By Jack Newton
Many lawyers focus on cloud computing as a means to make their office’s IT infrastructure more efficient and lightweight. However, cloud computing can also help realize an additional level of efficiency by improving and streamlining client communications and collaboration.
With traditional desktop-based software, making status updates, documents and other communications easily accessible to your clients was a technical and security nightmare: how do you make just one portion of your network available to your client?; what program do they use to view their data?; how can you be sure they can’t see other client’s data? These and other challenges slowed the adoption of “client portals” or “extranets” among lawyers for the last decade.
Now, as we move from the desktop software age to the cloud computing era, many of these technical and security-related challenges have been eliminated. With your data living “in the cloud”, securely collaborating on aspects of a case with a client has, all of a sudden, become trivial. Whether you’re using a system like Google Docs for document editing, Dropbox for file storage, or Clio for practice management, sharing and collaborating on data with clients often involves just one click. With many online collaboration systems you can securely communicate with your client, request comments or a document or, in some cases, even interactively edit a document online with a client.
With the technical barriers to securely collaborating with clients online lowered, there are many reasons to consider making cloud-based collaboration part of your law office’s workflow:
• Competitive Advantage. Consumers are increasingly researching and seeking legal services online. Google has replaced the Yellow Pages: your clients are increasingly likely to find you online, and in many cases will prefer to interact with you online. Using cloud-based collaboration tools will set your practice apart from the competition, and establish you as an innovator in your field – something that could prove a significant and long-term competitive advantage.
• Time Savings. Communicating with clients online can often be more efficient and focused than in-person meetings, realizing substantial time savings. Furthermore, collaborating online can also allow you the opportunity work out of your home or a convenient, lower-cost office location.
• Cost Savings. Cloud-based collaboration can eliminate many of the costs and inefficiencies typical in many law offices – printing, courier costs, personnel costs relating to mail.
• Real-time. In a world dominated by Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media, clients are beginning to expect enhanced, real-time communication from their lawyers. Cloud-based collaboration offers you the capability to communicate more easily and more directly with your clients.
• Security. Unlike unencrypted e-mail communications, all communications through a properly secured cloud-based secured using SSL encryption. This is the same type of encryption employed by banks and e-commerce sites to ensure secure, confidential transmission of sensitive data. Some jurisdictions, such as Massachusetts, have implemented strict secure communication standards that will deprecate insecure communication methods such as e-mail in favor of more secure, cloud-based communication portals.
• Freedom. The freedom associated with a cloud-based collaboration system may be something you only can truly appreciate once you’ve taken the plunge. You’ll realize you can get your work done anywhere. You’ll be able to provide responsive, professional service to your clients on a schedule that works for you, regardless of your location. If an urgent situation with a client comes up while you’re on vacation, you’re only an Internet cafe away from being able to meet their needs. This not only means that you’re no longer required to support much of the overhead that accompanies a more traditional law practice, it also creates an opportunity to gain more control over your time, and often more freedom to enjoy time away from the job.
Using cloud-based collaboration tools in your practice offers a convenient and low-overhead method for you to deliver better and more responsive services to your clients; try one of the many offerings out on your next case!
Jack Newton is co-founder and President of Clio, a leading provider of cloud-based practice management and client collaboration tools. Jack holds an M.Sc. in Computer Science from the University of Alberta and holds three software-related patents in the United States and EU. He has written and spoken extensively on cloud computing in general, and specifically on the ethics, privacy, and security issues relating to the use of cloud computing in the legal market.