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Guest Post: CMS* in the Small Law Firm

Socratically wise enough to leave the high-level technology conversations to the experts, we are very pleased to offer the following guest post from Ken Leeser, who below weighs in on the effectiveness of public cloud tools for small law firms. Ken is the president of VarZero, and he has twenty-five years of experience working with professional service firms, especially law firms, in helping them to improve critical processes and to use information more effectively. Ken founded VarZero to assist small and medium-sized organizations in leveraging the flexibility, cost savings and environmental benefits of cloud-based computing. Prior to founding VarZero, Ken founded and managed multiple entrepreneurial companies. He founded and continues to serve as president of Kaliber Data Security, which assists businesses with security compliance issues. Kaliber focuses on educating and training employees in the proper use and protection of personally identifiable information through the use of online tools and programs. Ken holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in engineering from The Johns Hopkins University. He has also earned an MBA, from the Graduate School of Business Administration at Harvard University.

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Not too long ago, in the law firm software space, the acronym ‘CMS’ generally stood for ‘case management system’, or, to some: ‘content management system’. Today, CMS has come to stand for the three legs of a modern technology platform: *Cloud, Mobile, Social.

I leave it to others to discuss the importance of and methodology for leveraging social media for marketing small law practices, so that I can focus on cloud and mobile applications.

So, what should solo attorneys and small law firms know about ‘the cloud’ and mobile applications, and how can they leverage these types of services to their advantage?

Let’s first define some terms. Cloud computing can generally be described as ‘computer services which are supplied over the internet on an on-demand basis’. Cloud tools allow firms to access storage space, programs and data that reside in remote resources.

The cloud is generally separated into two conceptual subdivisions: the ‘private cloud’ and the ‘public cloud’.

In order to establish its own private cloud, a law firm would contract with a hosting provider to install and maintain server hardware at a remote location. Ultimately, there are few, if any, shared resources. The servers are dedicated to the law firm, and the law firm saves on capital investment (the servers are rented by the month), backup management (which is provided by the host) and utilities (part of the monthly fee).

A law firm wishing to take advantage of the public cloud, on the other hand, would contract with a number of solution providers, each of which would offer a different technical solution. The law firm would be one of many businesses (other law firms, or other companies) sharing each solution provider’s resources.

In the public cloud, for example, a law firm could contract with a hosted Microsoft Exchange provider that offers email, contact and calendar management, instead of installing applications to manage same on a dedicated server. In the public cloud, a law firm could contract with an accounting solution provider to host its accounting systems, like QuickBooks. The law firm might also utilize a web-based document management system (to store, manage and backup critical work product) or a cloud-based practice management solution to assist in organizing day-to-day office tasks and deadlines. Even telephone services can be provisioned as a shared service over the web, so that the law firm can project a professional image without installing an in-house PBX.

There are distinct benefits for solo attorneys and small firms using the public cloud, as follows:

-reduced reliance on in-house (or contracted) IT support
-elimination of server costs (acquisition, operation, disposal)
-built-in backup management
-reduced energy consumption
-organic growth (upgrades are continuous and non-disruptive)
-access anywhere (requiring an internet connection)
-mobile enablement (most cloud solutions build in smartphone and tablet mobile access)
-cost certainty (IT becomes a monthly charge like utilities or rent)

The most oft-cited concerns, by law firms considering public cloud services, center around security and data control.

With respect to security, public cloud providers offer better security than any small firm can construct on its own:

-backups and redundancy are built-in
-hardware is located in secure locations, with excellent environmental controls
-mobile access means sensitive data need not be stored on local computers or laptops
-devices can be remotely erased
-hardware disposal is no longer an issue for the firm

As far as data control is concerned, attorneys should examine license agreements thoroughly, and should be certain that the firm can access its data anytime, and that exports of data are regularly scheduled, or ongoing. Cloud data escrow services (third-party sites that protect data archived/accessible on other sites) are beginning to emerge.

In summary, public cloud solutions offer the solo attorney or small firm location independence, integrated backup, advanced features and improved security, which combine to allow these small businesses room to grow, and to operate with reduced overhead and expense as they do.