu, a Recycle Bin, and any other items or options that your firm may need. Most law firm Virtual Desktops will be standardized, with the apps and tools everyone in your firm needs, and can be additionally customized on a person-by-person basis.

By way of example, watch the demonstration video of Uptime Practice, our own cloud-based Virtual Desktop platform for law firms.

Doing Your Due Diligence

As this article describes, Virtual Desktops bring a whole host of benefits and advantages to law firms. It’s important, however, that if your law firm goes this route, that it finds and selects the right Virtual Desktop/Private Cloud provider for your firm.

Today, there are many IT companies and Cloud Service Providers that offer Virtual Desktop platforms. It’s important to not only make sure that the company you select has experience hosting and supporting the software that your firm relies on, but that the company has the infrastructure and security in place to keep your data secure and your firm up and running.

Among other things, you’ll want to ensure that your chosen Virtual Desktop provider:

  • Has extensive experience hosting your legal software
  • Owns their own infrastructure (server/network equipment)
  • Employs bank-grade data security (including data encryption)
  • Has multiple datacenters across the united states
  • Makes regular backups of your data
  • Serves many other law firms, like yours

For more information on how to evaluate appropriate Cloud Service Providers for your firm, read our checklist: 25 Things to Require of Your Law Firm Cloud Provider.

I hope you find this Virtual Desktop guide for law firms useful. What questions do you still have? Post a reply in the comments section below, or get in touch with us to learn about Virtual Desktop solutions for your law firm.

Onward and Upward!