Popular Cloud Computing Services for Lawyers: Practice Management Online

Volume 37 Number 5

By

Stephanie Kimbro has operated a web-based virtual law office in  North Carolina since 2006 and delivers estate planning and small-business legal services to clients online. She is cofounder of Virtual Law Office Technology, LLC (VLOTech), which was acquired by Total Attorneys in the fall of 2009. She is the author of the book Virtual Law Practice: How to Deliver Legal Services Online.

Tom Mighell is a records management and electronic discovery consultant with Contoural Inc. Prior to becoming a consultant, Tom practiced law for 18 years and is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Texas. He is Chair of the ABA LPM Section and author of the book iPad in One Hour for Lawyers and publishes the award-winning blog Inter-alia.net.

The dizzying speed at which cloud computing applications are developed makes it impossible to cover everything in this article; therefore, we have tried to list and describe some of the most well-known cloud computing products used by lawyers in their practices, organized by their primary function for use in a law firm.

Lawyers may find significant differences between the security and service features offered in cloud-based products developed specifically for the legal community and those developed for the general public. These differences in features may be evident in the service level agreements (SLAs) provided by non-legal industry vendors, who may not understand the importance of confidentiality and security in the context of a law practice. Accordingly, throughout this article we point to those products designed specifically for legal professionals, which have made a more concerted effort to ensure that their policies and SLAs address the practical and ethical concerns of a law practice. Of course, you should conduct your own due diligence before engaging with any of these services, to satisfy that your own security and confidentiality issues are appropriately addressed. (See the sidebar in this issue for a list of vendors who offer products designed specifically for law practices.)

Time, Billing and Invoicing
These products use cloud computing to help streamline the billing function, so the lawyer operating on a billable-hour basis is not spending a significant amount of time logging work for each client. The collections process is tied into the time and billing component of these tools, with most of them also offering a web-based invoicing system. Clio and Rocket- Matter, discussed in a later section, also offer time and billing features.

■ Bill4Time (www.bill4time.com) provides time and expense tracking, billing services at both hourly and flat fee rates, invoicing, trust accounting, and integration with QuickBooks. For one user and three clients, the service is free; most lawyers will want to go for the Lite ($15.99 per month) or Professional ($29.99 per month) editions, which offer many more features.

■ Chrometa (http://app.chrometa.com) automatically captures and categorizes your time. There are three pricing tiers. Basic includes two months of data for two devices for $19 per month, Basic Plus includes one year of data for three devices for $29 per month, and Premium includes unlimited data for four devices for $49 per month.

Electronic Signatures
Electronic signatures save time for both the lawyer and his or her clients. These products provide secure, web-based electronic signatures and in some cases will store signed documents online for access by both parties. Features typically include common file format support, biometric and webcam photo authentication and document archiving.

■ RightSignature (www.rightsignature.com) provides 256-bit SSL encryption and Amazon Web Services to ensure privacy of data. Pricing starts at $14 per month for unlimited documents, a premium feature set, one reusable template and one sender. Small group pricing is $49 per month for unlimited documents, a premium feature set, 10 reusable templates, five senders and branded email and logo.

■ DocuSign (www.docusign.com) is an electronic signature service that offers mobile device signing options (for iPhone and iPad), custom storage folder structures, collaboration with third parties to add and edit documents, user and group management, workflows and templates, transaction control and firm-branded envelopes. You can try DocuSign for free, and plans are available at $19.99 and $24.99 per month.

Case and Client Management
Case and client management has become one of the most popular cloud offerings due to its broad use for all different forms of law practice, from solos to larger law firms. These products provide features such as document storage, calendaring and searchable client file organization, which the law firm can access from anywhere. One appealing feature of these tools is the ability to organize all of the firm’s client and case matters into a single web-based system that can be more easily searched and accessible than traditional paper filing systems.

■ Advologix PM (www.advologix.com) includes group calendaring, docket and activity management, client management and marketing, project and matter management, time and billing, document management, account management, mobile access workflow, customization and integration features. It costs $90 per month per user, and $75 per month for each additional user up to 5 users.

■ Clio (www.goclio.com/) offers a dashboard where you can see your upcoming tasks and schedule at a glance. Users can monitor billing targets, link tasks to specific matters, bill time directly from tasks, and run billing, productivity and client reports. It includes a “client connect” feature for sharing documents with clients online as well as online invoicing and bill payment. There is a 30-day free trial and attorney users pay $49 per month after the trial period.

