Dropbox for Law Firms

Your Guide to Dropbox for Law Firms

As a law firm, you generate a lot of files each day, from client intake forms to contracts. The best solution for the care and keeping of these files is cloud-based file storage. And a quick online search for cloud file storage will inevitably lead you to Dropbox.

Although Dropbox is a leading provider of cloud storage, is it the right solution for your law firm? That depends. If you’re considering Dropbox, read this guide first to discover its advantages, your options, alternatives, and next steps.

The Advantages of Law Firm Cloud Storage

The traditional method of storing files requires costly and cumbersome servers. Modern law firms are making the switch to the cloud—and for good reason. There are many benefits to using a cloud-based storage solution:

  • Access files from anywhere: As long as you have an internet connection, you can access your law firm files.
  • Take advantage of advanced security features: Cloud-based storage tools include heightened security features such as encryption and two-factor authentication to keep your files secure.
  • Eliminate the need for a VPN: You can access your files and documents without the need for a virtual private network (VPN) or other clunky remote access solution.
  • Scale your storage up or down to fit your needs: Most cloud-based storage tools are scalable, meaning you only pay for what you need to use. This means you can add more storage as you grow.
  • Sync your files across devices: Most cloud-based solutions offer a mobile app as well as browser tools, so you can sync your critical files to all of your devices.  (This can be both a benefit and a drawback, which we’ll unpack a bit later.)

How Does It Work?

Cloud-based storage works by saving files to a remote file system instead of your computer’s hard drive or local storage device. When you need to access a file, you’ll do so by using an internet connection to open an app or find the file via your browser.

The key to using cloud-based storage tools is finding the right solution for your firm. While some tools such as Dropbox might work well for solo attorneys, small to large firms may require something more business-grade or even a full-fledged document management system.

Related:

See our roundup of the best cloud storage for law firms.

Introduction to Dropbox for Law Firms

When it comes to cloud-based storage, in general cloud storage platforms fall into two categories:  basic cloud storage and full-blown document management systems

We’ll compare and contrast these two fundamentally different classes of cloud storage.  For now, know that Dropbox falls into the basic cloud storage class.

Dropbox is a cloud-based file storage tool available to businesses and individuals alike. Here’s how it works.

You simply upload your files to your Dropbox or share them with others. To access them, you can use either the native Windows or Mac OS app, or access your Dropbox account via a web browser and the Dropbox web app.

Dropbox for law firms, provides a folder system similar to other tools like Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive. Dropbox allows you to create folders (and subfolders) for things like:

  • Clients
  • Matters
  • Practice Areas
  • Specific Groups or Teams

Dropbox for law firms also works on various operating systems, including Windows 8, Windows 10, and Mac OS.

Dropbox Features

For solo attorneys and small law firms, Dropbox offers a number of features.

  • Up to unlimited storage space: Depending on the size of your law firm, Dropbox offers plans that range from 2 TB (Individual Plus) to unlimited (Business Advanced).
  • Offline file access: You can make certain files available for offline use, so they’re available no matter your internet connection. This is great for working as you travel or for use in courtrooms with subpar connectivity.
  • Folder creation capabilities: Easily create folders for each client or case with a few clicks or taps. This ensures everyone in your firm can find the file they need quickly.
  • Access via any device: From Android to Apple and Mac OS to Windows, Dropbox offers file access regardless of device. Syncing occurs across every device, so everyone in your firm has access to the same file at all times. Though this can create sync conflicts when you try to sync Dropbox over more than a small handful of devices.
  • Simplified file sharing: To share a file, simply select Share and enter the email of the recipient of the file. They will then receive an email with instant access. You can also generate a link for a file and share that way.
  • Permissions management: When sharing, you have the option to send a file as ready only or give the recipient the ability to edit the file. You can also restrict who’s able to see certain folders. For example, you can set folder members as an Owner, Editor, or Viewer depending on their needs.
  • Encryption and additional security measures: Dropbox uses 256-bit AES and SSL/TLS encryption to secure files for all price plans. Other security measures include two-factor authentication to best protect your data.
  • Built-in file backup: You can restore or recover the files in your Dropbox account for up to 30 days. This is increased to 180 days for Business accounts.
  • Easy collaboration via Dropbox Paper: Dropbox Paper is a collaboration tool that gives teams the ability to create documents inside Dropbox. You can invite people to edit the file simultaneously, perfect for meetings and brainstorming sessions. (Think of Dropbox Paper as Dropbox’s version of Google Docs, a web-based, inline document creation/editing tool.)
  • Progress notifications: By turning on desktop or iOS push notifications, you can be notified each time a change is made inside your Dropbox.
  • Integrations with other Cloud-based apps: Dropbox offers app integrations, so you can connect your current law firm apps with your file-sharing tool. Integrations include Slack, Zoom, Microsoft 365, and Clio Manage.

