Recently, I followed a conversation on a listserve where someone is fed-up with their ISP’s email service that they’re actually (gasp) considering switching from a “hosted” email carrier to Gmail. The poster (obviously not a rabid reader of these earlier posts) wondered whether anyone had considered or made the switch. Fortunately, a lot of the responses favored the switch. And why shouldn’t they? Google Apps is perfect for small or large law firms (check out this post).
So, what is Google Apps, and how do I download it?
Well, Google Apps isn’t really an app. It’s more like a bundle-plus of Google’s products and services, and a selection of other plug-ins, such as spam filtering, that incorporate with the Google Apps platform.
Essentially, Google allows you to pay (hooray for me) for their services and gives you an upgrade from standard email and several other additional business apps. You can compare the versions, which range from free to not-so-free. I pay for the not-so-free version at $50 per user, per year. I have 5 users.
One of the chief complaints is the perceived lack of tech support for the platform. I think someone once commented to me “that’s a deal breaker.” Certainly, while there’s not a 1-800, 24/7 tech support line, there’s plenty of online documentation and videos, and I’ve been using the platform since it’s introduction about 2 years ago and have never (and I know never to say never) had a problem with the system. With the paid Google Apps system there’s a 99% uptime guarantee. That’s as good as my website’s host’s guarantee, and I’d still receive the “we’re working on the issue” comment with a hosted email service.
Okay, I’m nearly sold. How does it work for you in your law firm?
I have website hosting with an ISP and email hosting through Google Apps. Through Google, I registered the domain, jeffreytaylorlaw.com. Through my ISP I registered the absolutelawfirm.com domain for my law firm.
I have an email address with my ISP’s domain that I then forward to my Google domain. From there, Gmail becomes my go-to “app” for email, calendaring, contacts, etc. I can access all of the important information from the web or my mobile devices, and sync them uniformly. Everything functions like an Exchange server, without me having to manage the Exchange server (and I know how to manage an Exchange server).
One thing I love is the fact that everything is the same whether I’m viewing from my phone or desktop. Since Google Apps is Google-based, and so is Android, there’s a seemless integration between desktop, phone, and tablet. I send an email from my phone and it shows up in my sent box on my desktop or tablet. I can add a calendar event from my tablet, and my phone and desktop all have the same information. What’s more, my staff has access to my calendar and can see what I’m doing and where I’m going, and can add appointments on a whim and I’ll see them synced with my devices.
If you’re a heavy Outlook user, there’s a plug-in for your desktop (PC-only) that syncs your Google Apps account to Outlook. I love this since my practice management system uses Outlook to archive and associate emails with client cases. There are other programs, such as Clio, which integrate directly with Google Apps. This feature may be a significant consideration for your practice. For me, I was already invested, and therefore “stuck” with what I had. It’s one feature I wish would come soon to the program.
Getting everything set up is a breeze too. It took me about 10 minutes from domain registration to Google Apps setup. You can easily add users (and pay for them) if you need right from your management console.
Okay, but what about security?
I can’t speak directly to the technical aspects of the security settings, but know that you can use https (encrypted and secure) to log in to your account, can set customized and strong password rules, use two-step verification for login procedures, and policies for filing emails with sensitive information. How’s your ISP’s performance on those aspects?
But I can’t stand putting all of my information in that cloud thing.
Okay, you got me. That cloud thing is pretty scary, especially since you have no control over backups, replications, or anything else. You are doing those, right? My bet is that it’s probably 5% of small or solo firms and 100% of large firms (and large IT firms) that are actually performing regular backups of their email or email servers. I’m pretty okay with trusting Google to handle the storage, since I’m pretty lazy and am fairly unlikely to perform the requisite security measures.
For me, this isn’t a big concern. At least Google is open about the stuff they’re doing without a lot of legalese meshed in. I’m already fairly integrated, so giving Google more access doesn’t bother me as long as they don’t intend to access and use sensitive information. Moreover, how is this any different from an ISP’s access to your information, especially when they’re covering their tracks or not openly disclosing this?
Second, how is Google Apps any different than using Dropbox to store sensitive information? A lot of attorneys who criticize Google Apps rave about Dropbox. Yet, both programs have the same inherent security flaw. It’s my opinion that I am in charge of protecting the sensitive documents or information, and if I don’t want to risk losing that, I don’t share it. That’s a simple correction.
Google Apps really is a great tool for attorneys looking to expand their productivity levels and decrease their technical requirements. Check it out!