Cloud IT For Lawyers

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16 Steps to Set up a Cloud-Based Law Firm

Do you need to set up a law firm but you’re not sure where to start? Would you like to take advantage of some of today’s cloud technology, but want to be sure that you are staying within the Rules of Professional Conduct? Cloud-based software has given law firms of all sizes the ability to get up and running quickly without needing to be an IT expert, but as attorneys, you need to take some precautions along the way.

Cloud-based law firms are not right for everyone, but for many, cloud technology has leveled the playing field with the larger firms with deeper pockets.

I have developed a 16 step process for creating a cloud-based law firm. Most of these steps can be accomplished in less than a month and you will be up and running. Here is how you get started:

  1. Secure your domain name. This step allows you to have a website and use e-mail with your firm’s name. Don’t be surprised if your name is not available since more than 250 million domain names are reserved. Choose vendors like Blue Host or GoDaddy to host your domain name.
  2. Use your domain to create an e-mail address. You need to have e-mail, but e-mail offered by your domain hosting company is seldom the best option. Typically, they provide only e-mail but most firms would like to sync their calendar, contacts and tasks everywhere they go. I recommend using Google Apps for Business or Microsoft’s Office 365 for access to your email, calendar and contacts and both sync with most mobile devices, including cell phones and tablets.
  3. Export Your Data. Most cloud-based systems will allow you to import data from older systems and programs. Choose the following export types when exporting data from your current or old firm to bring data to your new firm:
    1. Choose .pst files for Outlook email, contacts and calendars;
    2. Choose .csv files for accounting data;
    3. Choose a folder structure for documents. If exporting data from a document management system, be sure to have the original document names included.
  4. Reserve office space.  Do you need physical office space? If you do, secure it now. If you don’t, consider starting your firm at your house and using a Voice Over IP (VOIP) phone system for just you or for multiple employees in remote locations.
  5. Order Internet access. Internet access is the key to being successful in a cloud-based law firm, so order as much bandwidth as you can afford. The upload speed is the most important number to remember. If an internet service provider will provide “10 by 2” pipe, it means that the download will be 10 MB/second and the upload will be 2 MB/second. Choose the highest upload speed you can afford especially for a VOIP phone system. Depending on the type of access that you need, this step may take the longest to install. If new cabling needs to be run, the installation time can be more than six weeks.
  6. Talk with an accountant. All firms need to make sure they will get paid and this means planning your financial system. QuickBooks is a good alternative for first time business owners and most accountants like it. It can handle both an operating and a trust account, if you need it. Better yet, consider securing someone else to do your books and figure out how to divide the financial duties from check writing and accounts receivable. Talk to your accountant of their preference for Quickbooks Online or desktop Quickbooks (most will favor this option because it has more features). They will have an opinion on the subject – guaranteed.
  7. Order equipment. Buy the best computer you can, either Mac or Windows, and throw in a tablet for mobile use (iPad has the most legal apps). Buy a LaserJet printer (HP preferably, color if you need it) and a ScanSnap scanner. If your firm is big enough to warrant a copier, eliminate both the printer and the scanner and buy a brand name copier that will copy, print and scan. Make sure that your copier includes the ability to scan using OCR (optical character recognition). It may be more expensive, but it will be worth it. You probably don’t need a fax machine, but you can still have electronic faxing through a service like EFax.
  8. Buy or subscribe to software. Traditionally, Microsoft Office was only available for purchase. Now, with the advent of Microsoft’s Office 365, you have the choice. You can still buy the software and own the license or subscribe to Office 365 and pay a monthly fee (click for pricing of various options) to access Microsoft Office. Different subscriptions give you different options from local version of software to video conference calling. Don’t forget about practice specific software like SoftPro or Best Case.
  9. Secure your phone numbers and equipment. Consider porting an existing number to a Voice Over IP (VOIP) phone system or securing a number through a hosted voice over IP system like Ring Central or Vonage for Business. Hosted phone systems give you the same capabilities as server-based systems like voicemail to email and Find Me, Follow Me. Typically, the service requires you to purchase the physical phone and maintain a monthly subscription for the phone service.
  10. Decide on your document storage. Attorneys use lots of documents. They should be stored in a safe and secure place. If you decide to use a system like Dropbox, make sure you encrypt your documents with a system like Viivo before they leave your computer. Other storage options include Google Drive (can be included with your Google Apps for Business account), Box.com, or Microsoft’s OneDrive for Business if you use Microsoft’s Office 365. Better yet, if you like a document management system like Worldox, choose a cloud-based option like Netdocuments for document management in the cloud.
  11. Back up your documents. Even if your documents are cloud-based, you still need to back them up. Use a system like MozyPro or TimeMachine on a Mac to be sure you have a copy of your documents even if they are in the cloud.
  12. Use Practice Management. Unlike server-based systems, cloud-based practice management systems combine practice management along with the ability to key time. Systems like Clio, MyCase, Rocket Matter, Firm Manager allow you to organize your practice with the firm’s clients, contacts and calendar. Many of these systems will integrate with QuickBooks that will keep your accountant happy. Most important of all, READ the Terms of Service for the system to be sure that you understand who owns your data, how to get it back and who has access to your data.
  13. Legal Research. If you need it, sign up for Westlaw, Lexis or check out FaseCase. It might even be a benefit through your local bar association.
  14. Start a website (and a blog). Don’t be intimidated by website technology. It has come far and is easier than you think. Consider creating a website and a blog using WordPress.com (or .org for more plug-in options) or work with professionals on eLance or 99designs for help.
  15. Engage in Social Media. Social media can help grow your online presence. Create firm and professional accounts on Facebook, Google +, LinkedIn and Twitter to help you distinguish yourself from your competitors.
  16. Choose a virtual assistant or virtual receptionist. If you are not sure you need someone onsite with you, consider employing a virtual assistant to get you started. If you want to have the big firm experience with a person answering a phone, choose a virtual receptionist like Ruby Receptionist to have a live person answer your phone on your behalf.

