The majority of attorneys in the United States—84%—practice at solo, small or medium-size firms. Most of these attorneys strive for a similar goal: to provide a quality of legal service on par with what is offered by large regional and national firms. While smaller firms are not necessarily trying to compete with those in the Am Law 200, they are faced with similar decisions when it comes to how to run their business, which in turn affects the quality of service. The biggest difference between the two comes down to the resources they have at their disposal. As more cloud-based technologies come to the forefront, the goal of focusing on the clients’ needs, and less on the finances and operations, enables even the smallest firms to improve their delivered services. Among new technologies, cloud-based tools like Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offer simple, cost-effective options for attorneys at firms of all sizes.
Managing IT at Smaller Firms
Large firms tend to have virtually unlimited IT resources, while smaller firms have limited IT staff, if any. Historically, if a firm needed a business critical application, it would install it on the premises, and either had a small IT team, or even IT contractors, manage the software implementation, maintenance and hardware installation. In recent years, there has been a dramatic shift in how technology is delivered. A great number of software applications are now available via the cloud, meaning that technology providers are now able to deliver the same solution in the form of SaaS.
In direct contrast to solutions installed on-site, a SaaS solution is typically licensed and delivered entirely online and renewed through an annual or monthly subscription. Add to that the fact that there is no physical hardware or software to manage, update and maintain, and a SaaS offering allows for easy implementation and delivery in a fraction of the time.
This dramatic shift in how technology is delivered has created a great opportunity for small-to-medium size firms. It allows them access to enterprise-grade software without the need for heavy IT support and maintenance.
SaaS Versus Traditional Software Approaches
The barriers to entry when considering an enterprise application are often stacked against the smaller firms. The realities of upfront costs, time-to-delivery and/or limited IT resources to manage and maintain the applications can be burdensome and unrealistic. However, there are key differences between a SaaS and more traditional behind-the-firewall software that smaller firms can use to their advantage. Accessibility and convenience can be huge selling points for large and small firms alike. Having no need for a dedicated IT infrastructure and being accessible with merely an internet connection mean the amount of time to get a SaaS up and running can be almost immediate. Furthermore, because SaaS applications are maintained in the cloud, firms do not need to concern themselves with upgrades and maintenance to the software or hardware, and the associated costs are included as part of the subscription.
When considering the financial implications of deploying an enterprise solution, the upfront costs of purchasing the software, maintenance and hardware can quickly move out of reach for a smaller firm. In direct contrast, a SaaS solution, still inclusive of all the enterprise functionality, can come with a substantially lower initial outlay, as the firm is merely paying for the service itself. The value of a cloud solution can grow even further when one considers that it becomes more of an everyday operational cost, versus a capital expenditure that can depreciate over time and will need periodic refreshes.
Security and the Cloud
Concerns over security and compliance are often mentioned as significant and valid reasons law firms have been reluctant to adopt more cloud-enabled applications. Given the confidential nature of the information being managed by the legal industry, it is understandable that firms are cautious when evaluating technology providers.
While these concerns can be well-founded, the shift toward more cloud-based software means that SaaS-based providers have had to warrant that their software is in line with common security and compliance standards. When looking to partner with a SaaS provider, firms should focus on their specific business needs as well as the needs of their clients and ensure they are comfortable that the provider has taken the appropriate steps to maintain security and compliance on their behalf.
Features to look for with cloud-based technology include:
- The provider is taking the necessary steps to ensure data security. Providers that have become ISO 27001 certified have undergone a rigorous process to meet a set of standards to keep information assets secure.
- The provider can demonstrate levels of encryption and standards in data centers for compliance and security.
- Since many attorneys rely on mobile devices, the provider includes secure mobile device management integrations.
With these steps in place, small firms can be assured that their data in the cloud is as secure as the data that rests on the firm’s servers behind the firewalls.
While many organizations may still be hesitant to consider cloud-based technologies, it has become extremely common in everyday use. Consider for a moment the impact Google has had on firms and businesses of all sizes, successfully delivering cloud-based email, collaboration and storage solutions, among many other benefits. By embracing cloud-enabled applications, attorneys at smaller firms can free themselves from IT concerns and administrative tasks that their big-firm counterparts manage internally. This allows them to focus on practicing law, improving service and increasing billable hours.