Estimated reading time: 23 minutes
Cloud hosting is changing the legal tech landscape in myriad ways. It’s no longer a trend, but a smart business decision that keeps law firms competitive and resilient. Join Helm360’s Executive VP, Bim Dave, and Customer Success Manager, Kiran Gill, for an impactful discussion on putting ProLaw in the cloud and why it’s a must-do.
Bim Dave is Helm360’s Executive Vice President. With 15+ years in the legal industry, his keen understanding of how law firms and lawyers use technology has propelled Helm360 to the industry’s forefront. A technical expert with a penchant for developing solutions that improve business systems and user experience, Bim has a knack for bringing high quality IT architects and developers together to create innovative, useable solutions to the legal arena.
Kiran Gill is Kiran Gill is Helm360’s Customer Success Manager. With 10+ years in the legal industry, she has an innate understanding of law firm operations and legal IT, which she uses to help our global clients find the best products and/or services to meet their needs. Her background includes case management, customer service, client relations, and sales with an emphasis on communications and problem-solving. Kiran is passionate about customer service and uses a transparent, consultative approach when working with clients.
Kiran: Welcome to the Legal Helm. I’m Kiran Gill and I’m here with Bim Dave. Today we’re going to cover ProLaw in the cloud, which I think is a really hot topic right now. Would you agree Bim?
Bim: I would indeed. I’m really excited to be talking about this today
Kiran: Why choose cloud? What are the benefits of having ProLaw in the cloud?
Bim: There are a number of obvious benefits and maybe some that are not so obvious.
The most important one is cost savings. One of the things often under estimated is the actual cost savings you can get by moving to cloud when you think about the long-term picture. The key when you’re assessing cloud versus on-prem is all of the ancillary costs associated with running your system, running your data center, thinking about all the people needed to maintain that data center and all of the components within it, plus all of the costs associated with it in terms of electrical bills, all the components that go alongside it. Comparing that to the cloud and really thinking about it from a flexibility perspective and a scalability perspective, which leads us nicely onto the next element, which is the ability to be able to flex up and down your resource pool on demand.
If you’ve got a series of servers that are serving a purpose, and then tomorrow you buy a new business application that has its own requirements associated with it, we go down the route of assessing how much infrastructure you need to support the application. That could be everything: a new server, a load balancer, a new file server to run the application as well as lots of other upgrades that might be associated with supporting the applications so you get best performance.
Whereas you transition that to the world of cloud and you have the flexibility of using the dial-up/dial down buttons so you’re paying for what you consume. That ultimately leads to not only to cost savings, but also from a flexible approach perspective, you’re able to rapidly deploy new infrastructure or improve on infrastructure at the click of a button.
For example, if you, spin up an environment that has a certain amount of processing power behind it to support your application, but you have problems with performance or you perceive problems with performance, it’s so much easier to throw a little bit of RAM to the mix, improve your CPU performance. There literally options within Microsoft Azure instant upgrades where you then start paying for additional resource, but at a much quicker rate.
That has a knock-on impact to your ability to have a better performing application. You’re able to throw more resources at a potential solution as well as tap the general benefits of accessibility mobility, being able to access your application in a much more streamlined way that is secure and benefit from Microsoft’s investment in security.
It also ensures you can access the environment, especially in the world we live in now where everybody is distributed in the most performant manner.
Kiran: In terms of risk where do we stand? Are we de de-risking by moving to a hosted environment?
Bim: That’s something we get asked a lot. There is a personal level of security that you just feel when you can see something in front of you, right? You’re sitting and you’re looking at a data center, you know who’s accessing that data center. What’s happening internally.is often underestimated. How much your system is secured at operating system level? Is it hardened at database level? Are you keeping up-to-date with patches?
There’s an overhead associated with running any system. With on-prem, there is a certain amount of investment that needs to go into security. Typically, you’ll have your IT team focused on delivering a very secure system and also maintaining it, dealing with support issues, dealing with all sorts of, application level issues all the way through to the technology stack. They have a wide and broad range of responsibility. If you’re a larger organization, maybe you have the benefit of dedicated security specialists. That’s rare. In smaller organizations, we don’t have the luxury of having one person focused on one particular area.
