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An introduction to Cloud Solutions for Law Firms

More and more law firms are using cloud solutions. The most recent statistics available show that in 2018 nearly 55% of law firms used cloud solutions. That also leaves 45% who still don’t. In this article, we will give a short introduction to cloud solutions for law firms. We will look at some definitions and at the differences between public, private and hybrid cloud. We’ll discuss what solutions are available for law firms, as well as the pros and cons of cloud solutions.

The following definitions (in quotes) all come from Margaret Rouse from techtarget.com.

Cloud computing is a general term for anything that involves delivering hosted services over the Internet. These services are broadly divided into three categories: Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). The name cloud computing was inspired by the cloud symbol that’s often used to represent the Internet in flowcharts and diagrams.”

“A public cloud is a platform that uses the standard cloud computing model to make resources, such as virtual machines (VMs), applications or storage, available to users remotely. Public cloud services may be free or offered through a variety of subscription or on-demand pricing schemes, including a pay-per-usage model.”

When we think of the cloud, we typically think of the public cloud: online music and video streaming services as well as social media services are typical examples. Gmail, Google Apps, OneDrive, SharePoint, e.g., all are public cloud services. You probably already use the public cloud to store media (photos, videos, …), document, backups, etc.

Private cloud is a type of cloud computing that delivers similar advantages to public cloud, including scalability and self-service, but through a proprietary architecture. Unlike public clouds, which deliver services to multiple organizations, a private cloud is dedicated to the needs and goals of a single organization.” Private clouds are typically used by major companies and educational organizations like universities who have their own IT departments. Law firms who use their own private cloud are rather rare. It typically only makes sense for large firms, with multiple sites and with their own full-blown IT departments, to even consider setting up private cloud servers.

What are the main differences between public cloud and private cloud solutions? With a private cloud, you are responsible for the entire acquisition, setup and management of the cloud solution. With a public cloud solution, your data are stored with the hosting provider who does the management and maintenance of the data centre. When choosing what is best for your law firm, you must take into consideration the overall cost (one-time vs. recurring), the data capacity, and the levels of reliability and security. For small to medium-sized law firms, a public cloud solution typically is recommended.

Hybrid cloud is a cloud computing environment that uses a mix of on-premises, private cloud and third-party, public cloud services with orchestration between the two platforms. By allowing workloads to move between private and public clouds as computing needs and costs change, hybrid cloud gives businesses greater flexibility and more data deployment options.”

What cloud applications are law firms using? Most law firms who use cloud solutions use cloud versions of Law Practice Management Software. Most providers of Law Practice Management Software offer a package of standard solutions with optional extra modules. There also are providers who focus on just one aspect like case or document management, or backups, or accounting, … Two other areas where cloud solutions are commonly used are eDiscovery and Legal Research.

What are the benefits of cloud solutions, compared to the more traditional setups?

  • Security: cloud hosting providers typically are more secure than local solutions. It is one of the most important reasons law firm decide to move to the cloud.
  • For most law firms, cloud solutions are more cost effective: there is low upfront cost because you don’t need to invest in servers, and there is a low maintenance cost as the hosting provider takes care of maintaining the servers and the software.
  • Cloud solutions typically have a simple setup and configuration: often it’s as easy as going online and signing up to be able to start working.
  • Cloud solutions have built-in disaster preparedness which include off-site backups.
  • Remote access: cloud solutions are accessible from anywhere and at any time, with any device with an Internet connection. Remote access also makes outsourcing and client portals easier.
  • Scalability: cloud solutions can handle one-person law firms, as well as law firms with hundreds of users.
  • Cloud solutions typically run on any platform.
  • Cloud solutions offer automatic software updates.

There also are some cons:

  • Internet access is required. If you don’t have Internet access, you can’t access your data.
  • Recurring monthly or annual cost per head can be high for larger firms.
  • You have no control over price increases.

 

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Lawyers in the Cloud

The American Bar Association recently published the results of its 2017 Legal Technology Survey. One of the key findings that really stand out, is that in 2017 more than half of the lawyers are using cloud computing. Where in 2015 only 30%, and in 2016 38% of lawyers were active in the cloud, that number has jumped to 52% in 2017.

The enthusiasm for cloud-based solutions is not shared equally by all lawyers. As was the case in previous years, cloud services are most embraced by solo and small law firm (2 to 9 lawyers), with 56% in both groups relying on cloud computing. For medium sized law firms, the number stands at 52% who are using web-based computing. Large law firms trail behind, with only 42%. As the graph below shows, for each group, there has been a steady growth in cloud adoption over the last few years.

