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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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 pturner@legalcloudtechnology.com rather than pturner@outlook.com. 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.

Dropbox


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Using Dropbox for Your Client Documents? Encrypt it!

I use Dropbox every day, and I love it! It’s a great way to store documents and have them accessible in multiple locations on multiple computers. However, while this convenience is great, security needs to be considered when using Dropbox for client documents. Dropbox files are not encrypted, so the security of your clients’ documents is in your hands. Encrypt your Dropbox!

When I talk about encryption, I don’t want to lose all the non-techies. Basically, when a document is not encrypted the documents and sensitive client information is stored without anything other than a password. If it falls into the wrong hands, they can read it. Encrypted data is stored as ones and zeros so if your data is compromised, it can’t be read. You hold the only encryption key, and your data can only be unlocked and read by you.

There are a number of Dropbox encryption tools on the market including True Crypt (www.truecrypt.org – one of the few options for the Windows XP users (Yikes!) out there, but that is another post), Box Cryptor (www.boxcryptor.com) and Viivo (www.viivo.com). Some are easier than others to install and use.

My personal choice for Dropbox encryption is Viivo.

Viivo encryption

I like Viivo because it’s easy to install, easy to use and free. When you install the software, you follow the step-by-step directions, including setting an encryption password. As part of the process, Viivo will ask you to relocate your Dropbox to the encrypted Viivo folder.

Your documents will now live inside the encrypted Viivo folder and will look the same as they did when they were in your Dropbox folder, but they will have an extra layer of protection. Rather than going to the Dropbox folder for your documents, you go to the Viivo folder. Viivo even installs it right where you are used to going to your Dropbox:

viivo location

By adding the additional step of encrypting Dropbox, you will be improving your firm’s security and protect your client data and confidential files. You will know that if there’s ever a breach in security at Dropbox, your data is protected. Dropbox is a powerful tool that can provide quick storage and improve the mobility of your practice, but take the extra step that will help protect you and your clients’ data. Encrypt!


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Setting up a Blog – Taking the First Step

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a “Legal Geeks” meeting hosted by our local Bar Association, and our topic was blogging. While we drank beer and talked technology, I was surprised at how few attorneys are blogging. Many folks were not sure where to start and I wanted to provide a quick guideline.

After personally setting up a blog, as well as helping clients with their efforts, I would recommend the book Blogging in One Hour for Lawyers by Ernie Svenson for anyone that wants to know more (available through the ABA and iTunes). Ernie makes the process very straightforward and is a great reference when setting up a blog. Unlike Ernie’s example, which uses TypePad.com, I used WordPress.com for my blog as well as the blogs of my clients. It is the most popular platform for blogs and for one main reason – WordPress is easy.

The blog setup is similar to the WordPress.com content management systems (CMS) that many websites use. Those of you who have a little experience modifying websites will be comfortable with the setup. Those of you who are new to WordPress.com, I have provided a few steps below to get you started in the right direction:

  1. Register your domain name. This is the name of your blog – www.nameofyourbloghere.com. You can set up a new domain name for your blog through WordPress.com or if you are already familiar with another registrar (like GoDaddy or Network Solutions), register your new domain there. Here are a couple of hints regarding your new blog:
    1. Separate your blog from your website. You can link to it, but it should be separate from your law firm website.
    2. Use a name that is relevant to your practice or catchy. You can also back into a name by using Google’s keyword search tool and see what related words and phrases rank well in Google.
    3. Use domain forwarding within WordPress.com to forward your domain from WordPress.com to your existing domain if you register your domain at your existing registrar.
  2. Pick a Theme – The themes allow you to select the structure for your blog page.
    1. Choose a theme that can be customized to use your own colors, logo and pictures.
    2. Pick a theme in which you like the location of pictures and text of the blog because they (typically) cannot be changed.
    3. Purchase a theme or use a free theme on WordPress.com. If none of the existing themes work, run a Google search for WordPress themes and you will have many options to choose.
    4. Change themes if you do not like it. Themes can be changed easily and applied to your existing text and pictures.
  3. Start Writing – or Posting (as WordPress calls it)
    1. Use a great title for the blog – Many readers will decide to read your posting based on the title and the title is what shows up in RSS Feeds.
    2. Write on topics interesting to you – If they were interesting to you, they will be interesting to others as well.
    3. Write often – WordPress.com allows readers to subscribe to your blog. Give them something to read at least once a week – more if you can.
  4. Promote your Blog
    1. Link it to your social media sites either automatically (through WordPress.com) or manually.  WordPress.com has links to automatically promote your blog through LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc.
    2. Read other people’s blogs – Twitter is a great source for blog ideas and other experts in your practice area.



Blogs are a great tool to show your expertise in an area, keep in touch with existing clients, and market to future clients. It will help you distinguish yourself from your competitors, and increase your visibility online through quality social media content and improved Google rankings.  The positives definitely outweigh the negatives here, so take the time, set up a blog and write, write, write.
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ScanSnap: Still the Right Tool for Going Paperless

As a legal technology consultant and small business owner, I run into the same issues as attorneys – too much paper.  I hate paper as much as the next person but it seems to be a necessary evil.  From receipts, to bills, to tax forms, paper still surrounds us, so how can we ever hope to reach the dream of a “paperless office?”

I have been recommending Fujitsu ScanSnap desktop scanners for many years in the quest to eliminate paper and clutter. It is an essential tool for start-up law firms, as well as larger firms who want to begin the process of reducing their paper.  The amount of billable time saved from walking to the large multifunctional printer/copier alone is worth the purchase price.

I use the ScanSnap model S1500 and the solidly built, duplex, color desktop scanner is a workhorse upon installation. Not only is the hardware superior, but the license of Adobe Acrobat Standard that comes as part of the package makes this scanner hard to beat.

I recently had the opportunity to look at the ScanSnap iX500, the latest version of the wireless scanner released from Fujitsu.  While they tout wireless access for the device, it’s not what you think.  My vision was that I could eliminate another wire from my computer to the scanner, but that is not the case.  Instead, it allows you to scan documents directly from your ScanSnap to your mobile device – iPhone,  iPad and Kindle or whatever your chosen flavor would be.  A great option for on-the-go types, but I’ll have to wait for a future release for a shareable ScanSnap.  In the meantime, this new model is one step closer.

I will continue to recommend the ScanSnap scanner in any make or model.  I still haven’t gotten rid of my paper; however, I am working towards the elusive “paperless office” and ScanSnap is still my device of choice.


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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 (www.rocketmatter.com) and Clio (www.goclio.com) 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.


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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.