Inside Track: More law firms are flying to cloud-based unified communications. Are you ready to join them?:

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  • More law firms are flying to cloud-based unified communications. Are you ready to join them?

    While data storage in the cloud gets most of the headlines, many law firms today also are embracing cloud-based unified communications platforms as lawyers realize the value of these hosted platforms. Author James Whitemore identifies the situations that might prompt a law office to make the switch to such an approach.


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    James Whitemore

    By James Whitemore, executive vice president, Smoothstone IP Communications 

    July 20, 2011 – According to a 2010 International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) survey, cloud computing received the most mentions for exciting new technology – 17 percent of respondents indicated they are currently implementing a cloud strategy, double from the previous year. Even more said they have added cloud computing to their IT roadmap.

    Using cloud-based unified communications is similar to purchasing electricity from a utility. The utility company owns and operates all the technology (machinery, hardware, and software) needed to power your office – all you have to have are a few switches and outlets to access the electricity when you need it.

    Why is a cloud-based approach to unified communications so appealing to law firms? In a field in which communication with clients is essential to success and revenue growth, it provides lawyers with the tools they need to work efficiently – while also empowering them to communicate, collaborate, and securely access applications wherever and whenever they need.

    But how does a law firm know if it is ready for cloud-based unified communications? While no two law firms are identical, the transition to a cloud-based unified communications approach typically makes the most economic and operational sense if a law firm is experiencing one or more of the following situations:

    1) Staffing shortages

    The recession took a toll on law firms, and the profession is still slowly rebounding. Staff cuts, attrition, and skills gaps are having a profound impact on a firm’s ability to maintain quality of service through voice, data, and video. ITLA found that 35 percent of respondents to its survey said they reduced staff to deal with the recent economic crisis.

    When a firm is struggling to maintain multiple technology platforms, manage multiple vendors, and deploy disparate communications services, the move to cloud-based unified communications can make sense by providing highly elastic, expert capacity on an as-needed basis to supplement the firm’s capabilities.

    2) Adding or changing office locations or experiencing a merger 

    Opening a new location or moving into new offices often creates a perfect opportunity to step back and take a closer look at the existing communications infrastructure. With the right cloud-based unified communications solution, law firms can avoid potential expenses, like interoffice communication charges, while delivering a consistent set of services across the enterprise.

    3) Hiring or moving staff

    The ITLA survey found that 45 percent of respondents indicated they are back to normal financially, up from 15 percent in 2009. As the economy rebounds and law firms begin to hire new associates again, those members responsible for the firm’s information technology are being tasked with administrative duties related to the communications system – duties known as moves, adds, and changes (MACs).

    These can be costly and quickly add up, but cloud-based unified communications allows the provider to handle these duties quickly and reliably, often at no additional charge.

    4) Need for enhanced call management tools to deliver excellent customer service

    Whether billing on a contingency fee basis or at an hourly rate, all expenses and revenue-generating opportunities must be tracked. Records of telephone calls and billable time can be lost due to complex and inefficient tracking and accounting procedures.

    Cloud-based unified communications providers can empower firms with transparent call management platforms that give complete visibility into call traffic and can integrate with a firm’s customer relations management and tracking systems.

    5) Trouble managing heavy call volume

    Law offices of any size often may be hindered by the limitations of traditional communications technology. For larger firms, in times of heavy call volume, calls can be abandoned or lost when a single receptionist or even an automated call center becomes inundated.

    Unified communications provides powerful call routing tools that ensure that incoming calls are handled efficiently, and overflow calls can be automatically routed to voicemail or other recipients, regardless of geographic location.

    6) Multiple service provider contracts

    Managing and maintaining multiple service provider contracts can be a drain on the resources of a law firm. When one or more contracts are due to expire – or the law firm simply wishes to simplify its carrier relationships – is a perfect time to make the move to cloud-based unified communications. This move will provide great cost savings by consolidating local, long distance, and even Internet access costs into a single monthly charge.

    7) Offices and clients spread across the country

    Some firms find that they desire a hosted unified communications solution, but struggle to find a single carrier that can connect all of their remote business locations with customers spread across the country. This can lead to unnecessary expenses and limited service at some locations. A hosted provider can help a law firm to bring together the top networks in the country so that no remote location is too remote.  

    8) A business continuity and disaster recovery plan

    Disaster recovery was ranked as the most popular cloud deployment in the 2009 ILTA survey and is still on the radar of many law firms. Cloud-based unified communications provides redundancy and failover capabilities unavailable in traditional on-site PBX systems. Law firms should work with providers to create a solid business continuity/disaster recovery plan, which can restore and protect critical enterprise communications capabilities should a disaster occur. 

    If your law firm is experiencing one or more of the situations above, it is a likely candidate for making the move to cloud-based unified communications.

    No longer do law firms have to burden valuable resources with the responsibility of managing complex communications infrastructures and applications. Law firms are able to reduce the costs of their basic communication services, while also improving the quality of the performance of their critical business applications. The availability of scalable, on-demand services enables even the fastest-growing law firms to dial up services when needed, and scale them back when they are not – eliminating a lot of the cost and risk that comes along with installed, on-premise communications infrastructure.

    About the author

    James Whitemore is executive vice president of Smoothstone IP Communications, a provider of cloud-based communications for enterprise-level companies (www.smoothstone.com). He can be reached at com jwhitemore smoothstone smoothstone jwhitemore com.