When it comes to security and cloud, there’s a couple of things consider here. One is from a physical security perspective. Think about your on-prem data center versus a data center that’s managed and hosted by the likes of Microsoft, Amazon, etcetera. There are different levels of securing your data center. You may have a traditional keypad approach to getting into your data center. We’re talking about much more sophisticated ways of locking down security because you’re investing in a provider that has the ability to invest more money in security. Everything from CCTV for entry points to making sure that they are disaster recovery redundant. All the things you would expect from a data security perspective. These guys are going to be investing a lot of money in it.
Microsoft invests billions of dollars a year just in security. And that’s across their entire stack from operating system to SQL server to the core infrastructure that sits behind their cloud set up, which is Microsoft Azure. They’re investing every single day in terms of making sure they’ve got the most secure stack out there. They’ve got people dedicated to doing that versus maybe a small/medium-sized law firm who won’t have the luxury that ability.
The onus is to make sure that we are constantly thinking about security and making sure that all the. best practices are in place and that we’re getting advice to be able to do that, which is not impossible. But realistically speaking, it’s going to be very difficult to keep up with the rapid pace of improvements in how we protect ourselves against so much cybersecurity risk that’s out there. You really need to be able to invest in a company hosting provider that’s going to be able to do that.
That leads to the other angle of this, which is about resilience. Making sure your provider is set up to not just have all of your servers located in one location that has a very high risk of redundancy issues and resilience issues if there were to be a power outage or something significant happens in your region. A great example is what’s happened in Texas over this year with all of their heavy weather, all of the changes that have happened from a climate perspective. It’s had a big impact in terms of the energy grid within Texas, which has led to a lot of firms running the risk of having a situation, where their lawyers can’t access their system. They can’t record time or work for their customers effectively because their systems are inaccessible. The reason they’re aren’t accessible is because their data centers are single entities managed in one location, which happens to be location impacted by this particular issue.
We’ve had quite a few calls from customers over the last few months where their system is down for two to three days while they’re trying to recover to another site. The power of the cloud infrastructure is having that resilience and having clustered instances between two locations, two countries, or multiple countries. You’ve got lots of scalability and resilience options when you deploy within the cloud. It gives you the ability to not only have a system that’s going to perform well, it’s going to be very well secured. Plus, it’s going to have disaster recovery resilience. So, if something does happen to that particular location, it’s very easy to spin up another instance in another location or have an instance replicated so you always have access to your core systems, like ProLaw and other business applications.
Finally, thinking about the people side of things, often what we see in law firms is somebody who’s dedicated to looking after the practice management system. This a single point of failure in terms of the knowledge and the abilities that individual carries. Our message: make sure you’re thinking about the risk if that person’s not around or unable to deal with security issues. How do you manage that scenario effectively? Being able to provide these people, who are doing a great job of managing the system, with a cloud infrastructure alongside that allows them to focus on more important things versus looking after security and thinking about the next patch that needs to be rolled out.
Kiran: You’ve covered a lot of points not many people take into consideration. The example of Texas with the data centers… I read about that. It’s quite interesting that people in this day and age are still working with vendors with only one data center. They don’t take into account what that actually means. Texas is a brilliant example of that.
Bim: It really is. These are considerations most people would not even think about. It’s basically a sequence of events due to things that are uncontrollable, like Mother Nature and climate change. It’s having a huge impact. The core energy grid infrastructure within that particular state focused on the demand caused by people switching all their heaters on at the same time and putting undue pressure on the energy grid. It led to this scenario where power outages have to happen to sustain the demand.
Most people do not think about those kinds of scenarios in their DR planning. You’d be thinking about more obvious things. Having this (cloud) infrastructure available really changes the game in terms of mitigating those.
Kiran: So what you’re saying is yes, they do have these, IT people in house, but it doesn’t mean you’re replacing them. I think that is a big worry for some firms or staff .
