Moving A Law Firm To Google Apps

Guest post by Eric Hunter

Why Google Apps? Why Not.

I know, it sounds a little nuts, but Google is going to take over the world, our collective consciousness and all of us in it, so we might as well just jump on board! Seriously though, from a strategic investment perspective, there’s a lot to Google Apps and competing collaborative cloud hosted applications that should catch the eye of firms of all sizes.

Consider my firm and our move (leap of faith?!) to the cloud as a decent starting point and case study in what collaborative cloud solutions, in our case Google Apps, can offer as well as what they can’t or shouldn’t provide (silver bullets are still tough to find!).

Technology Outsourcing

All right, so what happens with your Technology? I was told by a good friend of mine recently, and recognized expert in her field, that “I don’t really do Knowledge Management, that my focus is purely on infrastructure.” I told her my choice is actually to outsource the infrastructure and solely focus on KM! Consider it fact, that the more collaborative cloud platforms like Google Apps evolve, the more technology will be outsourced. Both a portion of the humans in your tech departments, and the applications running wherever you currently have them, will be outsourced to Google in this model.

Behavioral Change?

Yep. We chose to migrate to Google’s browser hosted web app. We wanted the most dramatic shift for our users possible to ensure they would begin altering their day to day behavior immediately. Google’s platform is built to tie in mail, documents, sites (their sharepoint/extranet equivalant), and messaging in ways completely outside the box from a traditional business perspective. Such a ‘shock and awe’ strategy helps users quickly get out of existing behavioral thinking patterns they take for granted, and to do something different, innovative, and evolve with both the business and consumer market. This is good, because when you move your firm to evolving cloud hosted collaboration, it’s going to change, all the time. Of course, the ability to implement such extreme change is dependent on a lot of factors, some behavioral, some business strategy focused. I firmly believe the concept that “law firms do not embrace change” is something that will change to “our law firm demands continual change to stay ahead of our competition and engage in the most strategic fashion possible with our clients.”

So how do you stay on top of this evolving platform?

Training and professional development. Senior Management must embrace this behavioral shift to their business, and stay unified. Ensure your committees, practice groups and mid level managers are all part of continual training sessions on the evolving platform and the new ways your firm is utilizing these features. Some of these training sessions will be ‘target specific’ within your firm, and some of these sessions will target all. Granted, most firms have similar training procedures in place. But with a model like Google, the decentralized nature of the system and the continually evolving product demand these sessions to be consistent and innovative. We’ve found our relative knowledge level has risen across all departments, departments are better connected, we connect more effectively with our clients, and our end users are demanding change, faster than Google’s product is developing.

What about Microsoft?

Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite is a great product with considerable cost savings in licensing, and is a collaborative cloud option that competes directly with Google. It’s because of Microsoft’s investment path with this product I think Google is going to continue to innovate in this market. It’s because Microsoft has come out so publicly with their “cloud” offerings, that I think Google will continue to emerge as a player, and Microsoft will continue to refine and offer a better competing product. Bottom line, licensing drops across the industry, cloud hosted collaboration products continually improve, and it’s a win for legal and their clients.

Are law firms defined by the vendors they use?

Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite is a great product with considerable cost savings in licensing, and is a collaborative cloud option that competes directly with Google. It’s because of Microsoft’s investment path with this product I think Google is going to continue to innovate in this market. It’s because Microsoft has come out so publicly with their “cloud” offerings, that I think Google will continue to emerge as a player, and Microsoft will continue to refine and offer a better competing product. Bottom line, licensing drops across the industry, cloud hosted collaboration products continually improve, and it’s a win for legal and their clients.

How will it all play out?

Google is still an emerging player, but they are highly innovative, and we are experiencing daily innovation within our line of business and our forward thinking investment strategy. We’re trusting that Google’s continual investments in improving their search and collaboration features and bridging them across all applications and to as many devices and mediums as possible will not only bring them obscene amounts of ad revenue, but will benefit their clients, like my firm, in a cloud hosted relationship. I’m trusting Microsoft will continue to compete in the business arena to protect their licensing revenue in Office, Sharepoint, and related applications. I’m trusting there is too much of a financial and market incentive for Legal’s third party players in business, financial and competitive intelligence to sit on the sidelines and not integrate in this medium. As you can see, I am very trustworthy (or is it trusting) … Stay tuned to see how it plays out.

If you need further information please view Eric’s course Knowledge Strategy & Behavioral Change: Google, Innovation & Consumer Market Integration.  The course also features Don Barthel and Alec Bradford ofBradford & Barthel.