Lawyers in the cloud
Percentage of Lawyers using Cloud Services in 2017

Overall, 31% of lawyers make online backups of their data. Again, the solo lawyers lead the way with 48% of solo lawyers making cloud back-ups.

The predictions for 2018 are that the popularity of cloud-based solutions will continue to grow. In a recent panel discussion, the panel members were asked to make legal technology and management predictions for 2018. Four out of nine members mentioned an accelerated adoption of legal cloud services. Overall, resistance to adoption is decreasing among lawyers as most providers of cloud-based services for lawyers have been on the market for a long time, and have plenty of experience. Because most lawyers are using Office 365, they have also become more familiar with using cloud services. One panel member observed that cloud services have become more all-encompassing and a lot less trouble and expensive than on-premise solutions.

The American Bar Association also asked why lawyers were using the cloud. The most important reasons are:

  • Easy browser access (73%). Everybody can use a browser and there’s at least one installed on every device with online access.
  • 24/7 availability (64%). You can have access at any time, from anywhere.
  • Low and predictable cost (48%). The entry fees for cloud-based legal solutions are fairly low, and they are typically billed either monthly or annually, making the cost predictable. Add to that, that you need to invest far less in hardware infrastructure.
  • Robust data backup and recovery (45%). If you use cloud-based solutions, the service provider typically takes care of data backups, and they have the in-house expertise to quickly get everything back up and running if needed. They typically also have disaster recovery plans (and the necessary infrastructure) that can be implemented instantly, or on very short notice.
  • Ability to quickly get it up and running (38%). Typically, all you need is a device with access to the Internet, and your subscription to the cloud service to get started. No need to buy, install or configure new hardware or software on premises.
  • Elimination of IT & software management requirements (30%). This is an important consideration for mainly solo lawyers and small law firms, as they don’t have to invest in managing an entire IT and software infrastructure. The cloud service provider makes sure the software works and is up to date.
  • Better security than can be provided in-house (25%). When you host your own servers, and provide Internet access to them, security is a constant concern. It’s not obvious to always have the latest patches, a perfectly configured firewall, etc. Because it’s part of their core business, external cloud service providers are experts in secure provision. More likely than not, your data will be safer in the cloud.

It is also worth noting that when using cloud-based services, you’re staying ahead of the curve, without having to worry whether the technology will cause any problems. This can be used as a business advantage. Cloud services also can give your law firm extra flexibility, which, again, can be used as a business advantage.

 

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Some considerations when moving your law firm to the cloud

Statistics show that 38% of law firms in the US use cloud-based services. 53% does not, while the rest isn’t sure which of the services they use are cloud-based. The cloud services that are being used not only include cloud-based law firm management software, but also other services, like using the cloud for backups, or to share information with customers, etc.

In this article, we will focus on the pros and cons of cloud based law firm management software.

Advantages of using public cloud services

These are the main advantages of moving your law firm to the cloud.

Maximize Internet Security: when you host your own servers, and provide Internet access to them, security is a constant concern. It’s not obvious to always have the latest patches, a perfectly configured firewall, etc. Because it’s part of their core business, external cloud service providers are experts in secure provision. More likely than not, your data will be safer in the cloud.

Reliable Physical Security: Cloud service providers use data centres where a lot of attention is paid to physical security of the infrastructure. Typically, advanced security measures, like using biometrics, are in place to enter the premises.  The chances of losing data because your servers are (physically) stolen are virtually non-existent in the cloud.

Immediate Disaster Recovery: Cloud service providers have Disaster Recovery plans (and the necessary infrastructure) that can be implemented instantly, or on very short notice.

Predictable IT budgeting: when you use cloud-based services, your IT cost is far more predictable, as you typically pay a fixed subscription fee. Add to that, that in most cases, using cloud-based services is cheaper, because you need to invest far less in your hardware infrastructure!

Eliminating IT Distraction and Hassle: keeping your own IT infrastructure up and running can be time consuming. If you use cloud based services, that hassle largely becomes the concern of the service provider.

Inherent Remote Access: the cloud offers constant access, from anywhere, at any time.

Experienced Law Firm Cloud Services: most providers of cloud-based services for lawyers have been on the market for a long time, and have plenty of experience.

Innovation comes as standard with the public cloud: one of the challenges when managing your own IT infrastructure is knowing when to upgrade and when to implement new technologies. When using cloud-based services, you’re staying ahead of the curve, without having to worry whether the technology will cause any problems. Your provider will have tested them out in advance.

Flexibility provides a business advantage: the cloud can provide a law firm with extra flexibility which can be a business advantage.

