Bills Out
  Practice Management Applications in the Cloud
By Arita Damroze

This article was prepared for the Washington State Bar Association’s 7th Annual Solo & Small Firm Conference, July 19-21, 2012 for the panel, Pros and Cons of Cloud Computing.

Legal Practice Management Applications (PMA) are software programs designed for managing your cases, contacts, calendars, keeping track of your time and expenses, billing your clients, paying your bills and handling other financial tasks. A key characteristic of practice management software is centralization that provides real-time access to every member of your firm and to others, as needed. The cloud is an ideal platform for practice management as the cloud by its nature meets this characteristic. It’s everywhere, for everyone and always open. So much of what we do is in the cloud--banking, webmail, voice and video conferencing, shopping, online meetings, research, social networking and entertainment--just to mention a few. So why not manage your practice there, too? Here are some things small firms considering a cloud-based PMA should know.

No Installation Headaches. If you have ever installed your own PMA or paid someone to do so, you understand the cost involved in getting set up and maintaining the software with updates, patches, service releases, and so on. With cloud PMA’s you can put those headaches behind you. Just go to the vendor’s web site, sign-up, log in and work.

The Vendor is in Charge. Upgrades, changes and (rarely) outages will occur and you will have no control over these. One cloud application that I use periodically installs updates to the local piece as soon as I login. There’s no prompt giving you the option to run the update later. It just runs. On one hand, I’m always on the latest version. On the other hand, I could have used the minute that it took to install to do what I logged on to do.

Exactly where is my Data? If you are uncomfortable not knowing exactly where your PMA data resides, the cloud will pose a challenge for you. Can you take “reasonable care to ensure that the information will remain confidential ” if you don’t know where your data is stored and how? So, you will need to talk to your cloud vendor and gain an understanding how and where the data is stored, and how it is kept secure.

Terms and Conditions. Be sure you are comfortable with the terms and conditions of the cloud vendor’s agreement. In their article “Have Attorneys Read the iCloud Terms and Conditions?” Sharon Nelson and Jon Simek warn that “Apple doesn’t take any responsibility for the integrity of any content stored in iCloud” and “will automatically bill you for any storage upgrade fees in advance of the service being provided.” So, in your rush to get up and running on the cloud, don’t neglect the basics. Read.

Cloud Security vs In House Security. Cloud security is as good as or better than that of traditional networks. Cloud vendors have much at stake around security, so an established legal PMA cloud vendor will have sophisticated web security in place. Is your server as secure as those at the data centers of the top cloud vendors? Probably not.

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