And there you have it; one new law firm ready for clients. Get ready, get set, Go!


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10 Legal Tech Tips for Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th has a reputation as a day of bad luck. Let’s change our luck around by heeding some tips that will ward off bad luck on any day.

1. Bates Numbering with Acrobat Pro – Bates Numbering within Acrobat Pro is easy, flexible and allows for changes and updates. The Pro version of Acrobat is required and Bates Numbering is accessible under the Tools menu. Yes, it allows you to choose your own crazy Bates number scheme.

Bates Number

2. Buy a Keyboard For Your Tablet – Tablets are great, but by buying a keyboard to use with the tablet it becomes much more of a business tool. The keyboard can be integrated within the case or carried separately as a Bluetooth device.

3. Update Your LinkedIn Profile – LinkedIn has been around for a while, but have you looked at your LinkedIn profile lately? Take a few minutes to put up a new picture, add more content and update your recent publications. People are using LinkedIn. Are you?

4. Use Paste Special in MS Office Products – If you are tired of pasting data into documents, emails and briefs with incorrect formatting, choose the Paste Special option under the Paste Menu. Choose Unformatted Text to leave the bad formatting behind.

Paste Special

5. Limit Your PowerPoint – PowerPoint slides should not be used as a prompt for the presenter. They need to convey the most important, impactful data in your presentation. By limiting your PowerPoint to simple clear messages, the audience will be listening to you and not reading your PowerPoint.

6. Read the Terms of Service – When engaging in cloud computing, many attorneys assume that the terms of service of one provider are the same as every other. They are not! Be sure to read the terms of service for any provider where you store your client’s confidential data.

7. Get Rid of Your Fax Machine – Many law firms have the (wrong) idea that they need to maintain a physical fax machine in order to send and receive faxes. Just because your client has not moved into the age of electronic faxing does not mean that your firm needs to keep a fax machine sitting in the office. Investigate online fax services or free services can be found with a little research. You can receive and send your faxes electronically and your client can keep their fax machine.

8. Use Virtual Assistants – Today, your assistant does not have to work in the office with you. Consider engaging a virtual assistant for short or long term assignments. They would work just like an assistant in your office. They can do anything from calling clients, to managing calendars, to booking travel, and any other projects that don’t require them to be physically in the office.