Bim: Correct. Think about it in terms of what’s deployed at a law firm and the knowledge that individuals in IT have. They have relationships with the people they’re supporting and they’re there to provide a level of support to that group of users at the law firm.
When it comes to specialist systems, like ProLaw or any best-of-breed system that’s acts as your core business system, your business is dependent on that system being up and running. You need it to be operational so you can get bills out the door, record time, all of the basic functions of doing business. The messages is that those systems tend to be quite vast in terms of features, functions, being able to optimize them, making sure that they’re running in the most optimum way.
In order for one person to do not just that, but also deal with all of the ancillary systems that might be associated with it – everything from your email hosting, operating systems, patching all of those components – all of those things are core areas of specialty that that individual needs to have.
In some small and mid-size firms you have staff that has been there for many years. They really understand the business. They really understand all of the elements of the core infrastructure, but often the conversations we have with those individuals is that they are so stretched in terms of time, that they haven’t had the time to evolve the firm from a technology footprint perspective. It’s a constant battle to keep the systems in play working while implementing new technology so they can continue to do business and drive more business and more change. They don’t have time to take a step back and ask, “How can we improve core infrastructure and make better decisions around it?” It’s just about keeping the plates spinning.
I think the cloud scenario is a great opportunity to empower those individuals to focus on how to get the best out of all of the systems by engaging with a specialist in this area that can look after this course. They’re still the point of contact, the person who’s managing that vendor relationship, but moving them away from a “keep the system up and running” person to managing the vendor relationship for the specialty resource needed to make sure this critical system is up and running.
Kiran: If I was a law firm and I decided to migrate ProLaw into the cloud, that particular vendor -let’s say you, as an example – are you going to be supporting any ProLaw need I have? Where does, Thomson Reuters come into play versus Helm360 in this example? I think a lot of law firms worry that they’re paying for the same service twice. Is that the case or not?
Bim: No, it’s not. There is some synergy there and some overlap and crossover, which we should talk about.
There are two areas of, separation that we need to think about. One is application stack, the other is core infrastructure. When we talk about hosting ProwLaw, we’re talking about the core infrastructure required to run ProLaw. It’s everything from running the desktop client in a virtual machine so you can access it and do what you need to do from a transaction perspective, it’s spinning up an IIS server so you can run the web version of ProLaw (called Workspace) from a front office perspective, and it’s spinning up a SQL server so the core data is maintained within that core infrastructure. When you think about hosting providers, their job is to get the environment to a point where it can run all of those companies and do that smoothly and easily.
Where the second consideration comes into play is the application stack. What is ProLaw actually doing from a functional perspective? H ow can that be improved? What data does that give us? What visibility does that give us in terms of giving us better business decisions? What do I do if I have an issue? The kinds of things you were alluding to in your question. This is where no two hosting providers are the same. What we bring to the table from a Helm360 perspective, one of the reasons we’re very successful in this space, is we not only understand the infrastructure side of it, but we also have a very deep understanding of the ProLaw product. In fact, we are ProLaw partners with Thomson Reuters and have been for a number of years. We are certified from an implementation perspective. We understand how to deploy ProLaw. We understand everything from the technology stack all the way through to the way that it functions.
Many other vendors are just focused on core it infrastructure. They’ll understand how to read a requirement for a product, but they don’t necessarily understand the inner workings of the product or how to troubleshoot it to the depths that we can. That’s where that element of the application stack splits into two. If you think about your application stack, there is how you are using the product and the core needs you have as an individual user. Then there’s the problems that you can have in doing that, which is around issues relating to core product or integrations that may be talking into that product or reports that you might be good at using to get information out of that product.
Being Microsoft partners, understanding the technology stack, being Thomson Reuters partners, understanding the applications, we act as the bridge between the two. So not only do we bring the best-of-breed in terms of technology stack to host the system through Microsoft services, we also combine this with our knowledge of the application stack and our relationship with the vendor so that we can be the first point of call. We can be the interaction between you as a customer and Thomson Reuters as the vendor of that particular product.
