The Mutable Cloud

Emmerson observed that “nature is a mutable cloud, which is always and never the same”. The same observation can be made about web-based practice management systems.  In her latest screencast, Nicole Black does an excellent job in reviewing the mutable world of web-based practice management systems. She does an excellent job of comparing and contrasting the features of the 3 major players in the web-based LPM world (Clio, LawRD & Rocket Matter) with on-screen demonstrations of each of the systems. If you are thinking of investing in a web-based LPM service, Ms. Black’s screencast is a must see.

While Ms. Black does provide some general words of warning about the ethical traps and general risks involved with using web-based systems (in fact, I applaud her insistance that one checks out the service’s data backup and recovery systems before investing), I would have liked more in-depth information on these subjects. Continue reading

Virtual Law Office Technology For The Rural Lawyer

Many of my clients are located in rural areas of North Carolina. It would take them an hour to drive to “the big city” to meet with an attorney in person. However, these clients have access to the Internet and like any other segment of the population, they need access to legal services from time to time.

As a way to meet this public need, for the past three years I have used my web-based virtual law office (VLO) to provide online unbundled legal services to clients across the state of NC where I am licensed to practice law. Sometimes the work is transactional, such as drafting contracts, leases, setting up businesses or drafting estate planning documents. Other times I provide basic legal advice and guidance as my clients navigate the justice system as a pro se litigant in their small county courthouse. The public response to a web-based virtual law office as an alternative method of communicating with an attorney has been great. Continue reading

LPM Tools: Metrics That Matter

In Comparing the Cost of SaaS LPM Tools to Conventional: The Metrics That Matter Carolyn Elefant presents a well considered argument that simply comparing the cost of software as a service practice management (SaaS LPM) tools to conventional desktop ones (as I do in: RocketMatter & Clio) isn’t accurate as it does not incorporate the intangible benefits inherent in the SaaS model such as the reduction in IT support costs, office space requirements, hours lost responding to client requests for updates, etc. I do have to agree with her assessment that one should make this type of externalities-based comparison when choosing a LPM system. However, I believe that for all its positives, the SaaS model has some serious flaws to overcome.

Current SaaS LPM offerings are immature technology that require reliable a high-speed Internet connection and offer no off-line capabilities. Whereas desktop systems tend to be mature software offerings from stable companies with long track records and most desktop systems offer some form of mobile access. Buying into one of the current SaaS solutions means risking mission-critical software on the belief that you will have Internet access 24/7/365 and that nothing will fail in the electronic chain that connects your computer to the SaaS provider’s servers. Continue reading

SaaSy Practice Management

Carilyn Elefant’s Complete v. Cobble v. Cutting Edge is an excellent 30,000′ look at the general choices available for practice management. While  I believe that she is right in recommending that any new solo take a serious look at web-based (SaaS) solutions, I don’t believe that desktop solutions have seen their day. Until reliable high-speed Internet connections are ubiquitous the web will be both a great strength and an Achilles heel.

As I look for a practice management solution, I am looking for that magic bullet – a software package that will facilitate the mundane business of practicing law leaving me more time to practice law. Sure a cobbled system – Outlook for contact management, a strict file structure & naming conventions or perhaps some type of revision control software (SVN is free) for document management, and a tickler/productivity system like Tim Ferriss never forget anything againis an inexpensive and workable solution. The downside is that like any D.I.Y. project, it just invites tinkering, tweaking, and time-wasting as one strives to perfect it, and, unlike desktop and SaaS solutions, there is nothing in the cobbled solution (besides one’s personal iron determination) to impose disciplined consistency.
Desktop solutions are the devil we know. They have years of development behind them leading to full-featured software and generations of lawyers that will swear by/at them. The implementation of any desktop solution represents a serious investment of money (upfront license costs, yearly maintenance agreements) and time in the form of steep learning curves and software maintenance.

The new kids on the block are SaaS solutions. Lacking the comprehensive feature set of the desktop solutions, they reduce training costs and eliminate maintenance expenses. If one considers total cost of ownership, SaaS solutions can be a quarter of the cost of a desktop solution. The risk here is one of trust. Do you trust your Internet connection enough to risk access to your conflict checker/time keeper/billing/document management software? Do you trust the SaaS vendor to keep your data secure, private, and confidential? Lacking a well-established user community and reputations built through long experience, SaaS solutions are the devil you don’t know.

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Online Backup Services

If the first rule of the digital age is “save early, save often” the second has to be “backup your data daily” and unless you are an ubergeek with a home-brew 18 server complex with Raid 5 disk arrays capable of doing disk to disk mirroring build into your hall closet, online backup services like BackBlaze, Carbonite, iBackup, SugarSync, or Iron Mountain may be a solution to a problem you hope you never have.

However, not any on-line backup solution will do for the paperless law office (or for that matter, a law office that maintains any electronic client information). After all there is an ethical duty to protect client data and maintain client confidentiality. So before running out and signing up for the cheapest on-line service out there be sure that the service provides an automatic, encrypted backup service that gives you exclusive access to your files (or at least a written statement that files are kept confidential). Then, periodically check your backups by doing a file restore – remember doveryai, no proveryai (trust but verify)

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