(Photo credit: Aray Chen)
Last week, Google announced the release of Google Drive, its native cloud storage service, which allows users to store up to 5 GB of data online for free.
By all accounts, Google arrived late to the game of cloud-based storage and was preceded by DropBox, iCloud, Amazon Cloud Drive and others. With the added competition, much of the discussion following the release of Google Drive centered around comparisons of the features offered by the various services. This is because as new cloud storage platforms are added to the mix, it becomes all about the features that differentiate the various products. For most users, it boils down to choosing the platform that offers the best features for their needs.
The legal cloud computing market is no different. There is already a wide selection of offerings and, as cloud computing is becoming more familiar and accepted, new platforms are being introduced into the legal marketplace at record speed.
So, what’s a lawyer who has made the decision to move to the cloud to do? How do you choose between the different cloud-based legal providers? How do you go about choosing the right platform for your law firm’s needs?
First, you need to decide what type of cloud computing product you’re looking for. Are you in the market for a full scale law practice management system that offers contact management, calendaring, billing, invoicing, and document management–the works? Or are you simply looking for a single purpose system, such as one that offers only billing, document management or online storage?
Once you decide which type of platform you need, you’ll have to examine the features offered by the different legal cloud computing platforms. Compare the basic features of each system and narrow your search down to two or three platforms that offer most of the features you’re looking for.
But don’t rule out one platform just because it doesn’t include every feature you need. One major advantage of cloud computing systems is how easy it is for the developer to implement changes based on user feedback. Oftentimes, legal cloud computing providers roll out new features every few weeks. So don’t eliminate an otherwise strong contender simply because the platform lacks one or two features that are on your wish list. Contact the provider and ask about the missing features. It’s entirely possible that the provider intends to add those features in the very near future.
The interface is extremely important, since you’ll be spending lots of time using the platform. Is it intuitive? Does it make sense or do you find yourself constantly struggling to figure out how to add and manipulate information in the system? Can you dive right in and use it or does it seem as if you’ll need multiple webinars to figure out how to even get started?
The usability of the interface of the interface is extremely important. Make sure that the interface works for you and your staff.
Price is also an important consideration, but it shouldn’t be a deal breaker. To an extent, as the old adage goes–you get what you pay for.
That being said, one of the benefits of moving to a cloud-based system is that it’s supposed to be more affordable than owning and maintaining your own servers and paying for the annual licensing fees of server-based software. So if the monthly fees of one legal cloud computing company are higher than those of competitors’ products which offer similar features, you might want to think twice before signing up.
Compatibility with pre-existing systems
Consider how difficult the process of transitioning to the new cloud-based system will be. Will it be easy to import data into the platform from existing programs? Will you have to manually enter pre-existing data into the system and if so, how long will that take? Is the cloud computing platform compatible with other cloud-based systems that your law office already uses? Will you need to continue using those other cloud services or does the new system effectively replace them, thus making compatibility a non-issue?
Customer support matters–a lot. If you run into an issue, you want it resolved quickly and efficiently. If you’re routinely unable to reach a representative from your new cloud computing provider, then you’ll find that your frustration levels will go through the roof. Customer service is extremely important and can make or break your legal cloud computing experience.
Which brings me to the next area of consideration: customer satisfaction.
Find out what current (and past) customers think of each legal cloud computing product that you’re considering.
In this day and age, it’s not difficult to find customer reviews and feedback about the major legal cloud computing products available. Run a search for blog posts which review the different products and make sure to read the comments to the post, if any.
Join some of the major online forums for lawyers, such as MiloGroup, Lawyerist’s LAB, and the ABA’s Solosez listserv. Post on these sites and seek feedback from users or simply run searches of the archives using the names of the products that you’re considering to locate past reviews and posts about each product.
Sign up for a free trial
Finally, sign up for a free trial. Most legal cloud computing providers offer a no-strings-attached 30-day free trial. Ideally, starting the trial should be simple and hassle-free. Sign up and dive in.
If the interface is user-friendly, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get started with the platform on your own. Spend some time testing it out. And, if others in your firm will be using it, make sure that they try it out, too. If you have questions, call the provider and get answers. If the interface appeals to you, consider scheduling a webinar, so you can learn more about the nuances of the platform.
You’re on your way
Once you’ve followed these steps, you’ll be ready to move your firm to the cloud. It’s a big decision–and it’s not an easy one. But if you carefully consider your options and do your research ahead of time, you’ll be well on your way to choosing the right legal cloud computing product for your law firm.