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October 5, 2016
Most attorneys are more interested in practicing law than in managing the computer systems they rely on to get their work done. That’s why more and more law offices are turning to cloud-based IT service management providers to supply the computer support that no modern law practice can do without, but that most lawyers don’t want to, and are not equipped to do for themselves.
The term “cloud” basically refers to the delivery of computer services over the internet. Traditionally, law offices have had to purchase their own computers, servers, and licensed software in order to get the applications and data storage they need to run their practice. But in the cloud computing model, software and data all reside on the servers of an IT service management vendor. The concept is called Software as a Service (SaaS), and a growing number of lawyers throughout the country are turning to it.
How SaaS works
With SaaS, you access your software applications and data through the internet, using any computer or other device that can support a web browser. Your practice doesn’t have to spend capital up front to purchase servers, software licenses, and data storage to run the applications you depend on. Instead, you pay a monthly fee to an IT service management provider who delivers those applications through the internet. In most cases, the vendor also takes full responsibility for managing the practice’s IT functions, relieving attorneys and staff of having to spend time and attention on keeping the computer system running.
Benefits of the SaaS model
Lawyers working in small to mid-size practices are more and more attracted to this model because it offers some significant benefits. These include the following:
1. Lower Costs
SaaS can significantly reduce the capital expenditures required to gain needed IT services. For a single monthly fee, the vendor supplies all the server hardware and software needed for your practice’s IT setup at no up-front cost to you. This relieves your practice of the obligation of purchasing servers and software licenses, and of hiring IT consultants to set up, maintain, and upgrade your IT infrastructure. Plus, your vendor will be able to remotely diagnose problems and provide fixes on a quick-response 24/7 basis.
All your practice needs to supply for itself are computers or other devices capable of internet access through a browser. And even here you can realize significant savings by investing in what are called “thin client” workstations instead of full-featured computers. Thin clients are cheaper because they don’t need large disk drives or sizeable amounts of computer memory, since their only job is to access the internet via a web browser.
Another great feature of this model is that you pay only for the services you actually use during a billing cycle. As your need for IT services changes from month to month, you never find yourself in the position of having to pay for capacity you didn’t really need during that period.
We are living in a time of explosive technological change. Hardware and software that were perfectly suited for their functions when purchased, may be quickly outmoded as new features and capabilities become available. Plus, as your practice grows, its own needs may quickly expand beyond what was initially envisioned.
The SaaS model takes the burden of responding to these changes off of you, and places them on the SaaS vendor. A good IT service management provider will be constantly upgrading its hardware and software behind the scenes to take advantage of advances in technology. Plus, the vendor is continually monitoring your usage (usually on a daily basis), so that as your need for services grows (or diminishes), the resources allocated to you can be almost instantaneously adjusted. You and your staff never have to take time and attention away from the practice of law in order to initiate, implement, and test such changes.
With SaaS you can access your applications and data from anywhere in the world simply by logging into your system via an internet-enabled device. It could be your office computer, or the laptop you use at home, or even the smart phone or BlackBerry you take with you while traveling. As long as your device supports an internet browser, you can have immediate access to the same functionality you have while sitting at your desk in the office.
4. Ease of Collaboration
Because your practice’s applications and data are centrally housed on your SaaS vendor’s servers, all your users can access the same data real time. If several colleagues or staffers are working on the same case, all can collaborate using information that is always up to date, because they are all interacting with the same data on the system.
5. Data Security
The biggest concern most lawyers have about using cloud services is that their clients’ sensitive data is being stored on someone else’s system. How can they be sure that data remains secure when it is not under their immediate control?
Actually, a good IT service management vendor, like TOSS C3, can provide a much higher level of security than most law practices can achieve on their own. That’s because, by the very nature of their business the SasS vendor is required to have a level of data security expertise that non-specialists are not likely to possess. If you choose the right vendor, they will be well versed in issues like restricting access only to authorized users, securing your data against hacking through use of encryption and other data security measures, and protecting your data from natural or man-made disasters by replicating it in different off-site locations so that if one repository goes down, the data can be recovered from others.
But what about the Rules Of Ethics concerning maintaining the confidentiality of client data? Although laws regarding storing client data in the cloud are still developing, no state has forbidden the practice, and a number specifically authorize it. The ABA, along with several state bar associations, supports use of cloud services as long as due diligence precautions are taken. The Legal Cloud Computing Association (LCCA) has published a set of security standards to provide guidance for lawyers in meeting cloud computing ethics obligations.
The cloud offers significant opportunities for law practices to lower their costs, and provide better service to their clients. If you would like to explore how moving to the cloud can work for you, please
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