Pricing

There are various pricing plans, depending on how you plan to use Dropbox. For example, as a solo attorney, you can choose between Personal Plus or Business Professional, $9.99 per month or $16.58 per month respectively. 

Of course, you can use the Basic account for free, but you’ll only have 2GB of storage space to use and limited features. If you plan to use Dropbox, we recommend investing in a monthly plan.

Pros & Cons of Dropbox for Law Firms

Dropbox truly does offer a wide range of features that can benefit law firms. Yet, just like any other file storage service, there are specific pros and cons.

Pros

  • Quick setup and easy user interface
  • Automatic sync across multiple devices
  • Built-in security and backup features
  • Simple collaboration between all users

Cons

  • Limited (2GB) storage space without purchasing a monthly plan
  • Can quickly become messy, as Dropbox’s structure isn’t matter-centric
  • No HIPAA compliance capabilities without a Business Standard or Advanced plan
  • Lacks firm-specific features such as full-text search document check-in/out, document tagging and profiling, and email management.

Related:

Email Management for Law Firms:  Tips, caveats and best practices

A Note About HIPAA

If your firm handles medical malpractice, personal injury, or insurance defense cases, or if you work in any area of law where looking at patient records may occur, HIPAA compliance in document storage and sharing is critical. Unfortunately, you won’t have access to HIPAA compliance capabilities without a Business plan.

Setting Up Dropbox for Your Law Firm

Creating Your Account

If you’re going to be using Dropbox for the first time, you’ll need to create a new account for your law firm. If you’re a solo attorney, we recommend signing up for the Business Professional for Individuals account to get the most out of the solution.

Folder & File Structures

Once you finally get into Dropbox, you can start to set up your folders that will organize your files. The best course of action is keeping things as simple as possible inside Dropbox as it tends to get cluttered over time.

Here are a number of strategies you can implement regarding creating a top-level folder framework when implementing Dropbox for your law firm.  (You can apply some or all of these for your law firm)

  • Top-level folders for each practice area: If your firm covers multiple practice areas, you’ll want a folder for each. For example, a Family Practice folder or a Medical Malpractice folder.
  • Sub-folders for each individual client or Matter: Inside your practice area folders, you’ll want to include sub-folders for each of your clients.
  • Top-level folder for each client:  One main folder per client, followed up with:
  • Sub-folder for each matter:  A sub-folder for each discreet matter under that client.  This helps enforce a clear client-to-matter hierarchy.
  • Top-Level folder for Firm Documents:  A main folder for non-client/matter related documents, including financial documents, marketing, HR and so forth.

In the example of a Clients > Matters hierarchy, you’d create a folder per defined project or matter under each client.  You can store client-level, non-matter specific documents at the top of the client folder, but should work to keep matter-specific records within the appropriate matter folder.