■ LawRD (www.lawrd.com) provides a practice management system with features including management reports, time tracking, matter management, contact management, a billing sheets generator and more. A 30-day free trial is available. After that, it costs $19 per month per user.

■ Rocket Matter (www.rocketmatter.com)  is a web-based time and practice management product that includes calendaring, expense, time and task tracking, invoicing, batch billing, matter-based ledgering, phone messaging, a time-tracking timer, Skype integration, mobile access, contact management, documents and notes, tagging, reports, conflict checking and more. You’ll pay $59.99 per month for the first user, with a decreasing pricing model for each additional user.

Document Management
Online document management services allow you to access files and documents from any computer with an Internet connection, as well as share them with clients, team members and others.

DropBox (www.dropbox.com) installs a simple folder on all of your computers; then just move your files into that folder, and they are nearly instantly synched to a cloud location. Dropbox offers 2GB of free storage, and then charges $10 per month for 50GB and $20 per month for 100GB of storage. Note: At press time, the authors cannot recommend Dropbox for storage of confidential documents, due to encryption issues. But it is the best online document manager for nonconfidential records.

Box.net (www.box.net), like Dropbox, provides tools to manage users, security and permissions, for rolling documents out to a larger group of employees. It offers 5GB for free, and then $10 per month for 25GB and $20 per month for 50GB. Business and plans start at $15 per user per month for 500GB of space.

NetDocuments (www.netdocuments.com) allows you to create your entire folder structure in the cloud. All your files are completely searchable online, and you can easily import email from Outlook into your account. NetDocuments also provides a records management function to automate the retention periods of certain types of documents. There are three levels of pricing: Basic ($20 per user per month), Professional ($30 per user per month), and Professional+ ($38 per user per month). All start with 10GB base storage.

Worldox (www.worldox.com), best known for its standalone software product, now offers Complete Cloud, which provides the same Worldox document management service, but with no software to install or upgrade, or servers to purchase. Call for pricing information.

Virtual Law Office Services
These services facilitate the online delivery of legal services and include the use of secure client portals to provide clients with the ability to work with their lawyer online. They combine web-based case and client management products with time, billing and document management and other law office management features, including form libraries, law libraries, calendaring, invoicing, document assembly and automation features, and online client intake procedures, among other features.

DirectLaw (www.directlaw.com) provides a secure online client portal with a self-service interface, encrypted attorney-client communications that are time and date stamped in threaded archives, plus calendaring and file storage with upload and download functions. It also includes a web-enabled document automation function and libraries of state-specific documents, legal invoicing and online credit card payment for legal fees. Introductory pricing is available for solo start-ups and new lawyers. Visit the website for pricing details on the DirectLaw Basic, DirectLaw PayGo and DirectLaw Complete services.

Total Attorneys (www.totalattorneys.com) provides a secure client portal, online collaboration, document storage and sharing, case and client management tools, online invoicing and bill payment capability, calendaring, conflict of interest checks, jurisdiction checks, trust accounting compliance and data backups, among other features. Pricing for lawyers starts at $50 per month with other pricing based on the number of users.

Project Management
More and more, lawyers are recognizing that project management skills are important to the practice of law. After all, managing a case or a transaction is similar to managing a business project; there are specific tasks, milestones and resources to be assigned to each task. The following provide all of those features, as well as discussion forums, chat rooms and even wikis for collaboration. Some also include practice management tools such as time entry, billing and calendaring.

■ Basecamp (www.basecamphq.com) is one of the pioneers of online project management. Basecamp has all the basic features—message boards, file storage and collaboration, task lists and time tracking, and a number of project templates that can jumpstart your project initiation. Pricing is $49 per month for 35 projects and 15GB of storage space, $99 per month for 100 projects and 30GB of storage, or $149 per month for unlimited projects and 75GB of storage.

■ Onit (www.onit.com), new to the legal project management scene, is designed for lawyers, firms and even corporate legal departments that have to manage multiple projects. The basic version is free. Corporate law departments can subscribe to the new Onit Premium for a monthly fee. Call for pricing information.

■ PBWorks (www.pbworks.com) offers project workspaces that are clean and easy to use. You can choose to be notified when any change to documents, pages or task status occurs. Call for pricing information.

■ Zoho Projects (www.zoho.com/projects) offers an interesting project management tool. The free version gives you one project, with 10MB of storage space. Check out the different value packs ($99, $199 and $699 a year, respectively) to see which option best fits your needs.

