Years ago before the cloud computing game changer came to be, law firms worked with traditional hardware setups costing astronomical rates. Between software, licensing, and maintenance, not to mention the costs for the hardware itself, it was hard to start-up a law firm let alone maintain a small one. A lot of firms still work with these technologies. For the most part if you started out investing in these technologies your more or less married to them going forward, especially if you’ve already invested in firm management software or a document management system. I say this because of the amount of money it would take to change over a standard system, reteach your entire staff and for the productivity loss alone it probably doesn’t pay. For those of you with no document management investment, consider yourselves lucky. You can save some money and adopt a new cloud solution that will take care of your email, contacts, calendars as well documents. With this system you’ll be able to access you mail, contacts, calendars and documents from any pc, mac or mobile device. I’m talking about Google Apps for Business. It’s not as robust as some traditional document management systems that the large firms use, but at $4 per user per month how can you go wrong? Just to give you a good idea of what some of these firms pay, a good document management system may be anywhere between $15k to $50k for a 10 to 25 user law firm, sometimes more.
The reason why Google Apps for Business is a great solution for law firms is because it gives law firms everything they need, email, tech support, mailbox syncing, calendar sharing, mobile and remote access, plus a place to store documents, all for 4 bucks a month per user. One thing needs to be said, and to be honest, this is usually the deal breaker when we pitch this to clients. To get the FULL features of Google Apps for Business you MUST use the web version of Google mail. For those of you who don’t follow, keep this in mind. Google Apps for Business is essentially GMail with more options, the email interface is the same as GMail, it’s identical. Some people love Microsoft Outlook and hate the GMail interface. It is possible to do many things within the Outlook interface, but to get the major benefits of this product including, inter office chat, outgoing phones calls for free, video chat, easy document access, SMS text message sending, manage mail settings and widgets, stick with the web interface if you want all these functions. With that said, Google is constantly working on ways to make their web experience more enjoyable and even working on ways to make Outlook mail options better for those of you who hate the GMail web interface. I do feel your pain, I really do, I used to hate the GMail interface, but it grew on me. In the end, Outlook is just an email client, you can stick any type of mail in it, AOL, Yahoo, MSN; Google was meant to be used on the web and that’s how it will always be best used. Lets back up now, I know you probably love Outlook, but is Outlook worth your entire technology infrastructure costing you a measly 4 bucks per user per month?
There’s one other small issue with Google Apps that needs mentioning. I don’t want to bad mouth the cloud solution but I have to be straight with you. If you have a Blackberry you should probably get rid of it before you do the changeover to Google Apps. One thing we have found with Google Apps and Blackberry, they don’t really play well together. You’ll get the mail no problem, calendar items might work, sometimes, same for contact sync. Viewing docs is probably an impossibility altogether. To be honest we stopped messing with Blackberry’s before Google Drive came out which is their document solution, so we just don’t know. Google will tell you that it works, but we know better, tricky Google. Good news though if you have an iPhone or Android, it all works perfectly.
Speaking of Google Drive, lets dig a little deeper. Google Drive is Google’s document solution and a centralized location for all your firm documents. It’s not a document management system but it’s pretty damn close. At some point in your career you’ve most definitely worked with windows folder trees like the picture on the left. Here are some problems with this setup that you already know about. People tend to drag folder into other folders by accident. They also delete things by accident and don’t tell anyone. We have clients with this setup and we restore data often. Needless to say, if you have this setup, you need a good cloud backup system because files will be moved and removed without notice. Another issue with this setup is the time it takes to navigate folders. In the pic on the left, the guy is 6 folders in for God’s sake. One functionality that I KNOW you wish you had was to be able to search within the text body. This is always wanted and only now becoming a reality for small firms. Searching within the text body means that you are no longer restricted to searching for file and folder names, you can now search for text WITHIN a document. It’s pretty awesome, I know. You used to have to OCR documents and make sure the scan DPI was high enough for a good transition……but that’s another article. Let me just say that with Google Drive it’s as easy as it sounds to search for documents. Google also saves revisions to documents. Lets say you type up a letter and your assistant makes a change. Google will store the original letter you typed plus the changed letter your assistant fixed. A document you may have for 4 years may go through 20 revisions. With Google, you will have them all without it cluttering your document database.
Now we’re back to the bad, unfortunately it’s not all puppys and kittens in the land of Google, there’s a catch. The catch is just like I said before, you HAVE to use the web interface for all these functions. Google has developed a tool to download that makes all your data accessible via windows file trees like your used to but that comes at a cost. You can forget about searching within the text body and I’ll tell you why. When you upload a document to Google Drive, the first thing it asks you is, “Do you want to convert this document to a Google format?” Now here is a crossroad and here comes some new information. Your most likely using Microsoft Office and Word or Excel to create your document. Google also provides their own Word alternative along with Excel, Power Point and Publisher alternatives online within Google Apps for Business. Ya see, they expect you to ditch Microsoft Office and use their online version for creating documents. If you do that, you’ll be rewarded with full text body searching, online editing, revision history, the works. If you decide to keep the file in the Word format, say goodbye to text body search, say goodbye to online edits and edits from your mobile device. The conversion is pretty spot on, maybe 95% for complicated documents. If your a patent attorney with formulas in your word docs, you will probably have to redo them within Google if it even support those functions. This shouldn’t be a deal breaker, you can still use this Google solution and still use word. At this point its a very effective cloud document solution.
You see now, Google wants you to use their stuff, they want you to uninstall Microsoft Office, remove Word and Outlook and take all the benefits of Google. If you make a cake and use half the ingredients, chances are your desert experience will be less than perfect; and that’s how it is when you use Google halfway. They want to monopolize your technology experience and frankly, they reward you for it. They have answers to all the costly Microsoft software and it’s only getting better. It’s changing the way you work, the way you produce documents and save them. Google is taking on Microsoft so hardcore, they even have their own operating system that no one uses. Google can’t win them all, but you have to admit if you threw away everything Microsoft went Google 100% it would be cheaper and easier to grow your business. A computer is $600, MS Office is another $200, licensing for your server usage, email address, spam filtering account, document management seat, plus all the labor for your I.T. guy comes to a crazy amount, maybe $1,200/user just to get started working. With Google apps all you need is a PC, maybe 1 hour in tech time and your done, $700 plus $4/month.
For my final plea, I want to tell you who is using Google Apps for Business. You may think this is a new thing to just come out, still working out the bugs. That’s not the case here, they have companies like Motorola, National Geographic and Konica Minolta. They have organizations like the American Red Cross, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Cities like the city of Pittsburg, Los Angeles, Orlando, Lewisville. The Bradford & Barthel law firm, Brown University, the largest television network in the UK, ITV. Needless to say, they have many, many more large and small businesses including law firms. These large corporations moved to Google Apps because their traditional infrastructure was too costly especially when compared to what you get with Google for $4/month. It’s a no brainier as long as your willing to give up some Microsoft Applications that your probably have a lot of experience with, but you know what they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.