Think Tank: Mid-Sized Law Firms are More Open-Minded about the Cloud


Think Tank: Mid-Sized Law Firms are More Open-Minded about the Cloud

By Josiah Chaves, Director, Expert Sierra, Aderant

It was a worst-case scenario. A mid-sized law firm with a single office experienced a devastating fire.

The firm lost everything. Furniture, files, even the servers in the closet – with years of current and historical client data stored digitally – were destroyed. The law firm had to start over from scratch.

After enduring a tragedy like that, adopting legal technology built in the cloud had a clear advantage: inherent data backup which is incredibly useful in disaster recovery. While this example is dramatic, it is reflective of an underlying open-mindedness mid-sized law firms having between 30 and 100 attorneys have toward the cloud.

Usually, it’s the practicability rather than a tragedy that stokes the initial interest. For example, a mid-sized firm with aging infrastructure begins building a financial case for upgrading servers, and the cost and overhead become apparent. This creates an opportunity for these firms to consider the cloud – it is a natural progression as law firms increasingly seek to optimize scale and efficiency.

The 5 O’clock Urgent Request for that Client Report

We’ve met with more than 30 mid-sized law firms over the last few months, and if there’s one anecdote we’ve heard repeatedly it’s this: If you work in the financial department and are looking forward to the weekend, there’s 99.9% chance you’ll get an urgent email from a partner at 5 p.m. on Friday.

That email will invariably request financial data in preparation for an important client meeting including:

  • How much work-in-progress (WIP) does the firm have for this client?
  • What is the value of accounts receivable for the client?
  • What has the firm billed the client so far year-to-date?

The finance team will often work late on Friday, and perhaps over the weekend, to pull together the information and report back the partner as quickly as possible. The systemic and personal stress is high. The back office misses happy hours, birthdays, and children’s events over and over again.

On the flip side, the partners will convey this isn’t fun for them either. Clients today are more demanding and have higher expectations. There’s more pressure on pricing than ever. Finally, they just don’t understand why it takes the finance department two days to produce a simple report – and one they are frequently prone to request.

How a Cloud Catches a Partner’s Eye

What really drives the point home for a partner is how easily a cloud solution solves this problem. All the client information a partner could ever want is easily accessible on a tablet computer from almost anywhere, at any time.

There is no longer a need to email the finance team with an information request a couple days in advance of a client meeting. Instead, a partner can pull up the client WIP a half-hour before the meeting and review the most up-to-date matter or financial information available.

This is a far more efficient and thorough way to prepare for the ensuing conversation. The self-sufficiency gives attorneys what they need, when they need it, and frees the back office to focus on their essential tasks.

The Value of Unified Product

Technology must work for both lawyers and the supporting staff by bringing the front and back office closer together. After all, it’s the business of law professionals who will live in these systems.

Those reports the partners need at the last minute? They take so long to produce because the necessary data to perform the proper analysis is split into different systems. The back office team has to pull spreadsheets or reports and manually make the correlation or comparison – while avoiding errors.

In the cloud, supporting staff see a unified product that combines the practice of law and the business of law, including trust accounting, alongside document management, time and billing, and other essential back office functions. The depth of functionality, which previously hasn’t been adequate for mid-sized law firms in the cloud, is revealing.

“We hadn’t even considered managing all we do in one application,” according to one firm we spoke with recently. That firm was seeking to replace their financial management, and the realization that in doing so, they could also modernize case management, caused them to re-think the possibilities.

Speed of Implementation

The speed of implementation also stands out in our conversations with mid-sized firms. For the staff and attorneys that recall the last implementation, whether that was a few years or 10 years ago, remember a time consuming and expensive process.

No longer. While the cloud isn’t new anymore, and the experience the legal technology community has gained has gone a long way toward creating best practices for system configuration. Indeed, the cloud deployment for mid-sized firms is often near-instant. Users now want to download and go, cloud enables this.

This means, lawyers and staff can begin using the system as soon as the accounts are activated. The complexity in getting on to the system have been all but eliminated.

What about Cloud and Law Firm Security?

For law firms, the move to the cloud has been a deeply personal decision that deals directly with the ethics of using the cloud. Cloud security and client concerns remain the dominant theme, even as many corporations, themselves, are moving to the cloud.

Cloud security concerns are indeed a line item on the procurement check list for mid-sized firms, however, it’s not one that’s going to affect adoption. A modern cloud technology provider, like Amazon Web Services, is designed, organized and funded to create and maintain a secure environment. Most law firms cannot provide themselves with a level of security comparable to a technology company where security is a pillar of its business.

Open Minded Opportunity

In our observation, it’s not going to take a disaster to motivate the majority of mid-sized firms to embrace the agility provided in cloud-based legal technology. Cloud technology has long since gone mainstream, and vendors have aggregated best practices for development and implementation. It seems mid-sized firms are predisposed to the cloud and have been merely been looking for a choice that provides the depth of functionality they require.

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