The Legal Industry’s Rapid Transition to the Cloud

By Jack Newton

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As 2020 began, many law firms were still hesitant to move to the cloud. By March, that had all changed. A technological transformation of the legal industry, originally expected to take place over the next five to 10 years kicked into overdrive and started to take place in weeks due to COVID-19.

The flexibility of a cloud-based practice has long been incredibly important for lawyers and legal professionals, and at no time has that been truer than in today’s world. Firms that have already transitioned to the cloud are finding innovative ways to navigate this even more rapidly changing legal market to succeed. But if your firm has yet to make the switch, and if you’re not yet set up to work remotely, there’s still time to get your cloud-based practice running – with the right processes, the right tools, and most important, the right mindset in place.

In her book Mindset,[1] Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck discusses the differences between fixed and growth mindsets. Those who hold a fixed mindset believe that their abilities are fixed – i.e., that they don’t have much control over them – which leads to a fear of failure. However, people with a growth mindset embrace failure as a learning opportunity and believe in their capacity to grow and learn new things constantly.

A growth mindset is the key to a law firm’s success in today’s reality: transitioning to a cloud-based law firm won’t happen right away. You won’t get everything right the first time, and there will no doubt be minor setbacks as your firm moves to a cloud-based way of operating. The main factor in your law firm’s success will be your determination as you navigate these setbacks, taking steps to transform your cloud-based practice into an efficient, tech-savvy, modern law firm.

Perhaps the next most important factor in the success of a distributed firm is its people. The lawyers, paralegals, administrative staff, and others who work with you are your firm, and they deserve to feel human even while they’re working from their own homes and facing personal challenges amidst a crisis. This is true even if you’re a true solo practitioner and it’s only you at the firm.

Invest in the mental health of everyone at your firm and create a culture of trust and connectedness. This might be simpler than you think. Schedule video lunches with each other, have regular team check-ins over video, or create fun, non-work-related challenges for everyone to engage in (anecdotally, short fitness challenges appear to be popular amongst remote teams these days).

If you’re a solo practitioner, take time every day to chat with friends or family, have virtual coffee with a colleague, get a bit of exercise, meditate, or otherwise engage in an activity that keeps you connected to others and prioritizes your mental health. Do this if you feel you have a few minutes to spare every day – you’ll thank yourself later and so will the clients you’ll be able to continue serving.

Of course, you’ll also need the right processes and tools for you and your team to succeed in a cloud-based remote environment. What’s right for every person and every law firm will differ, but in general a few things hold true. First, invest what you can into your home office setup. The right environment, and the right computer and scanner, will be key to your productivity, not to mention your physical health. Don’t forget to talk to your team about what they need as well.

In terms of software, choose tools that are cloud-based with rigorous security standards so that everyone at your firm can securely access and collaborate on important case files from wherever they are. The precise tech stack you’ll need will depend on your firm’s specific requirements. In general, you’ll likely need a phone provider, some sort of internal communication provider, and a cloud-based practice management system.

Your practice management software will be the central hub where your firm keeps cases and documents organized, tracks time and expenses, creates calendar invites, and approves invoices. It might be possible to fulfill your case management needs with a group of individual tools for each function, but this leads to duplicate data entry, wasted time, and room for error. A powerful central platform in the form of practice management software will keep everything in one place and will be the backbone your cloud-based law firm needs to adapt and thrive.

Also, you’ll likely want to consider an online payment provider to keep your law firm’s cash flow healthy. Frankly, accepting payment via credit card is the only sustainable option in the current environment. The situation surrounding COVID-19 has shown that what was once a minor inconvenience for clients – mailing a check or coming to the office to drop one off – can, in some cases, become nearly impossible, which means it becomes impossible for your law firm to get paid. Choose a legal-specific credit card processor that lets lawyers operate in compliance with trust accounting rules. Bonus: certain practice management software solutions allow clients to pay bills quickly and easily – electronically, online – via an email that includes a secured payment link.

Finally, as much as lawyers and law firms have struggled as a result of COVID-19, your clients have struggled as well. Now more than ever, it’s important to maintain a good client experience – but this isn’t about wowing your clients; it’s about meeting their expectations and meeting them where they are. Be open, and communicate deliberately about upcoming changes your firm may be introducing as you move to the cloud. Likely, it will put them at ease, and they’ll appreciate the convenience of a cloud-based practice during this time.

The time to move to the cloud is now. We won’t need to work remotely forever, but the adaptability the cloud provides is crucial to the long-term success of the legal industry. By moving your law firm to the cloud now, you’re not just bolstering your own business’s ability to succeed in the current environment; you’re contributing to a positive future for the entire legal industry and for the clients we all serve.

[1] https://www.amazon.ca/Mindset-Psychology-Carol-S-Dweck/dp/0345472322.

As the CEO and Co-founder of Clio and a pioneer in cloud-based legal technology, Jack Newton has spearheaded efforts to educate the legal community on the security, ethics, and privacy issues surrounding cloud computing, and has become a nationally recognized writer and speaker on these topics. He cofounded and is President of the Legal Cloud Computing Association (LCCA), a consortium of leading cloud-computing providers with a mandate to help accelerate the adoption of cloud computing. 

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