How to choose Web-based legal software

These days, more and more lawyers are moving to Web-based legal software because it’s convenient, provides 24/7 on-the-go-access to case-related information, and is affordable. The good news is now that cloud computing is becoming more familiar and accepted, new platforms are being introduced into the legal marketplace at record speed.

So, what’s a lawyer who has made the decision to move to the cloud to do? How do you choose between the different cloud-based legal programs? Read on to learn how to make the right choice for your law firm’s needs.

First, compare the features offered by the different legal Web-based computing platforms. Then, narrow your search down to two or three platforms that offer most of the features you’re looking for. Are you in the market for a full scale law practice management system that offers contact management, calendaring, billing, invoicing and document management — the works? Or are you simply looking for a single purpose system, such as one that offers only billing, document management or online storage?

But don’t rule out one platform just because it doesn’t include every feature you need. One major advantage of cloud computing systems is how easy it is for the developer to implement changes based on user feedback. Oftentimes, legal cloud computing providers roll out new features every few weeks. So don’t eliminate an otherwise strong contender simply because the platform lacks one or two features that are on your wish list. Contact the provider and ask about the missing features. It’s entirely possible that the provider will add those features in the near future.

Next consider the interface. The interface is extremely important, since you’ll be spending lots of time using the platform. Is it intuitive or do you find yourself constantly struggling to figure out how to add and manipulate information in the system? The usability of the interface is extremely important. Make sure it works for you and your staff.

Price is also an important consideration, but it shouldn’t be a deal breaker. To an extent, as the old adage goes — you get what you pay for.

That being said, one of the benefits of moving to a cloud-based system is that it’s supposed to be more affordable than owning and maintaining your own servers and paying for the annual licensing fees of server-based software. So if the monthly fees of one legal cloud computing company are higher than those of competitors’ products which offer similar features, you might want to think twice before signing up.

Another important consideration is the ease of transitioning to the new cloud-based system. Will it be easy to import data into the platform from existing programs? Will you need to continue using other software or does the new system effectively replace them, thus making compatibility a non-issue?

Another important consideration is customer support matters. It matters—a lot. If you run into an issue, you want it resolved quickly and efficiently. If you’re routinely unable to reach a representative from your new cloud computing provider, then you’ll find that your frustration levels will go through the roof. Customer service is extremely important and can make or break your legal cloud computing experience.

Also important is your duty to research the security provided by the cloud computing provider. As I’ve discussed in many past articles, you have an ethical obligation to vet the provider to ensure that reasonable steps are taken to ensure that confidential client data is secure. Check to see if your jurisdiction has issued ethics decisions on point and carefully review the standards set forth.

Next, research customer satisfaction. Find out what current (and past) customers think of each computing product that you’re considering. In this day and age, it’s not difficult to find customer reviews and feedback about the major legal cloud computing products available. Search for blog posts reviewing the different products and read the comments to the post, if any.

Join some of the major online forums for lawyers, such as MiloGroup and the ABA’s Solosez listserv. Post on these sites and seek feedback from users or search the archives using the names of the products that you’re considering to locate past reviews and posts about each product.

Finally, sign up for a free trial. Most legal cloud computing providers offer a no-strings-attached 30-day free trial. Ideally, starting the trial should be simple and hassle-free. Sign up and dive in.

If the interface is user-friendly, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get started with the platform on your own. Spend some time testing it out. And, if others in your firm will be using it, make sure that they try it out, too.

Once you’ve followed these steps, you’ll be ready to move your firm to the cloud. It’s a big decision — and it’s not an easy one. But if you carefully consider your options and do your research ahead of time, you’ll be well on your way to choosing the right legal cloud computing software for your law firm.

Editor’s note: this article was first published in The Daily Record ©2014 and in Sui Generis–a New York law blog. Reprinted here with permission.

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