The Essential Cloud: Top Tools for Lawyers
The cloud is no longer a new, fuzzy idea. Lawyers in masses are adopting cloud computing technologies to power their firms, leveraging browser and mobile app-based services. But which products are emerging as the leaders, the can’t-do-without services? The following are indispensable products I discuss and demonstrate during my CLE lectures on cloud computing.
These top tools are the ones lawyers can’t live without:
- Dropbox is a service that allows you to synch your files across multiple machines, including laptops, desktops and mobile devices. Getting started with Dropbox is very simple: Once you download and install their free application, you designate a special Dropbox folder on your primary work machine. Next you drag all of the files and folders you want to synchronize across multiple machines into your Dropbox folder. Now, any device given your permission can access and modify those files.
- Evernote is a comprehensive note taking and digital organization system. Like Dropbox, Evernote works on laptops, desktops and mobile devices. Plugins for browsers allow you to clip and archive entire websites easily. The mobile app is a must for busy lawyers on the go, allowing you to capture audio files and take pictures (very useful for receipts and expenses). When you get back to the office, notes recorded with your smartphone will appear on your primary work machine.
- MyFax and Efax are online fax services that send and receive faxes, eliminating the need for a dedicated machine. When it’s combined with a Fujitsu Scansnap scanner, lawyers can do away with their old fax machines and streamline their workflow with their PDF-based, paperless office.
- Skype is a swiss army knife for inexpensive communication. If you haven’t used it in a while, try it again. You’ll be blown away by the call quality. For no cost, you can call, instant message, videoconference and share your computer desktop with other Skype users. For additional fees, you call non-Skype phones and add a Skype Online Number that allows you to receive calls.
- Square allows you to easily collect credit card payments with a mobile device. A small credit card reader plugs into the headphone jack of your iPhone or Android device. The 2.75 percent rate on each transaction is extremely reasonable, especially considering you don’t need a merchant account with the corresponding fees. The set-up process is quick, so you can start accepting payments via credit card instantly. Just know your trust account obligations before you start accepting credit card payments.
- For practice management software designed specifically for lawyers, Rocket Matter allows attorneys to track cases, bill time and invoice clients through a browser. In full disclosure, I am a founding partner of Rocket Matter, but because it offers client and case management, task management, calendaring, phone messaging and fills other law office needs, I feel compelled to include it when discussing critical cloud software for lawyers. Practice management software used to be too expensive for many small firms due to licensing and IT costs. Cloud-based products spread these fees into monthly, budgetable chunks. As traditional legal software vendors begin supporting cloud-based versions of their products, more options are becoming available as well.
Larry Port is the Founding Partner of Rocket Matter and the editor of the popular Legal Productivity blog and webinar series. A speaker and award-winning writer at the crossroads of the legal profession and cutting edge technology, Larry writes extensively for legal publications, including Legal Management, Law Technology News, ILTA’s Peer to Peer, Lawyerist, FindLaw, Chicago Lawyer and others.
From the Editors: Dig a Little Deeper
Contemplating the leap to cloud-based software, but still a little worried? As with any new technology or app you buy for your firm, you’ll want to read and understand all the user agreements and, of course, comply with your state’s ethics rules, particularly regarding client confidentiality. Beyond that, here are a few good resources, too:
- The ABA Legal Technology Resource Center’s FYI on Software as a Service (SaaS) for Lawyers offers a good overview of issues to consider, along with a list of legal-specific SaaS products.
- Getting to the Cloud, Paula Tsurutani’s article in the current issue of Legal Management, the magazine of the Association of Legal Administrators, offers experts’ insights on planning the switch to cloud-based services.
- Stephanie Kimbro’s blog Virtual Law Practice is a goldmine of information and resources on the issues surrounding practicing in the cloud, as is Richard Granat’s eLawyering blog.
- LegalTalk Network’s “Software as Service: An In-Depth Discussion,” does a nice job of covering practice management in the cloud, with Tom Mighell, Carolyn Elephant, Bob Ambrogi and Andy Adkins.
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