Given all the hype about “the Cloud” you would think that there would be a stampede of firms moving from on-premise systems, like Time Matters and Amicus, to the Cloud. Whilst many have converted there are plenty who are hesitating, and for good reasons:
- A system you know: On premise systems like Time Matters and Amicus have been around for decades, and many firms have built their practices around the software. The thought of pulling this all apart, changing processes, and retraining staff is daunting.
- Time Matter is highly customizable: Firms fear losing all the work they have put into customizing their on premise systems to their needs. Can they find a similarly customizable cloud system to accommodate their unique processes?
- Migration Cost: Migration typically involves customizing the new system, exporting and importing data and documents between the old and the new system, testing and user training. Whether you use a consultant or not this process requires an upfront investment.
- Ongoing Cost: Other than optional maintenance, most on-premise systems, like Time Matters are already paid for. Cloud systems typically operate on a perpetual per-user-per-month billing model - an ongoing cost to factor in.
- Impact on the Firm: Planning the migration, downtime during the migration (however short), and retraining staff all takes time and is disruptive to the business. This is one of the biggest reasons firms delay making the decision to move. Every week is busy and it just never seems like the right time.
On the other hand, there are some compelling reasons to make the move:
- Succession planning: Lawyers who have been using Time Matters or Amicus (or other on-premise systems) for over a decade are probably at the mid-point of their careers and starting to think about succession planning and attracting younger talent into the firm. Millennials expect to access information systems via mobile devices or via any wi-fi enabled device. The concept of having to use a designated Windows machine with special software installed would be totally foreign to this generation. They want the efficiency of having remote access.
- Keeping in sync with Microsoft Office: For most lawyers Microsoft Office remains their power tool of choice – often more so than their practice management system. The calendar sets the daily schedule and acts as a de-facto cash-flow forecast. If it’s filled with client engagements, then cash is good. If it’s looking a bit sparse then it’s time to drum up new business. Communications is mostly done by email and the output of nearly all legal work ends up in documents. Microsoft Office handles all this with Outlook providing email, calendar and contacts and Word providing document drafting. It is clear that Microsoft’s strategic direction has shifted to the cloud with Office 365.
- Office in the cloud: By adopting Office 365 lawyers are automatically kept up to date with the latest versions of Outlook and Word and it allows staff to use the online versions of those applications.
- Stay on the most up to date technology: Similarly, Cloud based practice management systems keep your firm future-ready by routinely upgrade their technology and ensure law firms are compatible with the latest versions of Microsoft 365 and all the other tools lawyers use. So there is no disruption required to stay on the most up to date technology.
What to look for in a Cloud-base practice management system:
- Is it really in the Cloud?: This isn’t a trick question! The word “Cloud” is loosely used by some software providers. Some so-called “Cloud” providers simply host your local on-premise server for you and allow you to access it via Terminal Services (aka Citrix). Others provide a “Hybrid-Cloud” or “Smart Client” solution where you still need to install Windows software to use the application. A true Cloud application is accessible to users through any browser on any device (Mac, PC, iPad, Android tabled, etc) from any location without requiring any browser plugins or local software to be installed. Ask providers to be really clear about whether they are truly in the Cloud or not so you can make informed comparisons.
- Custom data collections: Time Matters has a highly unstructured database design. The upside is that you can pretty much customize the database any way you wish. The downside is that it can be difficult to migrate that data to another system. If the destination system is not equally flexible, then there simply may not be a place to accommodate all your Time Matters data. As a general comment, Cloud systems aimed at solos and small firms tend to have limited customization capabilities. They may support custom fields but the you need to ensure that the fields can be grouped in custom data collections in order to map to Time Matters. With this in mind, you should look at Cloud systems that provide a high level of customization for complex or unique processes or for larger firms with multiple practices.
- Translatable features: Time Matters has some nice features like Quick Tabs and Form Styles that you probably don’t want to lose when migrating to the Cloud. Make sure any cloud system you consider has equivalent features.
- Office 365 Integration: Microsoft uses a newer and different technology for integrating applications to Office 365. If you want a seamless integration between your Cloud practice management system and Microsoft Office then you need to select a provider that has a true “cloud-to-cloud” integration with Office 365.
- Document automation: make sure the Cloud system has a robust document automation capability that allows you to merge an unlimited number of custom data fields. It should also have constructs like repeat blocks (to dynamically create tables), and conditional logic to allow you to selectively substitute text and clauses in your documents.
- Data conversion: Ideally find a Cloud system that has a purpose-built conversion tool that will automatically transfer your Time Matters data into the new system. Without this you are probably in for a long and expensive manual migration with the risk that all your data might not come across.
- General ledger accounting: If you’re going through all the trouble to change practice management systems, it’s a really good time to also update your accounting system. This will give you one system for your practice management, billing and accounting with no need for something like PC Law.
- Local backups: When you move to the Cloud your data and documents are no longer stored on your local server. Choose a Cloud provider that allows you to download a full backup of all your data and documents whenever you want. Other than simple peace of mind, this allows you to move to a new software provider in the future if you wish to.
- Local data reporting: One advantage of Time Matters is that you can get direct access to the local database to create custom reports. With your data in the Cloud you lose that capability. However, some Cloud providers allow you to periodically download a local copy of your data for custom reporting, dashboards and data visualization using tools like Microsoft Power BI.
This may all sound very technical but the best assessment of any system comes from trying it out so you can see how your data would look and how the system works. Ask the Cloud providers you are considering for a free trial. And remember – if they are truly in the Cloud, they should be able to give you access without installing any software and simply by logging in through a browser of your choice!
Time Matters Smooth Migration - How we do it...
A big part of the apprehension of moving from Time Matters is understanding how all your Time Matters data will migrate across, and what it will look like in the new system. Data migration is a one-way operation and firms can’t afford to get it wrong.
Actionstep has developed some cool technology that automatically copies data from Time Matters and populates them in the corresponding places in Actionstep. Everything comes across including contacts, matters, form styles, custom fields, and form styles.
Take Actionstep for a test drive
If you would like to see what running your firm would look like in Actionstep, one of our product specialists would be happy to give you a demo and talk you through the process of transitioning to the cloud. You can book a call time below.