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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),, 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 (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,, 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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What is Office 365?

With the concept of cloud-based computing becoming more acceptable, consumers, including attorneys, have started to embrace the cloud. In February of this year, Microsoft launched a subscription-based version of their most famous (or infamous) product, Microsoft Office. Their product is called Microsoft Office 365.

This product is a direct competitor to Google Apps for Business which has been embraced by many firms as a low-cost alternative to an expensive on-site Exchange email server.  Office 365 is a monthly subscription to the most up-to-date Microsoft Office products as well as Hosted Exchange email. But, Microsoft didn’t just stop at email. They included additional options for web and desktop access to their most popular Microsoft Office products. This is very appealing to firms with out of date software as well as start-ups who do not want to make a big investment in software.

Subscribers to Office 365 do not have to pay the one-time fee of $300-$400 for a license of Microsoft Office.  Instead, Microsoft has tried to meet everyone’s needs from the solo and small firm all the way up to the large enterprise firm, and has several different subscription options to entice them all. The picture below shows all of Microsoft’s offerings (click for more information):

Office 365

On the lower end, with the subscription of $5/user/month, you have access to a hosted email system using your own domain name like rather than You also have the ability to host a website as well as use their web conferencing and document sharing features.

At the $12.50/month level , you have access to the latest and greatest Microsoft Office 2013 wherever you go online, and you can also install the software on five external devices. This includes laptops, desktops, and any other device that you wish to have a local copy of the software. If your firm needs integration with a local Windows server, just move to the $15/user/month level for up to 300 users.

On the higher end, the $20/user/month subscription has an interesting advantage. It gives your firm the ability to have archiving, legal hold capabilities, as well as tools for e-discovery. It will depend on how important this type of information is for your firm whether or not it would be worth the extra $5/user/month. Did I mention the ability to potentially replace your phone system at the highest level of $22/user/ month? Pretty cool.

For those of you that have been working in Google Apps for Business realm over the past several years, this is serious competition. The price point for Office 365 is good, and you get the added bonus of a license for Microsoft Office. This product is somewhat less beneficial if you have already made the investment into a license of Microsoft Office on your desktop or laptop. However, for new startups and for firms that have not been able to update their software, they get an updated version of Microsoft Office, with the added benefit of a Hosted Exchange email system at the same time.

Office 365 is up and running and proving to be a worthy adversary in the battle between Microsoft and Google. Google better step up their game, or Google Apps for Business will soon be considered “the other” option for a hosted email solution.

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Should I stay or should I go? Legal Technology Conferences

As an attorney, if you have never attended the ABA TechShow in Chicago, it is worth the trip. With more than 50 educational sessions (many for CLE credit) and more than 100 vendors attending, it is a big bang for your buck to get up to speed on technology fast. Whether you would like to know more about hardware (from scanners big and small to the latest in off-cloud storage solutions), software (from legal-specific iPad apps to practice management systems, e-discovery, document assembly, and every type of cloud-based software), or advanced technology tips and tricks (from apps to sites to time saving tools), the ABA TechShow has something for everyone.

Any attorney would benefit from a technology conference and exhibit. Besides earning most of your yearly CLE credit in one shot, you can develop a technology plan that can last for years.

Of course, the ABA TechShow is not the only show out there. A few upcoming legal technology shows include:

  • Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) – April 14-17, 2013 – National Harbor, Maryland
    For more information –
  • International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) – August 18-22, 2013 – Las Vegas, Nevada
    For more information –
  • NC TechShow on November 1, 2013 – Cary, NC – Law Practice Management Section of the North Carolina Bar Association (NCBA) – More details to come soon.

If your schedule is too packed right now, plan on attending next year and put one on your calendar now so you can schedule around it. The ABA TechShow next year is March 27-29, 2014 in Chicago. Mark your calendars now!

Attend a legal technology conference and exhibit and get excited about technology that will save you and your firm time and money. You will find it is worth the trip.

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Take another look at Rocket Matter

I’ve been looking at cloud-based practice management systems for a while, and I’m pretty hard to impress.  I saw a demo of Rocket Matter years ago when they first exhibited at the ABA TechShow, and while they had the right idea, they seemed to be consistently overshadowed by Clio’s marketing might.  But times change, and I recently had the opportunity to see another demo of Rocket Matter. If you haven’t seen Rocket Matter in a while, or don’t know about the product, it is time to take another look because Rocket Matter has really upped their game.

For the last five years, Rocket Matter ( and Clio ( have been the two big players on the cloud-based practice management market but recently, other options have entered the market. Unfortunately, many of the new systems (and some of the older cloud-based solutions) still have one big problem – they cannot satisfy all the time and billing needs of their law firm clients.  One area where all of these products have struggled has been seamless integration with a critical piece of software used by many small and medium-sized firms – QuickBooks.  While there have been syncs to QuickBooks and links to QuickBooks, true integration between a cloud system and this essential application did not exist:  Until now.

At the beginning of this year, Rocket Matter launched one-button integration with QuickBooks, and just let me say, “Wow.”  This new version of Rocket Matter solves many of the issues that cloud-based practice management systems have struggled with in terms of time and billing. With a required consultation, Rocket Matter will make sure that the Rocket Matter-QuickBooks connection is setup correctly and works as expected the first time.  From there, the time and bills that are easily entered into Rocket Matter can be accounted for correctly in QuickBooks. Accountants of law firms rejoice!  The accountants and bookkeepers can continue to enter their debits, credits and write checks in the correct client and matter in QuickBooks.  Everyone is happy. Problem solved.

If it has been a while since you have seen Rocket Matter, it is worth a new look.  The clean, intuitive interface coupled with the QuickBooks integration is impressive and the demo is worth your time.  In the end, this well-planned move of QuickBooks integration could blast Rocket Matter to the top.