7 Expert Tips for Using Dropbox

Want to learn how to use Dropbox like a pro? Here are some additional tips and tricks you can use once you set up your account:

  • Recover your mistakenly deleted files: If you accidentally delete an important client document or file, you can get it back by going to the deleted files section on Dropbox. Files can be recovered for up to 180 days, depending on the account you select.
  • Enable two-factor authentication: To best protect your files from wandering eyes, enable two-factor authentication quickly inside your Dropbox settings.
  • Use Smart Sync to save hard drive space: Smart Sync enables you to make certain documents and files “online-only” to save space on your desktop. Documents set to online-only will be removed from your hard drive and stored in the cloud. This frees up additional space on your computer.
  • Automatically save email attachments to Dropbox: Dropbox isn’t an email management system. Yet, you can save email attachments automatically to Dropbox by sending emails to a specified Dropbox email address.
  • Request files from non-account holders: Using the Files Request tool, you can ask for files whether the recipient has a Dropbox account or not. This is a great tool for when you need a document from a client without an account.
  • Search by document and file tags: You can add tags (#) to documents and then search via that tag in the search bar to easily locate specific files. For example, #templates is a great tag to use for the common templates your team uses. When searched, every template with that tag will be listed.
  • Star files for easy access: If you want to keep certain files at your fingertips, simply “star” them. You can access all of your starred files in the Starred section inside your Dropbox.

Is Dropbox a Good Fit for Your Firm?

At Uptime, we say that Dropbox possibly suitable for solo attorneys who need a simple file management solution at a low cost. Firms with three or more people should consider something more law firm business-grade, most likely a full-fledged document management system such as LexWorkplace.

Types of Cloud-Based Storage

It’s important to know that cloud file storage and document management systems are not the same thing. To make sure you select the right cloud-based storage tool for your firm, let’s discuss the differences between simple cloud storage and robust cloud-based document management systems.

Simple Cloud Storage

Simple cloud storage tools (also known as consumer-grade cloud storage tools) do one thing: store your files. Think of them as the simple two-pocket folder you used to carry around in school. These tools don’t have a ton of features. Instead, they enable you to store your files simply for easy access from anywhere.

Examples of simple cloud storage tools for law firms include Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, and Google Drive. All of these have the same benefits in common. For example, they’re all simple to set up and use and offer free or low-cost options to fit your bottom line.

Unfortunately, these simple tools are often not enough for law firms. They don’t deliver features such as version tracking, email management, compliance assistance, file profiling, and more that are critical for growing firms.

Cloud-Based Document Management Systems

The opposite of a simple cloud storage tool is the complete cloud-based document management system or DMS. Not only does a DMS help you store your files, but it also helps you manage them properly within the cloud.

Document management systems include additional features such as file indexing, version management, document check-in/out, and document alerts. Even if the simple storage tool offers basic versions of these tools, they often fall short when it comes to managing the sheer number of files a law firm creates each week.

Related:

Document Management Software vs. Simple Cloud Storage.  Learn the key differences, and which is right for your firm.

Why a Cloud-Based Document Management System Might Be the Best Choice for Your Firm

If you’re a firm that includes multiple attorneys and staff members, a document management system (DMS) might be the best choice. Even if you’re a solo attorney, if you’re looking to grow, you’ll eventually need more than Dropbox can offer you. It might be best to move forward with a DMS now, instead of needing to migrate in the future.

Features of a DMS

As we said earlier, a DMS is a more robust document management solution. While a DMS will store all of your files in the cloud, it will also provide additional features, including:

  • Integration with your existing law practice management system: If you have a current law practice management system such as Clio Manage, a solid document management system will integrate seamlessly. A DMS will also integrate with other systems such as Microsoft Office 365.
  • Document and file version management: A DMS will automatically track changes for each file, so you can see what happened and when.
  • Robust access control: Full document management tools often provide more robust access control capabilities. For example, you can set specific permissions for each file or legal matter.
  • Full-text search capabilities for documents, files, and emails: Dropbox does offer full-text search capabilities for the files stored inside the tool. Yet, a DMS will offer these capabilities for everything, including your emails. This is critical for finding things such as client information.
  • Additional security measures: Document management systems are typically more secure than other cloud tools, based on the fact that critical data resides inside them. For example, a DMS will provide encryption as files move and while they’re at rest.
  • Email Management: Emails are documents too.  A good cloud-based legal document management system will also provide an easy way to save and store emails (right from Outlook) to the appropriate matter in your system.

