Cloud Trends in the Legal Profession:
Participation Has Become Mandatory for Survival

Known for their uncanny insight into future trends, Gartner Research has been shaping planning and budgeting for decades. When it comes to IT and the impact of technology on the way business runs, they have some very direct, and disruptive advice: “Change and Evolve or Get Left Behind.”

Many articles have been written discussing the logistic, monetary, and efficiency reasons why firms should move to a cloud-based strategy… yet most do not!

Given the fact that lawyers are well-educated, intelligent, and logic-oriented individuals, there must be other factors or questions that need to be resolved before the more than 66% of firms who have not yet moved “to the cloud” make the move.

Tradition implies that, what worked in generations past, works now. Yet in the offices of those claiming that “technology isn’t part of this firm’s tradition…”, they are practicing law based on current case law and the most recent precedents. So, why the resistance to adopting what is working so well, for so many firms?

Nicole Black talks about the example of 65-year-old Federal Second Circuit Judge Richard Wesley. He explained to a group he spoke to that he accesses cloud-stored cases and case-related documents, including briefs and exhibits. He concluded that documents are just as, and possibly more secure, in the cloud than on any other IT system, and he convinced his colleague judges in the Second Circuit to adopt his iPad® system.

A 2013 survey conducted by the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) and Inside Legal Technology Purchasing, described the top five ways that responding firms were using cloud computing:

  • Storage/backup (55%)
  • Disaster recovery (50%)
  • Email (35%)
  • Document management (29%)
  • Case management (18%)

Yet, many firms are just warming up to the idea of even planning to implement any form of cloud-based alternative to their traditional desktop devices.

With only 34% of firms recently polled stating they were using one or more cloud-based solution, the current level of adoption within firms is dramatically behind the pace of just about every other economic sector.

Does it matter? Some question whether there is anything really to be gained by moving IT and applications “to the cloud”, dismissing it as hype and good marketing for questionable results.

The Voice Above

For those firms still not convinced that all this talk about the cloud and IT is justified, the American Bar Association (ABA) weighs in. In its August, 2012 edition, the ABA Journal recounts changes to ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct:

  • ABA’s House Of Delegates approved amendments that require lawyers to “keep current on more than just changes in the law…”.
  • Lawyers are now held accountable and expected to be informed and vigilant about the benefits and risks of technology that is available, not just the technology they have decided to use.
  • Lawyers must act competently to preserve confidentiality. This of course is a traditional requirement that every lawyer knows, except when technology is involved. Their duty of care now includes knowing and implementing proper security / protection for their client data.
  • Many State Bar Associations are weighing in and across the board, they are giving ethical clearance for lawyers to use cloud-based infrastructure and applications, as long as proper duty and care goes into selection of the provider and the contracting associated with the provider.

Irresistible Force – Immovable Lawyers

Given all of the opinions, ethical guidance, and even encouragement from the ABA and ethics boards, why are only 1/3 of firms taking advantage of the huge benefits that come from a move “to the cloud”?

  • Security: How Do I Know It’s Safe? The reality is that this is just a peer acceptable stalling tactic. The lack of security in the majority of law firms is frightening. There are unlocked server closets, no enforced password protocols, use of personal devices (phones, tablets, laptops) with client data stored internally, and the list goes on.

    Many firms seem unaware of the true risk they face if data leaked out and their firm was examined by the State Bar Association. Reasonable care would not be the verdict reached, regarding their security measures.

    The reality is that a cloud storage and server company has full-time security, with full-time professionals monitoring their systems 24/7. Their daily investment in security surpasses what most firms will spend in decades.

  • Data Ownership: What If My Data Goes Off-Shore? Again, this is really a non-issue. You simply exercise reasonable due diligence and ensure that the wording in the contract with your cloud provider specifically dictates where their data storage centers are, including all duplicate and backup locations.

  • I Just Don’t Like The Idea Of My Data Being Out There. This is a common, but usually un-stated objection. At least with desktop computers, you can see where the data is. Regardless of the merit, this feeling that the data will somehow disappear and your firm will be crippled is a real feeling. If you think it through, you’ll see that just isn’t the case:

    • Your firm could burn to the ground. Your backups (hopefully) are in a different physical location, so you’d re-build and re-load all your data. The same is true in a cloud computing environment: their server clusters are duplicated not just onsite but also across geographically different locations, for that same security.
    • You really don’t see the data, it’s stored as magnetic fields. So, the data will still exist in the same form, just on a larger infrastructure that is better maintained, with constant supervision, constant maintenance, and 24/7 security.

Final Thoughts

Change is here, and it is unavoidable. Do a careful analysis based on good information and speak with an experienced solution provider. You will see that most of the misconceptions about cloud computing are easily mitigated. In a nutshell, there are five important points you should consider:

  • ABA: The American Bar Association has stated that it is a requirement to stay abreast of changes in technology. But who has time for that in addition to a busy practice? The Solution: Contract with a firm after doing due diligence, to supply the technology that is current, understandable, and maintained in a secure, monitored environment.
  • State Bar Associations: Most have offered opinions stating that if used properly, cloud computing is actually viewed as a huge benefit for law firms. They all have requirements which center on ensuring credibility of the service provider, as well as contracts that guarantee ownership of data and geographical location of data and backups. These requirements are so well understood in the industry, that any credible cloud service provider will probably be better versed on what the best practices are than any publication you can find.
  • Legal Management Firms: Several have written in great detail about the savings and increased efficiencies that are created through cloud computing, including:

    • Decreased IT cost
    • Increased efficiencies
    • Better security
    • Elimination of device-related data losses. Everything is stored in the cloud, not on the device.
    • Enhanced applications: You now have access to the latest applications such as ProLaw®, which are maintained, updated, and kept functioning without added expense.
    • Budgeting: With cloud computing and software as a service, you know your costs month-to-month, so you only pay for what you use. Even better, when you add users, there is a linear increase, unlike expansion situations that can involve buying additional networking equipment, servers, and the cost to get it all installed and configured.
  • Greater Productivity: A common side effect of enhanced secure access to data is the freedom to work anywhere, anytime. Collaboration is now not just an idea, but something easy to do. Faster responses to clients and the ability to access just about any piece of data in real time are all part of cloud computing.
  • Client Value: Many clients are questioning billing, time productivity, etc. They want to know that they are getting good value. The firm’s reputation is part of that, but needs to stand on stronger shoulders. Cloud computing offers the lift your firm needs. Demonstrating to your clients that efficiency is part of your business model shows a respect for the hours billed to them and a commitment to creating ongoing value, versus a firm still using 1980’s technology.

When you add it all up, the change to a cloud computing platform makes sense and is the responsible route to take in the 21st century. And, with the support of the American Bar Association and most State Bar Associations, the choice is easy to see—all the way to the clouds.


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