Law Firm Technology: Benefits and Drawbacks of Cloud Computing

cloud computingBig glaring disclaimer here – I’m not a tech guy, and I don’t typically write about law firm technology. However, if you are thinking about or already in the process of starting your law firm, whether to invest (potentially) thousands of dollars in a server or go with a cloud based solution is a decision you may need to make.

I started practicing in the days when there was no such thing as “cloud computing”. Rocketmatter (the case management program I currently use) and Clio (which I have tried as well), two of the biggest names in the cloud computing arena today, weren’t even in existence. The bigger players back in 2005 were TimeMatters (the program I used), and a host of other PC-based case management products.

Why address Cloud Computing now?

Yesterday I was talking to the attorney I share space with about a case we are handling together (one of the benefits of sharing space with another attorney in a different practice area), and he mentions to me off-handedly that he believes we are still 5 years off from being able to do away with his server and go completely to the cloud. I’m thinking to myself, “what is he smoking, I would like some” but the logical half of my brain reminded me to be cordial in the south, and I ask him why he feels that way.

“Cloud-based programs are clunky and slow. The bandwidth is just not there.” (I’m probably paraphrasing here a little bit). Here’s the problem with that statement – when I started my law practice in North Carolina back in 2010, I went with cloud-based case management, document storage, accounting, etc. I even hired a virtual receptionist (whom I love by the way). Within the past two weeks, I have rolled over to a cloud-based phone system (Vocalocity) as well. I’m not looking back.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Cloud Computing

I asked my attorney friend what it cost to purchase and maintain a server. He spent $3,000 when he first purchased it (he believes it will need to be replaced after 5 years), and $1,000 per year to have someone maintain and update it. And God-forbid that the server might crash, or go down… I’m not sure he factored in those costs. So at the end of five years, my lawyer friend will have spent approximately $8,000 (minimum) to have his own server – and that doesn’t include the cost of his case management system.

As for case management, my friend uses Amicus Attorney. A quick review of their website shows that two licenses for Amicus Attorney costs roughly $1,600. If he ever wanted to upgrade, it would cost him an additional $950. A maintenance plan is anywhere from $500-800 extra per year, and technical support is an extra $300 per year. And that’s just for case management. (It looks like Amicus Attorney is currently rolling out a cloud-based product – that should tell you where there existing business model is headed).

On the other hand, I use cloud-based Rocketmatter, which currently costs me $109/month, (I have an assistant and Rocketmatter bills per user). Clio is a bit less expensive, depending on how many attorney are using the system. So lets assume, on average, cloud-based case management is about $100 per month. That’s $6,000 over 5 years – and what do you get for that?

  • Automatic updates to the software.
  • Constant improvements and add-ons (you don’t need to pay for upgrades).
  • The security of having your information stored in multiple servers at a remote location.
  • Customer service and training for free
  • Free technical support
  • Email integration and document storage
  • Trust Accounting
  • Data storage and backups
  • Security
  • Mobile Access (mobile apps for iPad/iPhone)
  • Time Billing and invoicing
  • Much, much more.

Is using a cloud-based product more “clunky” or “slower” on my computer? Not anything noticeable.

If you are a small firm or a solo-lawyer just starting out, I recommend you give a look to a cloud-based case management program.

Have a comment one-way or the other? Feel free to share your experiences below.