This article, authored by Rita Thompson, CLM, of Kavanagh Maloney & Osnato LLP, is featured in the July/August 2011 issue of New York | New York published by the New York City Chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA).
Cloud computing: the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted via the Internet to store, manage, and process data, rather than a local server or personal computer.
Do you ever lie awake at night thinking about a problem at your firm? Sometimes, the solution to your problem may be closer than you think.
Technology Infrastructure Needs a Makeover
Several years ago, my firm was in dire need of a technology upgrade and it needed to be achieved on a limited budget. I work for a small law firm with 20 computer users, including 12 lawyers. At the time, our file server had been chugging along for six years, disk space was getting low and we used Internet e-mail. With our Internet e-mail system (hosted by an ISP, also known as an internet service provider), outgoing e-mail messages could take three seconds or three hours to reach their destination. Invariably, it always seemed to take three hours whenever my managing partner was in the midst of negotiating an important corporate transaction and prompt receipt of e-mail messages throughout the day was critical. We were dependent on the flow of traffic on the ISP's servers, a process over which we had no control. I had implemented a document management system, Worldox, several years prior and our system had basic safeguards in place, including daily backups, virus and spam protection. Nevertheless, our technology infrastructure was still relatively unsophisticated in comparison to that of many other law firms. In addition, due to the age of our file server, it was inevitable that one day it would fail. Although our data was backed up daily, it would probably take many hours, perhaps several days, to restore service if a system failure occurred. This issue alone was like the "sword of Damocles" hanging over my head.
I have attended many ALA conferences throughout the years, and it was during a stroll through the Exhibit Hall at the 2008 Annual Conference in Seattle, Washington that I stumbled on a solution to my technology issues. I stopped to speak with a friend and long-time New York City Chapter business partner at the mindSHIFT exhibit. I mentioned my dilemma and he told me he had the ideal solution for my problem. I was skeptical. After all, it often seems most vendors purport to have a "must have" product or service for my firm. I politely listened to the pitch and, to my surprise, I heard my friend describe a unique technological solution for my firm's computer system.
Total IT Management for Law Firms
He told me about mindSHIFT's cloud computing solution, Total IT Management for Law Firms, where all software and applications are hosted at mindSHIFT's network data center in Philadelphia and are accessible via a high-speed secure dedicated connection. Applications execute completely on centralized, redundant, highly fault-tolerant servers using industry standard technology. The applications my firm currently uses can be hosted by mindSHIFT and, utilizing Microsoft Exchange, we would enjoy vastly improved e-mail including rapid transmission of messages, huge user mailboxes, secure/encrypted e-mail, a metadata removal tool, spam filter, shared address books, shared calendars and wireless syncing of BlackBerry handheld devices. And, when working from home or traveling, lawyers would have secure access to our system remotely via the Internet. What's more, because our data resides at mindSHIFT's data center, if the firm's facilities were damaged by a fire or other disaster or we were unable to enter the facilities for any other reason, our electronic files would still be accessible to us – a true disaster recovery solution.
Soon, mindSHIFT provided me with a proposal for Total IT Management, including pricing and references. This was beginning to sound like an ideal solution for us but before I could consider proceeding, I had to do my due diligence. I began phoning mindSHIFT customers and querying them about the product and ongoing support and I visited a few law firms to see first-hand how Total IT Management worked at their firms. I liked what I heard and saw.
Nevertheless, housing the firm's data at a remote location, and in another city, was a unique approach so I had to see the data center for myself before I could recommend to my partners that we move our firm's files there. I traveled to Philadelphia via Amtrak one hot July day and was met at the train station by an account representative from mindSHIFT. He took me directly to the data center which is in a building used exclusively for data facilities and telecommunications providers. Built in 1930 by the Reading Railroad, the building is massive. Its floors can support several times the weight of what a normal office building's floors can support and U.S. Army tanks are reputed to have been manufactured in this building during World War II. The building now houses data centers for many large corporations and telecommunications providers including Level 3, Comcast, Verizon, Broadview, Paetec, Megapath and XO. Electricity is provided by dual power sources, essential to communications companies. The facility is secure and impressive. I was hooked.
After returning to my office, I told my partners about mindSHIFT's unique solution and we transitioned to Total IT Management prior to Thanksgiving of that year. Soon after, I informed our litigation department we were now capable of providing the litigation support software they needed. Summation, which would have required a dedicated server and ongoing support to implement in-house, was seamlessly added to our new system. And, last year, we abandoned the 20-year old DOS based law firm accounting software still running on our file server, adding Tabs 3 financial software as well.
Today, my firm enjoys convenient, reliable access to all systems and applications from our offices, lawyers' homes and even while traveling and all for a fixed monthly fee. I can sleep at night knowing that we have best-in-class security safeguarding our firm against viruses, spam and other threats. What's more, mindSHIFT's data center offers redundant power and redundant back-up, ensuring that we never lose critical business information. And my time, as a small firm administrator without in-house IT staff, is no longer consumed by technology trouble-shooting, enabling me to devote valuable time to managing the financial and other day-to-day business operations of the firm. At last, the "sword" that dangled over me for so long has disappeared.
Rita Thompson, CLM is the Administrator at Kavanagh Maloney & Osnato LLP, ALA Region 1 Communications Officer and Past President of the New York City Chapter.
Reprinted from the July/August 2011 issue of New York | New York with the permission of the New York City Chapter of the ALA.