Taking Your Law Firm to the Cloud, Part 1

So you’ve heard about this cloud thing, right? It eliminates all of your technology costs, confetti falls from the ceiling, choirs are singing. If you’ve looked into it with your IT provider or consultant, odds are you’ve found that it’s not quite the panacea many make it out to be. That being said, there are a number of things your firm can put in place to save money, increase your uptime and ensure that your data is safe.

The place of the typical MSP (Managed Service Provider) that, for example, charges $1,000/month to provide support for your 10 person firm is quickly being eliminated and relegated to much larger firms (50+ employees) that need to keep their infrastructure in-house for various reasons. It’s being replaced by consultants and even IT-savvy firm employees who can successfully manage your cloud infrastructure and integration specialists who help with making the services talk to each other.

With this post, we’re starting a 4 part series on how to successfully move your firm to the cloud. We’ll be talking about…

  • E-Mail
  • File storage and access
  • Firm & case management software
  • Web presence and social media

E-Mail

For each of the options, we’ll be ranking them from 1 (least attractive) to 10 (most attractive) on the areas of functionality, redundancy and cost.  If you’re like most small firms, you’re most likely using one of the following:

1. Hosted POP/IMAP e-mail – This is included with a lot of website packages, and is either free, or priced very cheaply. This service provides the most basic e-mail experience you can have – your mail is downloaded to your local e-mail program, and that’s it. No backups (unless you do them manually), no sync (you can have different copies of your info on each device) and more than likely, no redundancy if your host’s server goes offline. The reason this is popular is because it’s free to the provider.

If you’re currently using this option, you’re taking on a lot of unnecessary risk, and introducing a barrier to efficiency for you and your firm employees.  If it saves each of your employees 1 hour a month moving to a better e-mail system, what’s that worth in terms of dollars?

Functionality: 1
Redundancy: 1
Cost: 10

2. In-House Exchange – If you’re running a server in-house and are able to sync your mail, contacts and calendar to your various devices, odds are you’re running in-house Microsoft Exchange as your e-mail server. About 90% of the firms we work with are running in-house Exchange on a server running Microsoft Small Business Server 2003.

When managed properly by an IT professional, this can be a great solution. You get all the benefits of control and customization, as well as the high-end e-mail functions and sync, but at a high cost. You have to maintain servers, pay IT staff (or outsourcers) to keep your infrastructure running, safe and secure, and keep licensing up to date.

Functionality: 10
Redundancy: 4 (varies based on configuration)
Cost: 2

3. Hosted Exchange – This system is the same as #2, but with several notable differences with Exchange in a hosted environment. The first is in cost – the provider takes care of your support/security, backups and software licensing, and provides it to you at a per-user monthly cost.

The second is uptime…with the multiple data centers and multiple copies of your data they have, uptime is typically stellar with a hosted product. There are notable outages in the past few years, specifically with Office 365, but even considering these, hosted Exchange has a better uptime record than your typical in-house managed server.

The third thing to keep in mind is integrations – hosted providers are getting better and better with their integration options with your in-house systems or other hosted providers, but you’ll want to check with other software providers to make sure all your systems are compatible, as some customizations you can do with an in-house server aren’t possible in a hosted environment. Providers such as Intermedia and Microsoft offer this service for anywhere between $6 and $12 per user, per month.  With Microsoft Office 365, you can add on a monthly subscription for Microsoft Office desktop applications as well.

Functionality: 9
Redundancy: 10
Cost: 8

4. Google Apps – If you’ve ever used Gmail, you’ll feel right at home in Google Apps. Running either $50/year/user, or $5/user/month, Google Apps is the cost leader in the full-service hosted realm. Building upon their consumer offering with 25GB mailboxes, guaranteed service level agreement and various security and regulatory controls, Google Apps is a great solution for many firms.

If you’re intent on using Outlook, Google Apps has a connector for Outlook, although this is a workaround that may aggravate some people.

Functionality: 8
Redundancy: 10
Cost: 9

Which option is best for your firm? From my past experience in the MSP world, I would wholeheartedly recommend #3, or #4.

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