While we talk about ProLaw in this example, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only system that you’re using on a day-to-day basis. You will have other products you’re using alongside ProLaw. It could be a third-party document management system, it could Word, Outlook, all of those things on your desktop that are needed to all talk to each other and work together to be successful. To answer your question, we’re not here to fix specific vendors issues. We’re able to accelerate the time to turn those issues around by working on your behalf as a customer saving you time. We put together all of the troubleshooting steps, rule out any infrastructure issues, make sure we understand the problem is 100% a product issue and then working with the vendor to make sure they understand very quickly where the problem may lie so that they can produce a fix for it..
Kiran: Speaking of vendors and service providers, what should law firms be looking for in a specific vendor? What are the top three points firms should take into account when selecting a provider?
Bim: That’s a very good question, Kiran. It boils down to three top thing. Number one is you align yourself with somebody who is not trying to reinvent the wheel in terms of the core infrastructure they’re providing. For example, there are many vendors who call themselves hosting providers who are in their infancy in terms of the core infrastructure they’re providing. They may have a few data centers spun up and they may have people managing it, but ultimately they don’t necessarily have the footprint that a vendor like Microsoft, who we align with, provides.
When we thought about how to bring a hosting solution to the market that’s meaningful to law firms, particularly in the mid-market, one of the key criteria was making sure we’ve got redundancy between regions. We wanted a scalable provider that was proven in this industry.
We also focused on security and making sure that whoever we align ourselves with has data security at the forefront. Microsoft fits all of those pieces and is continuing to evolve in those areas making it very accessible and easy for us to deliver our services on top of their stack.
The second component is experience. Coming to the table with just technology experience is not enough for law firms running a best-of-breed solution like ProLaw. You need to understand the business of law combined and the kind of engine needed to power that. Really thinking about the lawyer experience and the dynamics of a managing partner who’s keen to spend less time accessing information from their financial management system versus slow performance that happens as a result of not being able to do those things.
We understand how important it is to have maximum uptime, responsive IT function, and the ability to dissect what is an application issue versus an infrastructure issue quickly. It’s that combination of technology plus ProLaw experience and the insight into the business of law that creates a compelling differentiator between us and other hosting providers.
So, when you’re looking for a partner who’s really going to be looking after the crown jewels of your system, you want to consider who you’re aligning with. You want to make sure they can bring those, same elements to the table.
The final piece is understanding how you can get more value from your product. Anybody can come in and spin up an instance and put a product on it and allow you to use the system to your advantage. But, getting the best value out of that system is really down to you as an individual organization.
One of the key benefits of our approach is having that depth of experience and expertise in the product portfolio. For example, we’ve built a product that plugs directly into ProLaw called Termi. It’s a business intelligence solution that uses chatbot technology so you can easily interact with the ProLaw product. It allows you to continue to using your ProLaw system, but we enhance the way you access that system. We’re thinking about user experience. We’re thinking about your managing partners, your partners, senior lawyers, and how they interact with software.
Some of the frustrations that we hear from them is how the core infrastructure makes a big impact on performance, how the core product that you select, like Thomson Reuters makes a lot of sense – the ProLaw suite in particular. We know it functions really well and it’s got a rich feature set, but we also recognize there are some gaps in terms of what a lawyer experience looks like versus a finance person’s experience.
That’s where the third kind of element comes into play. We’re able to bring best-of-breed solutions to the market that can enhance the product portfolio you already have by introducing things like Termi that sit alongside the technology stack and get the best out of the system you’ve already invested in.
Kiran: Before we finish up, I do you have one more question. Do you have any quick tips or consideration points you want to highlight for ProLaw firms?
Bim: Yes, I do. I would say there’s three things to focus on as a ProLaw user and a ProLaw consumer. First is if you’ve got ProLaw in place, make sure you’re thinking about the user experiences. Think about performance. Think about optimization. Make sure you’re investing the right amount of time to make sure the system is maintained. That you’re looking at things like index rebuilds from a SQL server perspective. That you’re investing time in the core infrastructure and see how the technology is interacting with your infrastructure to see where improvements can be made. Because regardless of the type of products you have, if it’s not performing well and your users don’t feel like the response times are good, then that degrades the overall value proposition for that particular product.