Pros and Cons of a DMS

If you’re still trying to decide if implementing a DMS is the best next step for your firm, a quick overview of the pros and cons can help.

Pros

  • Many robust features to choose from
  • Full-text search for documents and emails within your system
  • Centralized cloud storage for easy access for everyone on your team
  • No synchronization issues between devices
  • Scalable to meet the needs of your firm as you grow
  • Mobile capabilities for document access anywhere

Cons

  • Often higher investment
  • Data migration or conversion is required

We believe the benefits of a DMS make the investment and data conversion more than worth it. A DMS provides centralized cloud storage for easy access for everyone on your legal team. It’s completely secure and scalable to meet the needs of any growing firm and syncs seamlessly between all of your devices.

How Much Will a DMS Cost?

It’s true that you’ll need to pay more for the features included within a DMS versus simple file storage. And that price depends on which DMS you choose. For example, the LexWorkplace base package is $395 per month for 1TB of storage.

How Do I Choose the Right DMS for My Law Firm?

First, you should determine what functionality your firm needs to do your day-to-day work. It’s best to involve your team, including paralegals and administrative staff, in this process to ensure everyone’s needs are considered.

With a list in hand, you can begin your search. We recommend selecting a matter-centric DMS tool that’s built for law firms. After you find a likely candidate, check out a demo to see how it might work in your firm. 

How Hard Is It to Migrate From My Current System to a DMS?

Many attorneys are often concerned about the migration from a current system to a DMS. And although it does take time and effort, a solid DMS tool and supportive vendor should simplify the process. For example, at Uptime Legal Systems, we provide migration, training, and support on your behalf.  (Other DMS software companies require you to hire an outside, third-party consultant)

LexWorkplace: Your Complete Document Management System

For law firms ready to take the plunge into the cloud, LexWorkplace, a complete cloud-based document management system, is a great choice. It’s a DMS and email management solution built specifically for law firms.

LexWorkplace Features

LexWorkplace is client and matter-centric. This means that your files are organized by client or matter for easy access. It’s also a cross-platform tool, available for Windows and macOS. Some of the additional features of LexWorkplace include:

  • Bank-grade data security: With security features such as encryption in transit and at rest, unique permission setting capabilities, and two-factor authentication, you can trust your files are secure.
  • One-click open, save, and edit: You can view and edit your documents with just one click. Plus, you can save a document right back to LexWorkplace without needing to re-upload.
  • Geographic redundancy: To securely back up your data, we have multiple independent data centers across North America.
  • Unique document tracking IDs: Each document saved to LexWorkplace has a unique and permanent ID, making it easy to track each unique document or file.
  • Microsoft 365 integration: LexWorkplace integrates seamlessly with Microsoft 365, including Word, Outlook, Excel, and other tools.

  • Document check-in/ou: If you wish to make changes to a document without others doing the same simultaneously, a DMS will allow you to “check-out” and protect the file.
  • Automatic version management: LexWorkplace automatically tracks document versions, so you can see who changed what and when and annotate versions based on milestones.
  • Document prioritization: Keep your important files close by setting them as favorites. You can also see your recent files instantly, making it simple to return to your work quickly.
  • Document profiling: Set document types and statuses to organize your files. Or, create tags to keep documents categorized based on your firm’s needs.
  • Email management capabilities: Save emails to a matter file from Outlook instantly. Once complete, your team can share those emails, review them, and search them. Plus, LexWorkplace provides de-duplication to avoid saving multiples of the same email to your files.

Learn More About How LexWorkplace Can Benefit Your Law Firm

Looking for something more robust than Dropbox for your firm? LexWorkplace simplifies your law firm’s document and email management processes. It’s matter-centric, secure, and simple to use. To learn more about LexWorkplace and what it can do for your law firm, reach out to our team today.