Online Document Storage and Backup
It should be noted that online backup and online document management are not the same thing; online backup is designed for business continuity and disaster recovery purposes, either as a primary backup or as a redundant backup for some other backup source. These services encrypt your data and typically back up incrementally, only backing up those files that are new or changed.

■ Mozy (www.mozy.com), one of the first online backup services, is still a strong choice. The company offers a Home version ($5.99 per month for 50GB, $9.99 per month for 125GB) and a Pro edition (per user pricing ranges from $3.95 +$.50 per GB per month) that provides network and server support for larger firms. The new Mozy 2xProtect will also create a local backup to an external drive, providing true redundant backup.

■ Carbonite (www.carbonite.com) is another popular choice for online backup. You can try it for 15 days for free without even giving a credit card. If you decide to purchase it, you pay a flat rate starting at $54.95 per year per computer with unlimited data storage.

Remote Access
Many of you no doubt already use a remote access tool to log in to your work computers. If so, then you are already using a cloud computing service. These applications make it simple for lawyers to have constant access to not only important work and client files, but also to software applications that may not be installed on a firm laptop or home computer.

■ GoToMyPC (www.gotomypc.com) transfers documents between computers, prints to the computer you are working on or the one being accessed, allows for full displays of your computers if you have multiple monitors, and prevents others from viewing your computer’s monitor while you are remotely connected. For one user, the price is $99 per year. The Pro version starts at $198 per year for two computers, and goes up from there. Corporate pricing is also available.

■ LogMeIn (www.logmein.com) essentially offers the same features as GoToMyPC, but also allows you to access your computer via an iPhone or iPad. A single-user version is always free and, while it is not as full-featured as the Pro edition, it provides good basic remote access. A Pro account starts at $69.95 per computer with discounts available as the number of computers increases.

■ Legal Workspace (www.legal-workspace.com) is designed specifically for the legal profession. It serves as an Internet-hosted IT environment and offers more than simple desktop sharing. Lawyers can access all of their software and services online, without having the software installed on local computers. It provides access to Amicus Attorney, Timeslips, QuickBooks, Worldox, Microsoft Office and Trend Micro antivirus tools. With these tools, you can essentially run your entire practice on the Internet. Call for pricing information.

Encrypted Email and Document Exchange
These services offer secure messaging and document exchange, for when you need to ensure that communications with your clients or others are encrypted and safe from prying eyes.

■ Dialawg (www.dialawg.com) provides encrypted communications specifically for attorneys. Files and messages are sent over an encrypted SSL channel. All data is encrypted and stored in Dialawg’s private network, and recipients can view the files or messages securely via the web, Outlook, an iPhone or other device. The basic service is free, with messages costing $.20 per recipient. Bronze, Silver and Gold levels range from $3 to $48 per month.

■ RPost (www.rpost.com) provides a registered email service with encrypted delivery of email and compliance with HIPAA, FSA and other privacy regulations. Services include registered email, electronic signatures and email encryption with document archiving. Pricing ranges from $79 per month for 100 units per month to $9,750 per month for 25,000 units per month.

■ ZixCorp (www.zixcorp.com) will send an encrypted email directly into a recipient’s inbox as an HTML attachment within a plain-text email. Users click on the email attachment and enter a password, after which the message is decrypted in an Internet browser. Stored messages are encrypted. Call for pricing information.

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SAAS FOR THE LEGAL PROFESSION

 

The following vendors offer products developed specifically for use by legal professionals.

 

■ Advologix PM (www.advologix.com) offers an online practice management system that includes group calendaring, docket management, client management and marketing, time and billing, case and document management and more. See “Case and Client Management.”

 

■ Clio (www.goclio.com/) is a practice management system that includes time tracking, billing, task scheduling, online bill payment, trust accounting, calendaring, reporting, document management and more. See “Case and Client Management.”

 

■ Dialawg (www.dialawg.com)  provides encrypted communications for attorneys. See “Encrypted Email and Document Exchange.”

 

■ DirectLaw (www.directlaw.com) provides a virtual law firm platform with a secure online client portal, encrypted attorney-client communications, calendaring, file storage, legal invoicing, and online credit card payment for legal fees among other features. See “Virtual Law Office Services.”

 

■ Firm Manager by LexisNexis (www.myfirmmanager.com) is a practice management application currently in beta. Features include matter management, contacts, a client portal, calendar and tasks, client intake, conflict search, expense tracking and more.