I would say performance is one of the primary things to focus regularly. See how that can be improved. Second point would be around core integration. Making sure you’re thinking about not just your core product stack being ProLaw, but how you can get more value out of the solution. Thinking about the valuable data that sits within your ProLaw platform and about those trends that have been building up over time. How you can use that to your advantage? How can it give you better business insights, help you make informed decisions in terms those trends be it how frequently you’re billing certain customers, watching out for dormant clients you may need to re-engage with? Using technology such as Termi to alert you to these facts via proactive alerts and enabling you to kind of see those business insights in real time so you can act on them ultimately impacting your bottom line.
The final takeaway is about maintaining the product itself. We talked about performance from an infrastructure perspective, but by investing in a product like ProLaw or Termi, one of the big benefits is you’ve got a well-known company, Thomson Reuters, that’s maintaining a product portfolio for you. Thomson Reuters has continued to invest in the parallel platform: building new features, new add-ons, like Workspace, to make the front office experience more refined for lawyers. So lots of new features and fixes get rolled out as part of upgrades. As an organization, you’re only going to benefit from them if you actually upgrade.
It’s really important to think about your upgrade path so you’re keeping up-to-date with those releases and the release notes, how they apply to you and how they can improve your ProLaw usage and experience.
Finally, think about how that plays into hosting providers. One of the great things about working alongside a hosting provider that understands ProLaw is we take the pain out of upgrades. We understand how to not only host your system, but also to get it to the latest version as smoothly as possible. That element is removed from the mix by working with a vendor who knows what they’re doing and allows you to get the value out of your investment. I think that’s key with a product like ProLaw.
Kiran: A lot of firms will put off an upgrade just because of the amount of work and effort involved. They might be a few versions behind and they’re not taking advantage of the new features and functionality that are coming out. It’s all about upgrading and getting onto the latest version. If you can support that and help make that process a lot easier for ProLaw firms going into the cloud, that’s going to be huge for firms.
Bim: Absolutely. The value proposition for a product like that is really in terms of how it evolves. You’re investing not just in the product today, but in the roadmap for that product. But you have to make a conscious effort to push yourself down that road. That can be challenging for a number of reasons. A lot of the time firms don’t understand all of the interaction points of a product like that: how does it sync up with document management system, with email, etc. And there’s a reluctance to make the upgrade because there was a bad experience in the past that caused some outage or some other issue. But a lot of that is down to poor execution.
The combination of the cloud approach and the knowledge we hold in terms of the upgrade process allows us great resilience when it comes to the cloud platform snapshotting your ProLaw applications. We can maintain the state of a system. It’s very easy for us to create clones of those environments so you can have an isolated testing environment for an upgrade; it de-risks the upgrade approach. It’s tested properly in a UAT environment that’s dedicated to testing. You have confidence it’s going to do what you need it to do and can switch over in a smooth manner.
We often help customers down the upgrade path for core applications, like ProLaw. It starts with discovery to really understand your environment, the integration points, and making sure we understand what impact areas are going to be there. It’s like an impact assessment so we can give you confidence that the roadmap makes sense. There’s a big emphasis on testing, making sure your core business processes are tested. again, we can help with that if you don’t have the resources internally available to for a QA test against the new version. Then we make sure you’re supported through the go-live, making sure someone is on-hand to address any issues, looking at everything from infrastructure all the way through to how the product is performing for you, and holding your hand all the way so you have a successful upgrade.
Kiran: That’s brilliant. For those listening, please go back and review the consideration points. Take into account the last tips, specifically the upgrade thing, which I think is going to be a really big one some law firms up there. Thank you and we look forward to the next one.
Bim: . Likewise. Thank you.
Ready to move your ProLaw system to the cloud? Need more information about the process? Contact us! We’re happy to answer questions and get your project underway.