Cloud Nein?

Cloud-based Practice Management Systems (PMS) roll on as an increasingly alluring option for law firms. Packages such as CLIO and Rocket Matter have attracted serious investment this year, while adding features standard in their more mature desktop rivals, such as document merge. Other PMS available in the marketplace are also surprisingly powerful. ActionStep, for example, started life as a workflow engine, but has grown into a full-feature PMS.

For those in smaller firms who are reluctant to let “strangers” manage their server, I remind them that I would certainly prefer to occasionally lose access to my data, than to occasionally lose (all) my data. Besides, up to 10% of them probably already have their computers “managed” by malevolent strangers according to a recent report.

The smaller the firm, the less likely they have the resources and skills to properly manage servers and databases, and the more likely they will be a candidate for a data disaster.

As small firms juggle competing obligations, I would not be surprised if their clients and regulators would be more concerned than they realise about their Business Continuity Plan or their Disaster Recovery Plan. Hence they should consider looking at this template for law firms to avoid re-inventing the wheel. Scanning through the issues to address is a sobering experience for a legally-sensitive mind.

While losing access to data due to connectivity issues is less of a concern than losing your data, one day you will have the best both worlds. But until the arrival of super-fast internet speeds, a purely web-based system will not be as responsive to use as a local system.

A hint of where things are headed was found in the old Amicus Attorney v5 which stored a copy of your data locally on your PC, and another copy on the server. It meant performance was very good as it only needed to use the network when updating data, not accessing it. That concept has evolved with their Outlook-based product called Credenza. It stores data locally on your PC, and uses the Internet to share the data with colleagues. It means that when you lose connectivity, you only miss out on the ability to share data. Expect to see this feature in the forthcoming Amicus Cloud, although maybe not from Day 1.

I suspect it is not easy building software for lawyers, particularly a PMS. Typically they are the first systems to really test out the quality of a network. Too often a PMS gets wrongly accused of causing problems, when really all they have done is expose deficiencies in a network. Simply working with Word documents presents comparatively fewer system resource challenges, and data corruption is limited to one of many files, rather than a whole database.

My favourite network story was the firm that had frequent issues with their PMS (i.e. connectivity problems). Many months went by before it was noted that the issues were worse in winter. The culprit turned out to be a coat stand which squashed the network cables in Winter. Too many firms would have taken an adversarial approach to the problem well before it was solved.

As mentioned, it is not easy developing software for lawyers. Mac guru, Randy Singer (MacAttorney) recently commented on the MILO Forum:

The problems are that every attorney practices law differently, every attorney wants a different feature set, most attorneys don’t want to use a complicated program, most attorneys don’t want feature bloat, and something that is very much under-appreciated, many attorneys will tell you that they want “X” when they really don’t know what they are talking about. (I’ve seen this many times over the years when developers have given attorneys what they collectively asked for, only to have attorneys avoid the feature once offered, or even avoid the application entirely.)

While PMS developers now “compete” with mobile Apps, I wonder whether they could use this App-trend to their advantage. Thousands of these small programs are being used by lawyers, and so constitute a marvellous “research lab” of what actually works well. It would certainly solve the problem of it just sounding like a good idea. It might then be a relatively easy task to incorporate that functionality into the PMS, while trying not to look like “bloatware”.

And with lawyers getting more comfortable with syncing their mobile device data via remote servers, the cloud-concept will raise fewer legal eyebrows. At least with the cloud there will be fewer installation and server issues that get blamed on the wrong culprits. Alleluia!!


  1. A crucial issue for attorneys choosing practice management software, as well as any other software, is to make certain that the software product will be around for many years. The last thing you want to do is to invest in adding your data to a program, and subsequently find that the company goes out of business, or no longer provides software updates — or is a subscription-based model which becomes unafordable. It is therefore important to go with a well-accepted product, and if it is possible to find one that is not subscription-based, so much the better. If a cloud-based product is new, it might not satisfy these concerns.

    Roger E. Kohn
    Kohn Rath Blackwood & Danon, LLP

  2. David Collier-Brown

    As to “the smaller the firm, the less likely they have the resources and skills to properly manage servers and databases, and the more likely they will be a candidate for a data disaster”, this can be true of law firms, but it is quite untrue of software firms whoe are creating the programs we’re interested in using.

    Some small computer firms are very capable and security-aware. Others are quite horrid. Some large firm are similarly aware: I can think of one credit card company who regularly impresses computer security folks. Others, however, are both large and unspeakably horrid.

    My own experience from consulting to them is that small to middle-size computer and data-storage firms have the best chance of being technically capable, and that large technically astute firms are surprisingly rate. I had the real honour to work for one of the latter, and know of two others.

    I’ll trust anyone with UNCLAS data, as long as they do test-restores occasionally (:-)). I’m increasingly suspicious if my data is RESTRICTED, CONFIDENTIAL or (trade) SECRET. I’m currently looking for a vendor for confidential data storage for a friend, with strictly limited results.

    Net result? If someone offers me cloud storage, they either fail to disclose their security policy, or they fail because it doesn’t meet the ancient “orange book” standards. If the meet a modern standard like the “common criteria”, it’s for something I don’t care about.

    The moderately small company I trust with trade secret data didn’t get VC funding, so I can’t say anyone, large or small, is good enough today.

    I expect someone will appear in the cloud space that I’d trust with confidential or trade secret customer information. I’ll also bet it will be someone relatively small. And I’ll bet as much as a whole dime that the smart practice management companies will be some of their first customers.


  3. You have missed a comprehensive Cloud based PMS (NETEZLAW) that has extensive features and functions including Time and Matter Management, Trust Accounting, Document Management, One to One Marketing, Collaboration with whiteboard capability and soon to have a briefcase capability to enable matters on the docket available locally.