Everything but the office: How to run a law practice entirely from the cloud

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Teleworking Employee

Attorneys are no strangers to the concept of ‘virtual’ offices. But is it possible to run a law firm without a physical office space entirely? It sure is.

A law firm without an office

Shared suites, designed for lawyers who just need a mailing address, a paralegal and sometimes a desk, have been around since at least the 1970s. But a lot has changed in the past fifty years.

These days, an attorney can run their entire practice from anywhere, without the need for a physical office at all. And it’s all thanks to the the cloud.

The business case for giving up your physical office

Here’s the thing: your practice doesn’t need an office to be successful. In fact, there are a great reasons why you shouldn’t have one:

  • You’ll save money. Not having a physical office means not paying for a lease, furniture, electricity and more. That’s money you could invest in other areas of your business, like marketing and technology, which have a positive impact on your bottom line.
  • You’ll enjoy more flexibility. With a cloud-based practice, you have the freedom to work from anywhere at any time. This is great for your personal work-life balance and also for talent acquisition and retention; teleworking is a huge bonus for many lawyers, especially those of the younger generation.
  • It’s easier. There are so many great tools and services out there that make being 100% cloud-based a breeze – especially if you’ve got the right IT partner.

What it’s like to be an attorney in the cloud

Despite the lack of a physical office, you’ll find your day-to-day won’t change all that much. In fact, you’ll probably find that it’s easier to do your job and manage client matters more effectively.

Here’s what it’s like to be an attorney in the cloud:

Everything is in one place

With a dedicated company cloud network, you can access your documents on-the-go via secure, encrypted connection using VPN software.

This makes retrieving, filing and collaborating on documents much easier, and sidesteps the security risks that cloud services like Dropbox and Google Drive pose to your business.

That’s not to say those services don’t have their place. Cloud storage systems like OneDrive for Business, for example, are great for sharing and accessing matter documents with clients and external stakeholders.

They also give you visibility into permissions and the flow of information, which is good for data security and transparency. Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, a firm headquartered in New York, noticed this when it migrated to Office 365 and OneDrive for Business:

“In the past, we didn’t have insight into what happened to information after we emailed it to outside parties. Now…we have a better sense of who has access to matter-related information and who has looked at or modified it,” says Judith Flournoy, Chief Information Office at Kelley Drye.

Centralized, cloud-based storage is a complete game-changer for attorneys. But again, don’t rely on Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive as your sole file repository. Use them for external file sharing only.

Why? Because these systems usually download copies of your files onto the hard drives of every computer running those systems. That’s a security risk (and a storage space) nightmare. You’re better off setting up a dedicated company cloud network that you can control and access securely.

Collaboration comes naturally

The key to collaboration is not a physical office space. It’s technology.

Cloud services like Office 365 are designed to facilitate collaboration among colleagues, whether they’re in the same room or not. With your practice in the cloud, you can:

  • Manage everyone’s schedules with tools like StaffHub, an app designed to help manage time, schedule meetings and more;
  • Plan and manage projects with Planner, which helps take the chaos out of teamwork by allowing you to organize teams, tasks and documents
  • Stay in touch via chat, video conferences and calls in Microsoft Teams. Who needs a water cooler for conversation anyway?

And, of course, at the heart of Office 365 are the familiar Office applications you use everyday – now accessible on all your devices. That makes collaborating on matters and working on documents so much easier, and more efficient.

Collaboration comes easy in the cloud. Indeed, Kelley Drye found that the more collaborative cloud environment boosted its efficiency in resolving matters, and furthered the firm’s end goal of ‘providing excellent legal service in a cost-effective manner’. You can’t argue with that.

Communication flows

Communication doesn’t suffer in an office-less firm. In fact, it improves.

With a voice over internet protocol (VoIP) service, you can make calls from any device – mobile app, desktop and even a physical desk phone – that has access to the internet. Most VoIP services (like ours!) also come with an extensive feature set that’s far superior to your standard on-premises phone system. We’re talking things like:

  • Automatic call recording, call logs and call forwarding;
  • Unlimited audio conference bridges;
  • Virtual fax (email-to-fax/fax-to-email);
  • Custom call routing;
  • And much more.

Florida firm Lieser Skaff Alexander found communication improved immensely when it migrated to Microsoft 365 and began using the cloud-based VoIP service, Skype for Business.

The firm’s office manager, Danielle Sonntag, says that physical distance between attorneys ‘became less challenging’ when they began using cloud-based VoIP service:

“Our attorneys will go to a hearing where they can’t call us up on the phone, but they can still send a message: ‘Opposing counsel is presenting a new argument to the judge right now. I need rebuttal research done and sent to me ASAP.’ Skype for Business has really helped in such pressing circumstances.”

Bottom line: a cloud-based VoIP service will enhance your communication capabilities. That means faster response times, happier clients, and fewer internal emails!

The practical benefits of switching cubicles for the cloud

OK, so now you understand how your firm would function without a physical office. And it’s not as daunting – or as different – as you first thought.

Now let’s talk practicalities.

There are several practical benefits to having an office-less firm:

  • Scalability. You can easily add or remove technology resources as your firm grows, without having to worry if your servers can handle it. Deploying applications to employees is easy, and you can control your storage needs as they change.  
  • Future proofing. Using cloud services gives you the flexibility to implement the latest and greatest business applications, and to new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain, that you otherwise wouldn’t have the ability to run.
  • Predictable, manageable costs. Cloud services, like Office 365 and our VoIP service, often charge per month and/or per user so you only pay for what you actually need and use.
  • Reliability. Most cloud services are backed by financially driven SLAs; Microsoft, for example, guarantees 99.9% uptime. That means less downtime, and more billable hours.
  • Compliance. Office 365 is compliant with global industry standards including ISO 27001, HIPAA BAA, FISMA and EU Model clauses.
  • Built-in business continuity. Cloud servers are replicated geographically for redundancy, so that you can restore data in the event of a disaster.

But is it safe?

If configured correctly and by a professional, your cloud environment is exponentially more secure than any on-premises solution.

Why? Because cloud hosting companies invest a lot of resources in securing their data centers with cutting-edge hardware and software. It’s in their interest to keep your data safe.

The key is to deploy and properly manage a secure cloud system. You can’t just create cloud servers and grant everyone – including your staff, contractors and third-party vendors – equal access. A cloud-based, office-less law firm will only be secure if you follow proper security procedures like:

  • Keeping your systems up-to-date
  • Using  a virtual private network (VPN) for a secure encrypted connection
  • Integrating two-factor authentication to gain access
  • Changing passwords frequently

If you practise good security hygiene, your data will be more safe in the cloud than it is in your inbox – or your filing cabinet.

But what if I need a meeting place? Or a business mailing address?

Those ‘shared suites from the 1970s’ I mentioned earlier are still around, and they’re better than ever. Intellectual property and litigation attorney, Arthur Spence, relied on them for years to run his law firm on a shoestring budget.

A subscription with a co-working company like MakeOffices or WeWork will give you a business mailing address and a place to meet with clients, should you need one. It will also give you access to hundreds of other businesses, making for the perfect networking environment!

Ready to make the move?

It is possible to run your law firm without a physical office. In fact, it’s more than just possible: it’s advisable.

With the technology and the right IT partner, you can:

  • Spend less on overheads and more on your business;
  • Increase billable hours by reducing time spent looking for documents, dealing with IT downtime or relying on email for communication;
  • Work from wherever you want, whenever you want.

Ready to make the move? Request a consultation today and we’ll help you get started.