Web based systems used by logging in through internet are getting more common also in law firms. However, there seems to be some confusion about the differences between desktop applications and web browser based systems and their impact in practice.
Therefore, I would emphasize considering the following aspects when choosing a practice management software:
Typically, downloadable computer specific desktop applications that get access to the computer’s hardware are as fast or faster than web based systems that mainly use internet bandwidth for functioning. A desktop solution does not exclude storing a database in a cloud service, which is cheaper and more convenient than using your own server.
However, for maximum speed, having your own server in combination with a desktop application in an internal network would certainly be the best solution.
Normally, integrations between desktop applications cause less trouble. It is easier to integrate a desktop application to other desktop applications such as document management systems, Outlook and bookkeeping systems. Integrations may be feasible with some of the web based systems, too, but it should always be checked with the provider.
Your law firm may have unique processes that deviate from the general way of doing things. If you suspect it will remain like this going forward, then a desktop application enabling modifications is more suitable. For agile law firms that are willing to adapt to generally standardized processes, web based systems could be a better fit.
When switching computers or dealing with computer breakdowns web based systems are more flexible while they are not computer specific. They normally work on any computer so one can just log in through the web.
However, our experience is that lawyers very seldom need or want to use just any computer to log in to their business systems. At least, they are carrying their mobile phone wherever they are. CSI Lawyer runs on a Windows platform, but the CSI Mobile application brings it also to Android and iPhone devices enabling registration of billable work anywhere and anytime.
5. Operating systems
Desktop applications require specific development for different operating systems. This is why many only function with Microsoft, which is the operating system most commonly used by companies. Web based systems can often be used with both Microsoft and Macintosh, although the user experience might differ quite a bit between the operating systems. This is familiar to anyone who has used a mobile phone to visit a website not adapted to mobile usage.
6. Data control
In web based systems, you often trust your data for someone else to look after. Also, anyone having access to a user id and password can log in to the system and access your sensitive data. Although most cloud providers do reasonable job getting the security right, many companies still feel that on-premise solutions offer them better control of their data.
As a conclusion
Making a decision between desktop and web based systems is not straightforward as both have their benefits and challenges. A law firm should always start by defining from different aspects, which are the key requirements for a new system. If either of the alternatives clearly matches your needs, the choice is easy.
CSI’s approach has been to provide users with a ”Smart Client” which offers a kind of compromise. CSI Lawyer is a desktop application, but it is delivered over a web Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) connection. Therefore, its installation is extremely easy (ClickOnce) and software updates automated.
However, let’s not astray!
The decision is seldom just between web based and desktop applications as there are other things to consider, too. For example, how well a software’s functionality matches with your company’s requirements, is the system technically stable, continuously developed and customizable for your needs if required.
Besides, when making a decision on such a crucial business system, you don't want to ignore the importance of a system supplier’s reliability, proper user support or total system costs, either.
CSI Helsinki, Country Manager, Sweden
Passionate about learning and continuous development. Gets motivated by challenges and willingness to make a positive difference. Is fascinated by man's ability to be creative and innovative, as well as solve problems.