In nearly seven years of building and leading a company that provides practice management solutions for the legal profession, you hear a lot about the pains and joys of being a lawyer. I’ve engaged with hundreds (if not thousands) of lawyers and legal professionals in that time and all of them have their stories to share. Among those who have experienced the benefits of cloud computing, one thing is evident: They love what the cloud has to offer.
Here are five things that stand out.
1. Portable practice. The cloud, lawyers say, has given them incredible flexibility. They’re no longer restricted to the confines of a desk or an office. Instead, the cloud allows them to access and manage files, matters and cases from virtually anywhere and everywhere. All you need is a device and an Internet connection. In this age of near universal smartphone usage and ubiquitous Wi-Fi access, there are few places where that isn’t possible. Need to check your calendar from your son’s little league game? Dig out the smartphone and update it from the bleachers. Forgot to bring a critical piece of evidence into the courthouse? Grab it off your tablet and avoid those judging glares. Discussing a real estate deal at your client’s favorite coffee shop? Just pull out your laptop and automate a contract. The cloud has made it possible to do all of these things (and more) without skipping a beat.
2. Upgraded client service. In the increasingly competitive field of law, your ultimate business partner is your client. Clients pay your salary, keep you in business, and readily refer you to others if they’re satisfied with the work. So you’d better keep them happy. But like any partner, today’s clients want and expect to be actively involved in their matters. A happy client is one who feels her lawyer has kept her informed, engaged and involved at every critical point. The cloud facilitates this by enabling an open, accessible flow of communication and easy collaboration between attorney and client. Corresponding, sharing documents, setting appointments and providing updates on matters and files can all be done through the cloud. So can payment.
3. Cost reduction. We know all the clichés about time and money (and yet they remain truisms for law practice). However, if a lawyer is looking to boost profitability, raising revenues in a competitive market isn’t necessarily the solution. Something lawyers truly appreciate about cloud and SaaS technologies: the cost savings they realize. Proprietary software, hardware, servers and IT staff do not come cheaply. The cloud offers a much more manageable and predictable method for keeping technology costs down and realizing greater profitability. The majority of SaaS companies also ease these pains by frequently updating and improving their software and offering support professionals to help with training and troubleshooting at no or low cost. Eliminate the cost of a server, software updates and IT support and add that to your firm’s profits.
4. Measuring success. You’re on top of your practice, you’re communicating with clients, and you’re reducing costs. Everything is awesome, right? Maybe. There are certainly other things to question: What’s your practice’s realization rate (the difference between what you record as time and what percentage of that time is paid by the client)? What about revenue by partner? Work in progress or value per client? All this data can provide a deeper perspective on which areas of your practice are most profitable and which need improvement. The problem is that gathering this data manually is tedious work and often beyond the resources of a small firm or solo practitioner. But those operating in the cloud are finding that all that digital data means they can more easily measure their firm’s performance. From time tracking to accounting solutions and everything in between, lawyers using cloud tools are able to automatically record information and churn out reports on a periodic basis. The insights then translate into opportunities for making a better practice.
5. Greater independence. For me personally, though, the one thing that I hear time and time again from cloud-enamored lawyers that warms my heart is how it empowers them to be more entrepreneurial, innovative and competitive. The affordability, flexibility and ease of use that it provides puts small and solo firms on an even playing field with much larger firms. This equates to greater freedom. I hear it all the time: “I love my practice.” As an entrepreneur myself, loving what you do makes it all worth your while — and makes you better at what you do.
And in the End …
Ultimately, technology is about people — just as Sam Glover pointed out at the 2014 Clio Cloud Conference: “The future of law is process plus people plus technology.” If it doesn’t make our lives better, make us more efficient in our work and make us more connected, it is just taking something away from us. Not much of an innovation, now is it? At its core, those improvements, efficiencies and connections are what I love most about cloud technology. Clearly, thousands of lawyers agree.
Jack Newton is co-founder and President of Clio, a leading provider of cloud-based practice management solutions. Jack holds a master’s in Computer Science from the University of Alberta and holds three software-related patents in the United States and EU. He has written and spoken extensively on cloud computing in general, and specifically on the ethics, privacy and security issues relating to the use of cloud computing in the legal market.