9. Backup (and Restore) Your Cloud Data Locally – Tools like Dropbox are a wonderful way to store and share documents. However, this does not relieve the necessity to back up your data. Periodically, copy your data from Dropbox, Box.net, Google Drive, SkyDrive (whatever flavor of storage you prefer) to your local backup drive. Test some files to make sure that your backup works in case disaster strikes.

10. Try Voice Recognition Software – Since I can talk faster than I can type, voice recognition software has been a lifesaver for me. If you have tried voice-recognition software in the past and not been pleased with it, give it a try again. The technology has greatly improved over the last few years, and it will be worth the short investment of time.

Good luck on Friday the 13th, and make the most of the day by trying some of these tips.


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Protecting Data on your iDevice

Recently, I received a call from a client that had her smart phone stolen. She left it in a coffee shop and when she returned to the shop, it was gone. It is tough to hear. We all know how much these devices have on them – our home address and phone numbers, all our personal contacts and, for many of us, confidential client information. Luckily for her, she only had her personal email on it. The first question I asked when she told me about the phone was “Does it have a password on it?” Unfortunately, the answer was no.

Smart phone and tablet computers can be a great way to be able to keep up with your mobile lifestyle by providing you quick and easy access to your email, calendars and contacts and everything in between. Whether your preference is an iPhone, iPad, Android device, or any other type of smart phone or tablet, convenience is the key. Along with the ease of use of these devices come risks. The risk of losing of your email, calendar, contacts and more importantly, client confidential information is higher than ever before.

Most people that steal phones are not looking to access the data on them, they are looking to wipe the phone clean and sell it the highest bidder. By taking about 10 seconds to set up a password on a phone, tablet or any mobile device, it can give you piece of mind if your device is ever lost or stolen.

If the likelihood of your device being stolen it is small then consider the scenario that your device may be lost. The latest statistics of 40,000 smart phones being left in taxicabs in New York City is very real. Everyone should find a way to protect yourself and your data. A very simple way to protect your client data if your smart device is ever lost or stolen is a screen password.

Take out whatever device you use for your email (iPad, iPhone, Android smart phone or any other make) out of your pocket or briefcase and turn it on. If you are not prompted for some type of password, I’m talking to you. The password is typically a four digit code or may be a shape to draw with your finger before the Home Screen appears on your phone. For most devices, if the password is entered incorrectly 10 times the information on device will be deleted. This is a very quick and very easy way to protect your client data on mobile devices.

The instructions are below for an iPhone and an iPad. Android devices are protected in a similar fashion:

  • Click the Home button to bring up the main menu
  • Click on Settings
  • In the Settings screen click on General
  • In the General screen click on Passcode Lock
  • This will open the Set Passcode screen. Enter a 4-figure code and re-enter it when prompted
  • You will now be at the Passcode Lock screen. You can change when you are prompted to enter the Passcode. The default setting – Immediately – means you will be asked to enter it as soon as your start using the iPhone. But you can change the setting so that the prompt appears after a certain period of use
  • Press the Home button to return to the main menu.

This setting can protect your client’s confidential data if your device ever falls into someone else’s hands. It will be worth it to you, to your client and to your conscience when you go to bed tonight.


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New Year Technology Resolutions

At the beginning of the year, we like to make resolutions that will guide us through the year to a happier and more organized New Year. Rather than making resolutions that will end sooner rather than later, let’s resolve to move forward rather than backward as far as technology is concerned. I propose 10 technology resolutions to start 2013 off right:

