June 18th, 2009 by The Clio Team
In our previous two posts we’ve moved to answering what software-as-a-service is and why software-as-a-service offers benefits over traditional desktop software.
In this post we hope to address why Software-as-a-Service makes sense for attorneys, and in particular why web-based practice management makes sense for solos and small firms.
Solos and small firms are the majority of the legal market – and SaaS is a perfect fit for their needs: As many of our readers know, the popular notion of attorneys practicing law in a large firm is completely inaccurate. Almost 80% of lawyers in North America practice law in firms with less than 10 attorneys, and a full 50% of North American lawyers practice law as solos.
Despite this fact, most of the software offered for attorneys is a good fit for mid-size to large firms with dedicated IT departments, a pre-existing server infrastructure, and plenty of existing desktop software.
What if you’re a solo or small firm? Traditional desktop software inevitably leads to having to install a server, specialized server software, and having to hire an IT consultant to put all the pieces together.
For a mid-size or large firm, this investment, which can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars, is easily justified. However, for a solo or small firm, this investment in IT infrastructure can be cost-prohibitive. Worse, since all this IT infrastructure is being managed on-premises, the firm must bear the ongoing cost of patching, upgrading, repairing, and eventually replacing this IT infrastructure.
The SaaS model for solos and small firms is a much better fit. Rather than having to host the entire IT infrastructure for their practice management on-premises, the solo/small firm can outsource this management headache to a third party. Aside from the obvious cost benefits that can be derived from this (which we’ll cover later in this series), we see the major benefit being that more of your time can be spent practicing law.
Spend time practicing law, not managing IT: Traditional desktop software solutions are seldom as user-friendly as they’re portrayed, frequently involving steep learning curves and long familiarization periods, in addition to complex implementation and configuration of software on both a server in and the various user computers. The software then needs to be secured, backed up, and regularly updated. And this assumes everything goes according to plan. As many have learned, either anecdotally or first-hand, complex software solutions typically travel with baggage in the form of technical hurdles and user support. For this reason many leading-edge attorneys are turning to SaaS solutions to avoid losing billable hours to managing IT infrastructure by outsourcing business-related technology overhead to a trusted third party.
Since most Software-as-a-Service applications run within your web browser, the learning curve associated with understanding how to use these applications is typically very shallow. If you know how to browse the web, you’ll already know the basic mechanics of navigating almost any web-based application.
Your practice, your choice: As we touched on in Part 2 of this series, one of the key advantages of SaaS is its inherent availability and platform independence. Though the Mac versus PC war wages on, SaaS users can enjoy Swiss-like neutrality, peaceful in the knowledge that regardless of platform, be it Windows, Mac, or Linux, their applications are available in the click of a browser. Better still, as the battlefield heats up on the mobile application front, iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Mobile and Web OS users need not worry about being left out in the cold. The platform agnostic nature of SaaS will accommodate the needs of attorneys and their firms as their needs evolve over time. Practice where you want, how you want, on the device you want, without worry that your SaaS application won’t accommodate your needs.
Collaboration: Attorneys need to collaborate and share information with clients and other attorneys extensively. By virtue of living on the web, Software-as-a-Service providers have a unique opportunity to provide value-added client collaboration services that would be virtually impossible with traditional desktop software.
Take Clio’s recently released Clio Connect feature. Clio Connect allows Clio users to securely share and collaborate on documents with their clients or other attorneys. Furthermore, bills can be securely send to clients, and online payments can be received via PayPal.
What we see as most exciting about the shift from desktop software to Software-as-a-Service is the opportunity to build features such as Clio Connect that are uniquely available to web-based products. There are inherent limitations to what can be done with desktop software, and with web-based applications and features such as Clio Connect, we believe Software-as-a-Service truly has the ability to deliver a competitive advantage to attorneys using it as opposed to those that are using traditional desktop software.