Focus on a number of providers of cloud-based and other IT services aimed at the Scottish legal market

A recent report in the magazine Legal Week predicted that City of London legal firms stand to save millions of pounds by switching to internet-based computing – which enables a practice to link up to shared resources and software on demand rather than maintain its own hardware.

Yet many appear to be hesitant about moving in that direction, through a combination of conservatism and fears about possible security breaches.

But is your in-house data management system any more secure? Soon after this report came the security attack on London firm ACS:Law, in apparent retaliation for its pursuit of people suspected of illegal file sharing of films and music. Hackers obtained access to spreadsheets with details of thousands of individual cases and posted them on the internet, leaving the firm facing a fine of anything up to £500,000 if it fails to satisfy the Information Commissioner as to its data security measures.

Here in Scotland, our numerous high street practices are beginning to be persuaded of the huge potential of the “cloud” – the term for the internet-based data storage now offered by the leading software providers.

As the Journal reported in July (“Join the Cloud”, 34), innovative legal practices have worked in partnership with the IT sector to enable others to come on board via their hosted platforms. This month’s feature gives the IT providers the chance to display their wares.

Ahead in the cloud

LawWare is the company behind the newly launched “LawCloud” platform featured in July. Founded in 1998 by managing director Warren Wander, LawWare already provides practice management technology to more than 170 Scottish legal practices through its flagship product LawWare Enterprise.

With LawCloud, it is moving to the next generation of technology and support, via a menu of services including an optional fully outsourced cashroom and compliance capability, provided at a low fixed monthly cost, to which anyone with internet access can sign up.

“There’s no capital expenditure, so new users have better control over cashflow”, Wander points out. “Additionally, there is no need to pay to upgrade or replace servers or maintain expensive legacy equipment. All the complicated stuff is managed by the experts behind LawCloud. It is ultimately scalable to meet your firm’s growing needs.”

Other benefits he highlights include flexible working, with the ability to access the system from wherever you may be; its in-built business continuity planning and disaster recovery; and the “Fort Knox style” security environment with all data held in a dedicated green UK data centre.

A launch event at Microsoft’s Waverley Gate offices in Edinburgh in February 2011 will offer the chance to see the technology on display. And a big annual user group meeting where client firms offer feedback that helps shape its future software developments is just part of the personal service to which LawWare commits itself.

Denovo Business Intelligence is another Scottish software house offering a real “cloud” solution. The company, which has been delivering legal software solutions since 1982, claims more than 300 law firm customers in Scotland, as well as some in the north of England.

Its new product, Denovo Intelligent Cloud Software, offers a suite of services from which practices can choose what they need at any given time: Full Legal Intelligent Files, Intelligent Accounts, Intelligent Time & Files, Intelligent Legal Aid, Intelligent Diary, all developed to integrate seamlessly with Microsoft Windows and Office products.

The system will also link with most smartphones, iPhones and iPads etc, enabling fee earners to work on the move, and can be tailored to the individual needs of most fee earners.

“Any size of business can instantly obtain the benefits of the enormous infrastructure without having to implement and administer it directly”, Denovo says. “It also means that as the need for resources increases, firms can add additional services as and when needed without necessarily having to pay for additional hardware.”

Specific solutions

“Cloud” technology can provide the answer to a practice that feels it is currently behind the curve in IT adoption, as others look after the technical side for you in return for your monthly fee and are on hand to advise if you have any problems operating the service. For those with certain specific needs, alternatives are on offer.

One such is online document creation. Cleardocs, who specialise in web-based document creation, are among the first to combine legal expertise and the internet far beyond document templates. Working closely with Ashfords Solicitors, Cleardocs currently provides business owners with self serve bespoke HR and legal employment documents.

Director Frances Critchlow explains what sets the Cleardocs service apart: “The system is designed to ‘think’ like a lawyer by ‘asking’ the questions a lawyer would as he or she prepares a document. The complexity is hidden from the user: rather, what the employer interacts with is clear, simple and easy to use.”

She adds that employment documents are just the beginning: “The internet is perfect for law firms who need or want to release fee earners from commoditised, low margin work, focusing them instead on high margin, value-added work.”

If a case management system with client web access is of interest, take a look at Edinburgh-based Minerva Business Systems’ new product, MCM. Devised for the Scottish market, particularly high-volume commercial litigation such as debt actions or repossessions, MCM allows you – or your client, if you choose to allow them access – to view all relevant case information round the clock, styled with your practice’s branding.

The package includes a full court calendar facility, with automated reminders to ensure deadlines are not missed. Users logging on will see what work is required and when, and a comprehensive audit trail identifies who did what work and when.

Minerva offers up to two months’ free trial, or in-office or online demonstrations.

Cutting edge

Or perhaps what you already have simply needs an upgrade. Commercial firm Harper Macleod recently went down this path, overhauling its billing system by significantly increasing the use of LawSoft Auto Billing, one of the services provided by Pilgrim Systems.

With modules covering matter, case and practice management, LawSoft’s goal is to provide a seamless, consistent and transparent process that allows clients to receive their documentation faster, and its billing service, which generates bills automatically, removes the margin for human error, meaning communications with clients are always accurate.

“By introducing LawSoft Auto Billing, we’ve made substantial time savings”, Nicola White, Harper Macleod’s operations director, comments. “Less time spent on billing administration is more time spent serving our clients – which is the most important goal for us. It is suitably flexible to be applied to a range of different clients and different departments with confidence. We aim to achieve near 100% auto billing in the coming year.”

Pilgrim also now offers a cloud computing option for both new and existing LawSoft clients, charged via a consolidated monthly bill based on user count.

Choosing a path

So what sort of service should you go for? One important aspect is knowing what questions to ask when the salespeople come calling. Minerva’s Bill Maxwell offers some pointers: Will you be able to use your existing technology? If not, what will you have to pay to license and run your supplier’s database? Can you select your own provider and support for this database?

“Simplicity”, he continues, “lies in having customisation and tailored programming done for you but knowing the costs this will incur. Plenty of providers do offer excellent value for money services in these areas.

“The trade-off between time and often considerable effort with the more complex systems against custom-made solutions to specific needs can be very favourable, but only if you have the information to make cost and time comparisons available.

“In short, when salespeople say ‘And it does x’, ask to see it do x. When they say ‘Create your own’, or ‘editable’, ‘amendable’, ask to see these features in action. Then the decision is whether the complexity of a highly configurable system is for you, or you need the simplicity of a few predefined options and, if so, how often you might need their added services to edit, amend or configure these for you.”

But the overriding message from all sides is, don’t get left behind. With or without alternative business structures (ABS) as currently proposed, technology is set to drive how we – and especially our clients – experience the world.

As Cleardocs’ Critchlow comments: “Whatever the politicians decide, consumers know that IT, and especially the internet, delivers real savings and unless key individuals within law firms wake up and smell the coffee, they will find themselves left out in the cold.”

Referring to the initiatives featured in the July article, she adds: “All of these are magnificent examples of the utility of IT; my only question is – why is it taking so long for the rest of you to figure out what IT can do to increase fees and lower overheads?”

What it means for your own firm, she concludes, is up to you. “However, having worked in technology-led organisations for all of my working life, I have seen first hand how IT can revolutionise businesses and industry sectors, leaving behind those who choose not to partake; and I suspect that this will also be true of the legal services sector.”

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