 

■ HoudiniEsq (www.houdiniesq.com) offers a suite of web-based products that include client communication, time and billing, document management, integration with email, calendaring and more.

 

■ LawRD (www.lawrd.com) is a practice management system with features including management reports, time tracking, matter management, contact management and a billing sheets generator among others. See “Case and Client Management.”

 

■ Legal Workspace (www.legal-workspace.com) is a hosted desktop environment of turnkey desktop software based around Amicus Attorney and Timeslips. See “Remote Access.”

 

■ Lexbe (www.lexbe.com) offers Lexbe Online, a web-based litigation document management and review tool, and Lexbe E-Discovery, a service that processes email, documents and other electronic data for legal review and delivery of discovery productions.

 

■ Onit (www.onit.com) is a project and process management tool that allows collaboration with other users among other features. See “Project Management.”

 

■ Rocket Lawyer (www.rocketlawyer.com) connects lawyers with customers who seek online legal services from the Rocket Lawyer site. A monthly or annual subscription includes alerts from clients seeking legal services, access to a library of legal documents and online marketing tools.

 

■ Rocket Matter (www.rocketmatter.com) is a practice management system that includes calendaring, expense, time and task tracking, billing, contact management, documents and reports, conflict checking and more. See “Case and Client Management.”

 

■ Total Attorneys (www.totalattorneys.com) provides a suite of web-based products including virtual law office software, high-performance marketing and virtual receptionist services. See “Virtual Law Office Services.”

APPOINTMENT SCHEDULING TOOLS

 

Appointment scheduling tools come in two different flavors. One helps you schedule meetings with others, and the second helps other people schedule meetings with you. To schedule meetings with other people, try these tools:

 

Timebridge (www.timebridge.com) integrates with your calendar, whether it’s in Outlook, Google or some other program.

 

Tungle (www.tungle.com) is a similar and equally powerful scheduling tool.

 

When Is Good (http://whenisgood.net) is a dead-simple tool for scheduling meetings. When it comes to clients, though, you may need a service that allows them to actually schedule time with you. For that, try one of these scheduling tools:

 

Genbook (www.genbook.com)  embeds a “Book Now” button on your web page so people can schedule an appointment.

 

BookFresh (www.bookfresh.com), similar to Genbook, will remind your clients of appointments by text or email.

 

Appointment-Plus (www.appointment-plus.com) is another option.

WEB CONFERENCING TOOLS

 

Web conferencing is a popular way to connect lawyers who are constrained from going to business meetings. These applications are also used to hold conferences with clients and opposing counsel, and to conduct depositions and negotiations. Plus, web conferencing services may be used in conjunction with other cloud-based practice management tools to deliver legal services online to clients, especially when meeting with clients who are located in another town or state.

 

The following products provide varying levels of security and encryption, and can include recording of meetings, desktop sharing, free audio conferencing, video, real-time chat and mobile apps so you can attend meetings from your iPad or other device.

 

Adobe ConnectNow (www.adobe.com) is a complete enterprise webinar service, supporting a range of media content including real-time whiteboard discussions, polling, chat and live Q&A. A Basic annual subscription is $149 for up to five participants, and a Plus subscription is $390 for up to 20 participants.

 

join.me (www.join.me) is a newcomer to the online meeting arena. It allows you to share your screen with up to 250 participants, for free. A Pro version is available for $29 per month.

 

GoToMeeting (www.gotomeeting.com) enjoys a good reputation in the online meeting industry. You’ll pay more for the reputation, though: $468 per year for 15 attendees, and up to $1,428 per year for up to 200 attendees.

 

Vyew (www.vyew.com) is a low-cost alternative, with a feature set that is not quite as advanced. Free for up to 20 participants, $9.95 per month for up to 50, and $19.95 per month for up to 150 participants.

 

Yugma (www.yugma.com) is not well-known but it offers a fairly good conferencing experience. Yugma integrates with Skype, so everyone can talk via the online service. Free for up to two participants, up to $1,600 per year for up to 500 participants. The P20 plan ($99 per year for up to 20 participants) seems to be a good deal.

 

Skype (www.skype.com) or Google Video (www.google.com/chat/video) are available free for video conferencing.

 

ooVoo (www.oovoo.com) allows you to host up to three people in a free video conference. You then pay 10 cents per minute per person to add more people online.

 

Mikogo (www.mikogo.com) and CrossLoop (www.crossloop.com), both free, or Glance (www.glance.net), which costs from $9.95 per day to $499 per month, are all excellent screen sharing tools as well.