Law is going to the clouds. While some firms don't see software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions passing the bar anytime soon, Big Law Business notes that entirely cloud-based firms are now emerging. Some organizations don't rent offices or set specific billing rates — instead, they let attorneys work how they want, where they want.
Most practices aren't prepared to move operations entirely offsite, but that doesn't mean moving to the cloud is a lost cause. From case management solutions such as Clio cloud to electronic signatures and document management, it's possible for firms to make solid arguments for the cloud and return a verdict of solid ROI.
The Case for the Cloud
What's the current state of legal cloud solutions? As noted by the American Bar Association (ABA), cloud solutions offer marked benefits over traditional legal software, including greater functionality and usability, improved service and support, and increased availability and access. The ABA points out that many lawyers spend time away from critical case and client tasks dealing with technology issues. The cloud offers a way to put their focus back where it belongs.
However, are firms able to meet ethical guidelines in the cloud? According to Above The Law, 19 states have issued ethics opinions on attorneys using the cloud. None have flat-out said they can't, and around half said they could — with stipulations. For example, Ohio guidance suggests that law firms should take the following steps when using the cloud:
- Consider Vendor Qualifications and Reputation: The state offers general guidelines on service agreements, but nothing specific. Firms must use their best judgment here.
- Ensure Confidentiality: Firms should ask vendors about data protection and make sure systems back up claims.
- Supervise Cloud Vendors: No time frame or frequency of supervision is given, but the state recommends checking in with vendors.
- Communicate with Clients: Tell clients their documents are in the cloud if it's relevant. Otherwise, there's no need for the conversation.
A Firm Foundation
It's worth taking a look at some of the most popular cloud-based business tools for the legal sector and how they can integrate with your day-to-day practice. The ABA points to several solutions, including the following:
- Clio: This case management tool lets you see upcoming caseloads at a glance, monitor their billing targets, link tasks, bill directly, and easily run reports to obtain actionable data. The Clio cloud also lets firms share documents and bill clients online.
- Chrometa: This application automatically captures and categorizes attorney time, taking the burden off lawyers to record, classify, and then review time spent on various aspects of their caseload.
- DocuSign: It's now possible to securely send and sign documents over the cloud. DocuSign lets lawyers and clients sign documents on mobile devices and collaborate with third parties.
- DirectLaw: This service lets clients and attorneys connect and collaborate in the cloud, helping reduce scheduling conflicts that stem from face-to-face meetings.
SaaS options offer a great starting point, but how do firms expand their impact? Consider the Clio cloud. While the tool helps track billable hours and tasks, firms using traditional wirline communication systems may still struggle with billable phone records, since this integration doesn't naturally occur. But by employing a Clio integration — tying cloud phone service together with Clio — organizations can automatically track time stamps, access call logs, and ensure all calls include tags and relevant notes.
Many lawyers spend time away from critical case and client tasks dealing with technology issues. The cloud offers a way to put their focus back where it belongs.
Legal organizations can also take things a step further by combining their full suite of unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) tools with the Clio solution. For firms such as Meikle West, this integration allows attorneys to work where they want, when they want, and how they want while still supporting the corporate business model. By tracking time spent on phone calls, video conferences, emails, and even instant messaging, Meikle West enjoys a 10 percent boost to time capture and billable hours, while time-stamping ensured the company's system is ready for any potential audits.
There's a case to be made for moving to the cloud. While most firms don't want to abandon the tried-and-true model of traditional, personal law practice, it's now possible to get the best of both worlds — associates and attorneys working where it best suits them, connected by flexible cloud services that empower time tracking, collaboration, and billable hour collection.