Small Law Firm Improves Client Service and Saves $3,200 Annually with Hosted Services
Based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Mark Nikel Professional Corporation is a small law firm that specializes in personal injury claims. As a small firm, it wanted to provide solutions that supported its email and legal case management requirements but did not need much administration. To provide capabilities such as remote access to email, calendars, and case information, it decided on Microsoft Office 365, a cloud-based service that offers web-enabled business productivity, collaboration, and communication tools.
Established in 1998, Mark Nikel Professional Corporation represents injured clients in personal injury legal cases in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The firm is comprised of Mark Nikel, its founder and lead attorney, a paralegal, and several attorneys who are engaged on a contract basis.
To support clients, employees frequently traveled to hospitals, clients’ homes, and courtrooms to advise clients, gather statements from witnesses, and argue cases. Mark Nikel, Founder and Lead Attorney at Mark Nikel Professional Corporation, says, “The largest challenge for us was remote access and sharing of information. As a lawyer in a small law firm like mine, being able to be out with clients and being able to work away from the office is survival.” The firm’s email and case management solutions were not providing the remote access capabilities that employees needed to stay productive when they were away from the office.
For messaging, the firm used a POP3 email and calendar service that cost CDN$50 (U.S.$50) per month and presented several challenges. Employees found it difficult to synchronize email and calendar information with mobile phones. The POP3 service also had limited functionality for updating calendars and tasks. Because the courts set deadlines for when attorneys can file lawsuits or make motions, calendars changed frequently, and legal professionals had to track updates manually. Additionally, the amount of spam that employees received each day was unmanageable.
To store client and case information, the law firm used Amicus Attorney Small Firm Edition, a third-party legal case management software solution. The software was installed on the law firm’s server and client information was backed up to an external hard drive. Since legal professionals must access legal case information from remote locations like the courthouse, the firm set up a virtual private network (VPN) with a dedicated IP address, but remote performance was slow and unstable. Amicus Attorney worked great when employees accessed it from the office, but poor remote access was affecting productivity and employees’ ability to provide information to clients in a timely manner. The firm expected to spend CDN$1,000 (U.S.$1,000) to upgrade to Amicus Attorney Premium Edition and Amicus Mobile for remote access to case information. In addition to problems with remote access, the firm was also concerned about the security of data, stability of backups, and downtime.
Nikel explains, “I was the IT person, so if something did not work, I had to fix it or pay an IT consultant.” If he was at the courthouse or working from home and the server went down, which happened three or four times a year, he would have to go into the office to restart it, taking time away from important legal business.
The firm learned about Microsoft Office 365, which brings together trusted business productivity, collaboration, and communications products as cloud-based services. It joined the Microsoft Rapid Deployment Program (RDP) to pilot the solution and address challenges with remote access, security, downtime, and IT administration. Office 365, the next-generation communications and collaboration cloud-based services from Microsoft, combines the familiar Office desktop suite with cloud-based versions of Microsoft Exchange Online, Microsoft SharePoint Online, and Microsoft Lync Online. Nikel says, “The setup of Office 365 was very simple. From the moment we received the invitation, we simply spent one hour getting SharePoint Online and Exchange Online set up. After that it was a matter of migrating the data, which in our case took three or four hours at the most.”
As current users of the latest Microsoft Office suite, Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010, Nikel and his associates were able to seamlessly connect to the communication and collaboration services of Office 365 to provide exceptional legal advice. Nikel says, “The Office applications like Outlook and Word work great with the online services like Exchange Online and SharePoint Online.” By using Office 2010 and Office 365, the firm began to fully benefit from the combined capabilities of the rich client desktop suite and the hosted services of Office 365.
By replacing the POP3 service with Exchange Online, employees can access email, calendars, and contacts from almost anywhere with a mobile phone or a computer with a broadband connection. Nikel says, “With each device—my tablet, a Windows Phone 7, an Android phone, and even my iPad at home—the synchronization works.” Attorneys use tasks and calendars in Microsoft Outlook 2010 to manage schedules of cases and deadlines. The firm also receives less spam and believes the up-to-date antivirus and antispam solutions make email more secure.
