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February/1/2012

Up in th Cloud in 2012 By Clifford Rohde

Clifford Rohde
Principal, Rohde Law Firm PLLC
cliff@rohdelawfirm.com
518-641-1005

Up in the Cloud in 2012
(From the February 2012 Newsletter)

It’s 2012. Do you know what your Internets and series of tubes are doing? Chances are they should be doing a lot more.
The last few years have seen a proliferation of “cloud” based Internet services. In a sense, computing has come full circle. Once upon a time the network was the central nervous system and individual terminals were “dumb”. Then PCs developed and the network took a back seat to decentralized desktop computing. Now the network is resurgent, though desktops, laptops, notebooks, netbooks, tablets and smartphones are its smart, interconnected satellites.

Don’t be thrown by terminology. “Cloud” computing occurs where computing operations and applications that had been home on the desktop are now existing offsite, in the “cloud,” on someone else’s computer or computers (but to which you and your guests are granted access).

If you are running a small firm, or even a large one, you should be thinking about using cloud-based services for such operations as communications, document creation and sharing, and online presence, to name but a few mission critical services. Such cloud services often are provided at no or nominal cost.

How about basic communications? Google Voice offers a local phone number with which you can currently make and receive free U.S. domestic calls (you have to pay for international). The system utilizes voice-over-IP technology to facilitate calls and voicemails, and even enables you to receive via email a transcribed version of your voicemails. What about faxing? Filesanywhere.com allows you to send faxes at no cost. Essentially you upload a PDF to your account and send away (of course faxes may be on the way of the dodo bird). Other services (e.g., efax.com) exist for free or low cost fax receipt. Maybe you prefer video calls (though not yet on your wristwatch). You can use Skype to your heart’s content without paying a dime. Many international business persons depend on it.

Do you still need a dedicated email server in the office or nearby? Maybe not. Google Apps offers a suite of services that includes email, as well as calendar and document creation and sharing. There is no cost for up to 10 users. Thereafter, you would need to spend $50 per year per user, but you also receive additional capacity and services. Importantly, your email users will be branded with XYZlawfirm.com (or whatever your domain may be), not a generic email address like gmail.com or hotmail.com.

Speaking of domain names, if you don’t yet have a website, you should, if for no other purpose than to permit existing customers an easy way to find you when they happen to be online (which may include when they are in the car – passenger side or pulled off to the side of the road, of course). You can design a site at the free wordpress.com (and yet still brand it as XYZlawfirm.com) or, if you are feeling especially DIY (do it yourself), you can download the same free software at wordpress.org and set up your own site wherever you like. You’ll have to pay for hosting at a site like godaddy.com.
I haven’t even touched on issues like timekeeping, billing, file backup, teleconferencing, event and meeting planning and other essential corporate tasks. Suffice it to say there are services out there.

Now, is it sensible to go all in with cloud based services? As with the deployment of any back office service, the savvy consumer does his or her homework. In the legal field, we know that we have to be particularly sensitive to privacy and confidentiality issues as well. My experience suggests that there are compelling cloud-based solutions offered by competent, reasonably secure businesses (are Google or Microsoft likely to go out of business any time soon? Any more likely than your IT guy?) that can permit lawyers —solos and firms alike— to make their operations more efficient and economic.
See you in the cloud!

Clifford Rohde is the principal of Rohde Law Firm PLLC, a legal and mediation practice. He also consults with small businesses and nonprofits regarding online communications issues.

 






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