There was a wealth of information available for legal technology and software consumers at the ABA TechShow last week in Chicago. It was a great event, well organized and executed, and if you haven’t checked it out, it’s definitely worth going next year.

I am going to post about some of the sessions I attended, starting with one entitled, “The Virtual Law Office: Is Software as a Service (SaaS) Ready for Prime Time” hosted by Dennis Kennedy and Dan Pinnington. It was an excellent session, and presented must-have information for any attorney considering using a hosted, web-based application for their sensitive data.

First, Dennis and Dan noted some of the advantages of SaaS:

  1. No cash outlays. Instead you pay a monthly utility fee. Using hosted web-based legal software is like using electricity – you use it on demand. You pay for the users each month you want to log in, which can change month-to-month. Small firms can thus get a first-rate technology solution they would otherwise not be able to afford.
  2. No software updates or patches. These annoyances are not an issue for you if you use a SaaS solution. We manage the servers and improvements to the application for you, without any fees for upgrades or additional IT costs.
  3. Accessibility. A big plus when you use a SaaS application. You can work from anywhere, but you must have an internet connection.
  4. Budgeting. It’s a little easier to budget because of the monthly fee. Also, you don’t require the latest computers to process web pages quickly, so older machines can stay around and live a little longer.

One of the more sensitive factors in deciding to go with a SaaS legal solution is control of and access to your data. Along these lines you should consider:

  1. How do I feel about having someone else store confidential data?
  2. How do I get my data back, and in what format?

Your contract should state that you own your data. Request a non-disclosure clause in your contract with your provider. In the event of a SaaS provider bankruptcy, you need to be able to get your data back. You should be able to get an export of your data on demand, in a format that can be read by you.

Next, you need to think about how you are performing the following IT functions internally and ask, “Would our firm, or my existing software provider and IT people, perform the following better than the SaaS provider?

  1. Backups. Make sure your host is performing regular backups. Consider the effectiveness of your backup plan and the cost involved.
  2. Security. SaaS providers like Rocket Matter typically host their servers at a Tier 1 data facility. These are ultra secure data centers that are designed with redundant power supplies and internet connectivity that exceed what any firm on a reasonable budget could afford. Find out about the provider’s encryption methods, password storage, and data isolation. For a discussion of Rocket Matter’s security practices, please see this post.
  3. Disaster Recovery. This is a big benefit of Software as a Service, especially if you live in a disaster-prone area. A firm using Rocket Matter, even if their office is destroyed, would be able to continue their practice management once they reconnect to the Internet. Their data is still intact.
  4. Support. In general, you will have a better support experience with a SaaS provider. You’re going to want to know who you’re calling. Is support available 24/7? Are they in the U.S.? What does support cost? What issues fall within support and what is not included?
  5. Training. SaaS applications tend to be easier to learn and use. Most law firms fall down when it comes to training, which is essential to making your technology work. More people are familiar with an online interface. You’ll still need help learning the more advanced features. Make sure there are designated people on staff who can learn and train others on staff.

Thanks Dennis and Dan for a terrific session!