Cloud Computing: Client Portals
Cloud computing isn’t new. Lawyers have used cloud computing applications such as Lexis and Westlaw, and stored documents in the cloud to support automated litigation support, for many years.
What is new about cloud computing is how it has now expanded to include a multitude of legal applications delivered over the Internet.
Defined, cloud computing is simply storage of an organization’s data in a server provided by an independent data center separate from the client organization and accessed via the Internet. Cloud applications refer to software delivered over the Internet to a Web browser rather than installed directly on the user’s computer. Data associated with the application is also stored on that remote server.
The Cloud at Work: Client Portals
The client portal is a good example of what cloud computing lets you do online. A client portal is a secure web space available to clients via a username and password. The portal exists only on the web and data is stored in the cloud. When data is transmitted between the secure portal and you, it is encrypted. We all use a secure client portals when doing online banking, booking travel online, scheduling doctor appointments or buying books from Amazon.com. Isn’t it time law clients connect with you that way, as well?
Client portals on law firm websites are changing the way clients interact with their lawyers.
- Paying bills online by credit card.
- Completing online questionnaires, which are then used to assemble first-draft documents.
- Scheduling appointments online.
- Receiving legal advice online or by e-mail.
- Discussing issues with their attorneys.
- Posting continual updates on case status.
- Pushing out legal information to each client’s secure web space to keep them informed about news that may affect their business or their personal lives.
- Giving clients their own personal case calendar and reminders.
- Sharing all of the documents prepared for the client.
- Archiving online discussions and transactions.
Clients can even have access to useful digital applications to help them think through their issues and clarify their positions. In my online family law practice, for example, every client gets access to a child support calculator, alimony calculator and a parenting plan wizard. Access to these tools helps increase client loyalty and enhance their experience.
Security and confidentiality concerns. You are right to be concerned about the security and confidentiality of data stored in the cloud. The reality, however, is that informed decisions about the selection of a vendor can eliminate or minimize these risks. For guidance on selecting a cloud computing vendor check out the ABA eLawyering Task Force’s set of best practices for lawyers who deliver legal services online, as well as the white paper on cloud computing published by the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center.
Particularly for solos and small firms, cloud computing can help you compete with bigger firms by capturing new Internet-savvy clients with a distinctive client experience, while increasing law firm productivity. One thing’s for certain, this cloud isn’t going to blow away.
Richard Granat is CEO and Founder of DirectLaw, Inc., a virtual law firm platform provider, and founder of Granat Legal Services, P.C., the first virtual law firm in Maryland. Richard is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management, Co-Chair of the ABA’s eLawyering Task Force, and recipient of a Louis M. Brown Lifetime Achievement Award from the ABA in recognition of his innovations in the delivery of legal services.