Cloud-based law firm software – has the time come?

(This text is the English translation of my blog post from June last year)

The topic of “Cloud software for law firms” is playing an increasingly important role for many software providers in Europe. Only a few years ago, it was unthinkable that the legal profession would be offered programs for law firm organizations that were hosted web-based in (public) clouds and not operated locally in the IT infrastructure of the law firms. In the past, the main reasons against web-based software were the high demands on data security, especially in Germany from § 203 StGB (violation of private secrets). However, the recent reform of the aforementioned paragraph and the associated adjustments to the professional regulations, as well as the beginning general digitalization of legal advice (“LegalTech”) and not least technical advances in encryption and application architecture seem to have led to a rethink among lawyers regarding the topic of “cloud” and the offers in the area of office organization software.

Advantages of web-based law firm software

What are the advantages of a web-based law firm software compared to the previous systems?

While so far almost all office solutions are so-called “client-server” applications, where the main application is installed locally on each workstation and a central database has to be set up on an internal office server in order to enable central access to the stored information, this extensive installation work is not necessary with web-based solutions.

Here, it is usually enough to set up the office online and off you go. With cloud solutions, the backup of the stored data is usually performed automatically by the providers, the customer no longer has to worry about it.

Another major advantage of online solutions over the previous locally operated (“on-premise”) systems is that the software is always up to date, laborious manual installations of patches and updates by the law firm are eliminated.

While the arguments in favor of cloud-based solutions mainly concern the “care” and “maintenance” of the systems, in my opinion the biggest advantages of web based software are to be seen in the mobility and expandability of such systems.

Almost all solutions based on modern web technologies can be used both on the (desktop) computer in the office and on mobile devices such as iPads or smartphones. The involvement of clients in the exchange of information is also simple, secure and quick thanks to the use of different devices.

But what is meant by expandability? While the previous office organization systems are “monolithic” programs that cannot be individually adapted to the special needs of a firm or only to a very limited extent, cloud-based solutions usually have an open architecture with extensive interfaces (APIs) that make it possible to integrate offers from third-party providers. For example, there are more than 120 additional apps for the cloud software clio.com (unfortunately not yet adapted for the German market), which can be connected to the basic system if required. In addition, individually developed software, developed specifically for the law firm, can be connected using the (documented) interfaces.

Drawbacks

But are there also disadvantages when using web/cloud-based solutions compared to the previous desktop applications?

Yes, there are, although these, in my opinion, are far from “compensating” for the advantages described above.

Like all online offers, the corresponding solutions in the law firm field also require a stable and fast connection to the internet. The use of browsers to display the user interface also (currently) leads to some restrictions in the design of the displayed elements (e.g. right mouse button support).

Availability of the current offers

Cloud-based applications are currently being developed by both established vendors and numerous new start-ups. Wolters-Kluwer, for example, presented its web-based software “Kleos“, while Soldan presented its “Rainmaker” offer to the participants of the Attorneys’ Day 2018 in Mannheim/Germany.

While technical developments are already mature and advanced, there is a clear difference between the functional scope of currently offered online solutions and the established desktop programs.

In particular regarding the topics of “invoicing” and “reporting”, the web-based offers are still “lagging” far behind the competition of the classically installed software. In my opinion, this functional discrepancy will have reduced in the course of the next 1-2 years at the earliest to such an extent that a change to the new providers for law firms, which already use “classical” software productively, might come into question.

For law firms that are currently in the process of acquiring organizational software for the first time – in particular for newcomers to the profession – the web offerings right now on the market could already be a sensible option, since – as just explained – the range of functions of cloud-based solutions is likely to continue to improve rapidly.

Summary

The web-based solutions in the field of law firm organization undoubtedly are the future due to the advantages described above. Established providers will therefore be forced to develop “cloud software” as a successor to their existing desktop programs, otherwise they will no longer be present on the market in the medium term.

Currently, the classic desktop applications functionally outperform the current offerings of web-based solutions, especially in the areas of invoicing and reporting, so that for law firms that already use office software as well as for larger units in general, switching to the cloud is not yet reasonable in the short term. However, the online systems that are already available are an interesting option for setting up a law firm.

This post is also available in: deDeutsch (German)