With SharePoint Online, the legal professionals can easily access files and case information remotely without logging onto VPN. The firm also decided to switch from Amicus Attorney to Credenza, made by Credenza Software, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner. Credenza is an Outlook add-in that captures client and case information and works with SharePoint Online to provide a legal case management solution that attorneys can access from anywhere. The firm can synchronize SharePoint libraries with Outlook 2010 so attorneys can access case-related documents even when working offline. The firm also uses SharePoint Online to host its external website because it’s simple and easy to set up for a small business.
The firm uses the Microsoft OneNote 2010 note-taking program to capture information into an electronic notebook that attorneys can save in SharePoint Online to share with paralegals. With OneNote 2010, author indicators capture who wrote what. Legal professionals frequently research previous cases, and they can copy relevant information into the notebook with a web link to the case. In Outlook 2010, Nikel can send an e-mail message to a OneNote notebook for a specific client. Nikel says, “With OneNote and SharePoint Online, I was able to create shared notebooks to capture research, links to prior cases, maps of accident scenes, medical records, photographs, and contact information related to a case. I can access this information from almost anywhere from my mobile phone with Microsoft OneNote Mobile or with Microsoft OneNote Web App.”
By moving to Office 365 hosted services, Nikel has significantly reduced the time he spends on IT issues, strengthened security of data, stabilized backups, and reduced downtime. Attorneys have better remote access to case information. With these advances, the firm has improved client service, reduced IT costs, and increased profitability.
Improved Client Service
The firm has improved the ability to access emails, calendars, contacts, tasks, and legal case information from remote locations with Office 365. Attorneys frequently speak with accident victims in hospitals, and now they can access clients’ case information from a mobile phone. Nikel says, “This puts information at my fingertips, allowing me to make recommendations to clients immediately rather than taking down the situation and then spending time later to make a recommendation.” Attorneys often only have one opportunity to question witnesses, and with easy access to case information, they can ask more pertinent questions to help improve the testimony for clients’ cases.
Nikel himself has redirected time from IT issues to serving clients. “With Office 365, my [IT] role is almost nonexistent. Once it’s set up, it’s working. I need not worry about it and the time is mine to devote to the law practice.” Also with reduced spam and reduced downtime, Nikel can devote more time to client activities.
Reduced IT Costs
With Office 365, Nikel estimated he has reduced IT costs by CDN$3,200 (U.S.$3,200) annually. He expects yearly savings in the following areas:
- Saved CDN$1,000 (U.S.$1,000) in IT consulting costs by switching to a Microsoft-hosted environment
- Avoided CDN$1,000 (U.S.$1,000) in annual software subscription costs for an upgrade to Amicus Attorney Premium Edition and Mobile Edition
- Saved CDN$600 (U.S.$600) in fees to an IT service provider for POP3 email service and external website hosting, because of functionality built into Exchange Online and SharePoint Online.
- Saved CDN$600 (U.S.$600) in costs for a dedicated IP address because security is built into the Office 365 solution
Nikel says, “On a per-lawyer basis, my IT costs will be a fraction of what any of the other law firms’ IT costs are. We pay less than $100 per month per lawyer compared to thousands of dollars per lawyer at a large firm.”
Nikel expects a significant increase in profitability, supported by the Office 365 deployment. By improving client service, Nikel expects an increase in client referrals and revenue. He has reduced his firm’s IT costs by reducing contractor, software, and other related IT costs. Nikel has also improved efficiency when working remotely. “Office 365 has helped give me back the time I was spending on IT. We’ve been able to increase the volume of work without increasing staff.”
Nikel says, “I used to be a partner at a large firm, where we had IT staff and large budgets. There was no way a small law firm could afford these advanced capabilities like access-from-anywhere. But with Office 365 it makes it possible for a small firm like mine to have these same capabilities without a large IT investment.”
Microsoft Office 365
Microsoft Office 365 brings together cloud versions of our most trusted communications and collaboration products—Microsoft SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, and Lync Online—with the latest version of our Office desktop suite and companion web applications for businesses of all sizes.
Office 365 helps save time and money, and it frees up valued resources. Simple to use and easy to administer, it is financially backed by a service level agreement guaranteeing 99 percent reliability. Office 365 features robust security, IT-level phone support, geo-redundancy, disaster recovery, and the business-class privacy controls and standards that you expect from a world-class service provider.