  1. Update your website – Your website is the marketing tool for you and your firm that is always on and works while you are sleeping. Take the initiative and update your attorney profile as well as practice areas with up to date information including your accomplishments and recognitions from 2012. In smaller firms, take a look at your website from your (potential) client’s point of view. Does it provide the information that your clients need – both present and future? What information could you provide to clients about your firm, yourself or your practice areas that might be helpful to them? Are there some newer practice areas that you would like expand? Spend some time updating your site so even repeat visitors will notice a difference.
  2. Update Social Media – As much as some attorneys would like to deny the power of Social Media, it is here to stay. Embrace your LinkedIn/Google+/Facebook profile. Add a picture and some of your past employment and accomplishments or task your staff to update it on your behalf. LinkedIn profiles do very well in Google searches and Google+’s influence will only move it up in the rankings. If someone searches your name, the LinkedIn/Google+ profile may be the first one to appear. Make sure your first impression is a good one.
  3. Google Yourself – Speaking of searches, don’t forget to Google yourself as well. You need to know what results appear when you search your name. This is the same search that other attorneys and potential clients will do to find you. You might discover that your Google ranking or your firm’s ranking is not as high as you had hoped it would be. (Side note to call the website folks and find out what you can do.) You also might discover some other searches out there like Avvo.com and Yelp.com have (good and bad) information about you. Claim those profiles as well since the information is out there – it might as well be good information.
  4. Clean out your files – The beginning of the year is a great time to clean out your files. Even if you made the vow to “Go Paperless in 2012” and you are still drowning in paper, make the vow again. Every piece of paper that is scanned now is one less piece of paper that has to be stored for seven years and destroyed thereafter. With online storage prices so low and some places are giving space away (Dropbox, Google Drive, Amazon, Skydrive and so on), the space is there. Arm yourself with a desktop scanner like a ScanSnap and the process is (almost) easy.
  5. Get Social – Even if the idea of going to a networking event makes you cringe, make your own networking events. Take your referral sources to lunch or coffee and ask them for referrals. Take your clients to lunch and find out how you can help them. It is great to be social, but be social with a purpose.
  6. Go to CLEs early  – It is the beginning of 2013 and your CLEs are lacking again. Take advantage of CLEs early in the year or sign up for them now and make your schedule around them. I recently attended an iPad CLE that gave me some great time saving apps while sitting at my desk. (See tip #7). Lawyers Mutual has some great upcoming CLEs in various locations around the state. Check out the schedule here: http://www.lawyersmutualnc.com/cle-schedule
  7. Buy an iPad – iPads are here to stay and the legal community has thankfully embraced this new technology. With apps to track mileage, key time and to take notes on depositions, the million-plus apps in the Apple App Store will entice and overwhelm you. By attending like the iPad one, it can arm you with the right apps for the right job. Have an upcoming trial? Consider running your trial software from an iPad using the Trialpad App.
  8. Encrypt your Dropbox account – We all know that Dropbox is a great tool for storing files but the files stored in Dropbox are not encrypted. This means that they could be read by others if the files were lost or stolen. Layer encryption software like Viivo or TrueCrypt on top of Dropbox to make your data unreadable by anyone but you. It’s the right way to secure data in Dropbox for your clients and for you.
  9. Consider the Cloud – The Cloud is the new buzz word for storing your data on the internet. Ethically, attorneys in North Carolina can use Cloud-based services as long as “reasonable care” is taken to protect your data. If your firm is considering moving data into the Cloud (or already has data in the Cloud), read the Terms of Service associated with your data provider. From Google to Clio to Netdocuments and Bill4Time, understanding and accepting the Terms of Service is vital. Attorneys cannot put their heads in the sand and plead, “I don’t understand the technology”. If you are using the Cloud for documents, billing, practice management or email, you need to make sure you know and understand the implications of that decision.
  10. Stay Current with your Operating System –After April 8, 2014, Microsoft will no longer support Windows XP. If you still are using Windows XP (and so many firms are), make plans now to upgrade to at least Windows 7 (preferably Professional) before then. There is lots of talk of Windows 8 with touch screen tablets as laptop replacements. Truthfully, it is neat, and different, and somewhat confusing even for the most experienced user, so prepare for a learning curve. More importantly isn’t an upgrade to Windows 8, it is the End of Life of Windows XP. Either way, you don’t want to be making these decisions this time next year when time is running out.

The beginning of the year is a good time to begin some habits that will last a lifetime – or at least until February December. Take a little time to make some big changes that will help you and your firm throughout the year. Happy 2013!