Legal Document Management in the Cloud

Law firms have been using technology to help them manage their documents for a long time. Legal Document Management at its broadest definition means any software or technology that helps a law firm store documents and–to one degree or another–manage them. Some firms use basic on-premise file servers with shared folders to maintain a semblance of centralization, others implement a Document Management System (DMS) to organize and manage matter-related documents.

In this age of Cloud Computing, any law firm that doesn’t leverage the cloud to help manage their documents is putting their firm at a serious disadvantage. On-premise solutions, whether it be a premise-based Document Management System or just the local file server and “the G: drive”, are a dated, insecure, unreliable way to manage a law firm’s documents.

In this post we’ll explore seven key reasons that law firms looking for a better way to store and manage documents should to the cloud.

1. More Accessible

It probably goes without saying, but we’ll say it: The cloud, or cloud-based software, is inherently more accessible than software that runs on your firm’s servers and desktops. Cloud-based applications are typically run in a web browser, and the documents are stored within the cloud provider’s systems. This means your firm and its staff can access your firm’s documents anytime, anywhere, on any device.

With a cloud-based document management system, your legal team can access its documents from the office, from a hotel or from home. And they can do it from a Windows PC, a Mac or a smart phone or tablet.

2. More Secure

With the right provider, the cloud is significantly more secure than an on-premise server. If your law firm currently has its own in-house server, consider its security. Your office is connected to the internet, which inherently makes your server subject to security breaches. It’s likely not proactively managed and monitored 24 x 7 x 365 (even if you have a good Managed IT provider). Chances are it doesn’t have the sophisticated intrusion detection and prevention systems of a larger enterprise. In layman’s terms, this is the rough equivalent of leaving your car unlocked in a questionable neighborhood, hoping nobody notices it.

Compare this to the security of a company, such as a cloud service provider, whose business is building and managing a secure technology infrastructure. A company that has the will, focus and resources to keep client data secure.

3. More Reliable

Just like with security, reliability of a law firm’s document management system has a lot to do with how well it was setup and how well it’s managed on an ongoing basis. Again–think of your law firm’s onsite server: Perhaps sitting in coat closet or copy room. Maybe it’s managed hands-on by a local IT company, maybe it’s not. Ask yourself: Do you have backup server infrastructure? How quickly could you recover from a server crash? Is data being constantly backed up? In the event of a problem: will an engineer be onsite in a matter of minutes?

Compare this to the reliability of a company who, like information security, is in the business of building robust, fault-tolerant IT infrastructures. A company with multiple data centers, backup servers and a dedicated team to ensuring that your documents are intact and available, 24 x 7.

4. More Modern

There are some long-running, server/desktop-based document management software packages out there. And to their credit–they’ve served the legal industry well for a long time. However, their modern, cloud-based counterparts tend to be ahead of the curve when it comes to document management features and functionality.

Cloud-based Document Management applications tend to add more new features and functionality more often than their server/desktop-based counterparts. Add to that, updates and enhancements to cloud-based software are automatically rolled out and applied behind-the-scenes, requiring the end-user to do nothing: new features and functionality literally just appear, and your law firm can start using the DMS’s new functionality. This is in contrast to server/desktop-based Document Management software, which typically requires the law firm to manually install an upgrade on every desktop computer in the firm–and probably the server as well.

5. More Scalable

If you’re a new or growing law firm, the scalability of your chosen DMS is a critical factor.

With on-premise (server-based) Document Management software, you must carefully plan how many users and how much data you may have over time. As your successful law firms grows–both in people and in data mass–you’ll not only need to purchase more software licenses but upgrade and buy more server capacity.

Cloud-based Document Management software, on the other hand, typically is provided at a fixed fee per-user per-month. Usually the service includes an allowance of storage as well, which increases as you add users (and of course you can always add more.) This makes cloud the scalable, pay-as-you-go (and only for what you need) solution.

6. More Centralized

If your law firm has more than one location or if you have one or more people who often work offsite, you’re likely feeling the pain of document decentralization. In the model of an on-premise server or server/desktop-based document management software: different offices or locations may not have access to the same cases, folders and documents, leaving your practice disjointed.

With a cloud-based document management system, everyone in the firm–regardless of if they’re in your New York office, your LA office, work from home or are traveling abroad–will have the exact same access to the same, centralized data as everyone else.

7. More Economical

Finally, we come to economics. By and large, cloud-based solutions are more economical than their on-premise counterparts, both in terms of total cost to implement, as well as predictability in cost.

On-premise DMS software requires an on-premise server. This means your firm will not only have to spend money on the document management software itself, but on an expensive server, and on maintenance and support for that server on an ongoing basis. This model is bad for two reasons: (1) It comes with a hefty up-front price tag, and (2) the ongoing costs to maintain the software and an on-premise server is sporadic, and difficult to predict.

Cloud-based Document Management applications are relatively low-cost, and come with very predictable costs. As we mentioned earlier, most cloud-based DMS solutions are delivered for a fixed fee per-user, per month. Additional employees or space is provided at an easy-to-understand price-point. You’ll know exactly what your firm is going to spend on its DMS every month.

Sidebar: A Complete Law Office in the Cloud

As an aside, a cloud-based Document Management system will move your firm’s documents off of the local server into the cloud. You can take it a step further and completely eliminate your servers (and the IT support that they require) by moving your other applications to the cloud such as email, practice management, billing and accounting. Finding a Document Management solution that includes options for the other aspects of your firm’s technology will help you achieve a complete law office in the cloud.

The Verdict

Hopefully we’ve helped you understand why, when seeking a new document management system, cloud-based solutions are the only viable candidates. With these significant benefits in mind, we hope you plan to move your documents–and perhaps your entire law firm–to the cloud.

If your firm is looking for a cloud-based legal document management system, take a look at LexWorkplace

LexWorkplace is a matter-centric document management system in the cloud that includes features like index & search, automatic OCR, email management, Microsoft Office and Outlook integration, version management and more.

About the Author: Dennis Dimka
Dennis Dimka is the CEO and founder of Uptime Legal Systems, North America's leading provider of technology, cloud and marketing services to law firms. Under Dennis’ leadership, Uptime Legal has grown organically and through acquisitions to become the nationally-recognized legal technology company it is today. Uptime Legal continues to innovate and disrupt the legal technology space, and has been named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private for the past six consecutive years. Dennis was also an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist.

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