Bills Out
  Practice Management Applications in the Cloud
By Arita Damroze

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Inexpensive to Start but Never Paid for. Cloud-based PMA provide an inexpensive way to start. Youíll pay from $1 - $90 per month (single user) to get started managing your practice in the cloud. As time goes by you will add more users (another $1 - $90 per month per user). You never finish paying for cloud software in the same way that traditional desktop software is licensed. Of course, you get upgrades and support for your money, but this is not optional as it is with desktop software. Over time you will pay more for a cloud PMA, but this cost should be considered together with your overall technology budget. How much will you save by not having and maintaining your own server? How often will you need to upgrade workstations? What will you spend for consulting services?

Cloud PMA Features Trade Off. Cloud-based PMAs are starting to rival their traditional desktop counterparts but still have a long way to go. If you are using bells and whistles in your current PMA, make sure that you will have equivalent functions in your cloud application. For example, you may be accustomed to automatically adding interest to bills, automatically splitting bills among two or more payers, using different bill layouts for some clients, including a courtesy discount or adding an administrative fee to your bills. You may have you developed automations built around codes and templates. These are some features lacking in most cloud PMAs today. On the other hand, functions characteristic to the cloud such as uploading and sharing documents are much easier from a cloud PMA.

Use a Legal PMA Vendor. There is a lot in the cloud that you could use in a law firm, but should you? Probably not. For example, PayPal now offers free invoicing. Instead of using free invoicing with PayPal, use a legal PMA such as Clio ( that provides integrated billing with an option to receive payments via PayPal.

Best of Both Worlds: Hybrid Cloud and Hosted PMA. Sometimes the best solution is to use a part-cloud/part-desktop application. This gives you the convenience of working with your data anywhere, while keeping a robust desktop system at the office. For example, Timeslips users can use the Timeslips eCenter ( to enter time and expenses online. The data is housed at Sageís data center. At your office, you use the full Timeslips program to import the eCenter data. Other hybrid systems like Time Matters Mobility send data direct from the web to your server.

A number of companies offer desktop hosting. With this option, the hosting company maintains your applications and data on their servers. You connect to your hosted desktop and access your applications as you would if they were on your own server.

Backup. Lastly, and most importantly, you must have a backup system in place in the event you are unable to access your cloud-based data in the usual way. Some vendors provide a method for sending data to your local computer. Since these backups may be difficult to work with, I recommend synchronization of critical information. Most cloud-based PMAs will sync with Outlook. This provides another copy of your data in a familiar format. This will tie you over until you have resolved your access problem.

Another reason for regular backups is, as with any PMA, user error. Letís say you have imported 10,000 records to your database and realize that they should not be there. Youíll need to restore from a recent backup. Does your cloud PMA retain multiple backups in case you need to go back a few days? Before you subscribe, understand how the vendor stores backups and what steps you must take to restore from a backup.

Cloud-Based Practice Management Vendors

Here are some of the popular vendors of cloud-based legal practice management software (in alphabetical order by product name). This list was updated 11/9/2012:
Amicus Cloud
LexisNexis FirmManager
Total Attorneys