Guest Post: Flying Solo In The Cloud

Christopher G. Hill is lawyer, LEED AP, and owner of the Richmond, VA firm, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC. Chris has been nominated and elected by his peers to Virginia’s Legal Elite in the Construction Law category on multiple occasions and is a member of the Virginia Super Lawyers “Rising Stars” for 2011.  He specializes in mechanic’s liens, contract review and consulting, occupational safety issues (VOSH and OSHA), and risk management for construction professionals. Chris authors the Construction Law Musings blog where he discusses legal and policy issues relevant to construction professionals. You can follow him on Twitter at @constructionlaw.

First of all, I’m thrilled to cross post for a third time here at the Studio. Today, you can check out Martha’s great post on changes and fun with Google after you read this.

When I contacted Martha for what she’d like for a post, we decided on “the Cloud.” I know, this has been done to death. The “cloud” is everywhere. SEO and other tech buzzwords rule Twitter and blogs. I feel as if it’s all around us and that we can’t escape it. Smarter folks than I have discussed the ethical, practical and legal implications of the use of the “cloud” (read Internet) in legal practice. If you are looking for a discussion of those types of high level thoughts and implications, you are in the wrong place.

As anyone that reads Musings will know, I am not anti-cloud (and I love to read the Advocate’s Studio to keep up on the latest tech). I use Web 2.0 (or whatever we call it now) for marketing, client development and other helpful things, so please don’t turn away at this point because you think I will be panning use of internet based practice tools in legal practice (or construction practice for that matter).

When I went out on my own on July 1, 2010, I embraced the mobility available through cloud based tools. I am the entire staff of my law firm, so I needed to streamline and go paperless (to the extent possible in legal practice) to keep my practice manageable. I signed up for Clio, hooked my trusty laptop to the internet, later purchased a ScanSnap scanner, bought a Blackberry Playbook (yes, I’m still using a Blackberry), and charged forward. While the scanner is not in the cloud, it keeps my paper to my goal of a two drawer file cabinet.

Now, when documents come in, I scan the documents; send them to Clio through its great document mail drop service that files the document to the right matter; and, stamp it “scanned” and either shred or file it away (there are still documents I need to keep in original form). I also keep a record of e-mails that go back and forth in the same manner. With the documents redundantly saved on Clio’s servers, I can get to them wherever I can find a web connection.

I bill clients by e-mail (often with just a web link allowing them to see and pay their bill). I accept credit card payments over the web. I occasionally collaborate through Dropbox and/or Google Docs. Without web based practice tools, my practice would not run as smoothly.

On the other hand (and you knew there’d be one, didn’t you?), I do not think that the Web is the be all and end all of legal practice and marketing. Particularly with my clientele (contractors and subcontractors), the value of a handshake, and having boots on the ground cannot be underestimated. While having a web presence is, in my opinion, necessary, it cannot be all that I use. The flood of web based possibilities seems endless, but trying to use all of them would kill my productivity and, frankly, cause my eyes to hurt from staring at a screen.

In other words, the cloud is great, but there’s way too much out there to use it all so take what you need and leave the rest. I have on more than one occasion referred to myself as a “MASH unit lawyer,” dealing with claims and practical, non-cloud based issues, with what I hope to be a level of pragmatism. I take this same ethic to the “cloud” with me. Judicious use of the cloud allows my practice to run and it can help yours too. Just be sure to get your head out of the cloud on occasion.

What Do You Want For Nothing? Credenza

Great tip on a legal product over at Bob Ambrogi’s LawSites (a fantastic legal tech blog if you are unfamiliar). Credenza offers practice management software to lawyers, charging $24.95 per month for the goods (Credenza Pro).  But Credenza has just come out with a slightly simpler version for free – Credenza Basic.

Credenza’s system is great for lawyers who love Outlook – the software works within Outlook, adding features that will help you organize your calendar, tasks, emails, documents, research, phone calls, notes, billable time by client matter, file or project. It will track time as you work. The process adds “files” to Outlook, which essentially operate as tags for your tasks. Organize those tags according to any system you wish and mark time spent accordingly. Check out the list of tagging and organizing functionality within Credenza Basic:


There are differences between Basic and Pro, as there should be for $24.95 per month. The big differences are multiple users and integrated billing software – you can take that time you tracked within Credenza and create a corresponding invoice to clients. But if it is simply little old you plugging away, then the free option makes tons of sense. Head on over to the site and check out the links on each of the functions listed above – there is a lot to digest. Thanks, Credenza!