A survey revealed the following reasons why law firms chose to move their business to the cloud:

  • Easy browser access from anywhere, 68%.
  • 24 x 7 availability, 67%.
  • Low cost of entry and predictable monthly expense, 59%.
  • Quick to get up and running, 49%.
  • Robust data back-up and recovery, 47%.
  • Eliminates IT & software management requirements, 40%.
  • Better security than I can provide in-office, 32%.

Caveats

But there are also some caveats that should be taken into account. When you are using cloud services, not only your IT infrastructure, but also all your data are in the hands of a third party. And you necessarily rely on Internet access to have access to your data. Law firm management software typically is mission critical for a law firm. If your access is interrupted, or if the critical systems that are in the cloud fail, this could cause serious problems, even put a law firm out of business. There also are concerns of privacy and lawyer-client confidentiality: does the staff of the service provider have access to your clients’ data? Security typically is better in the cloud, but a breach typically also has bigger consequences, and service providers for lawyers are preferred targets for hackers. Continuity also is a concern: what happens to your data if the service provider goes out of business, e.g.?

In his article on cloud computing for lawyers, David Canton listed the following issues to consider:

  • how mission critical the system is
  • what the consequences are of a short term and long term outage
  • how confidential or personal the information is in the system
  • can the information be encrypted in transit and at rest
  • how robust the vendor’s continuity plan is
  • the need for the business to have its own continuity plan – such as a local copy of the data
  • how robust the vendor’s security is
  • does the vendor have third party security validation to accepted standards
  • does the vendor’s agreement have provisions that back these issues up with contractual terms and service levels with meaningful remedies

Because of these consideration, there are law firms who explicitly choose to not use the cloud. When questioned, these were the reasons they gave to stay away from cloud services:

  • Confidentiality/security concerns, 63%.
  • Concerns of having less control of your data because it’s hosted by the provider, not on your own server/computer, 54%.
  • Unfamiliarity with the technology, 50%.
  • Concerns of losing access to and ownership of your data, 39%.
  • Cost/effort of switching from your current solution, 31%.
  • Cost of services, 28%.
  • Preference for owning software rather than paying a monthly subscription, 25%.
  • Non-web-based software programs you use are sufficient for current needs, 24%.
  • Lack of professional responsibility/ethics guidance, 24%.
  • Uncertainty over longevity of vendor, 20%.

 

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Legal Technology Trends for 2017

It is common, at the beginning of the year, to ponder upon what the year ahead will bring. Several experts have published their predictions for trends we can expect in legal technology, in 2017. So, what are they saying? Generally speaking, they expect lawyers to become more mobile, more collaborative (using the cloud do to do), and more responsive (using social media to engage with clients and potential clients). 2017 is also expected to see a rise in the usage of AI (Artificial Intelligence), and to be the year that E-Discovery goes mainstream. Cybercrime & Cyberwarfare, too, will remain in the news.

Let’s have a closer look at these items.

More Mobile

In 2016, for the first time worldwide, we saw more mobile devices being used online than desktops. This trend is expected to continue. More lawyers will start using mobile apps. They also will start accommodating their mobile clients – and potential clients – more. (We recently published two articles on the subject, where you can find more information).

Cloud

2017 will see a further increase in cloud usage. The could will play an increasingly important role in collaboration between lawyers. Bigger law firms are expected to start using big data analytics. The cloud will also play a significant role in the further development of AI and E-Discovery (see below).

Cybersecurity

Cybercrime will continue to rise, and will continue to become more and more sophisticated. AI will increasingly be used in cyber-protection, as well as in attacks. Experts also expect an increase in cyberwarfare.

Social Media – Business Social

More lawyers will start embracing social media, and as a result they will become more responsive, i.e. engage more with clients and potential clients. More specifically, for lawyers, an increase is expected in the usage of professional or business social media. Some experts foresee an important role for new players (service providers) on this market.

AI

In 2017, AI will continue its rise, and become more omnipresent. The main focus of artificial intelligence in legal tech will remain on Machine Learning. More specifically, AI will continue to push legal technology in the fields of Legal Research (with, e.g., virtual Legal Research assistants), Contract Review, Security, and E-Discovery (see further). One expert also expects AI to be introduced in legal practice management, as well as legal project management, which, in turn could lead to significant advances being made in those fields.

E-Discovery

Last, but not least, 2017 is the year E-discovery is expected to go mainstream. E-Discovery, also spelled eDiscovery, stands for electronic discovery. It refers to the discovery of relevant information in legal proceedings – such as litigation, government investigations, or Freedom of Information Act requests – where the information that is being analyzed is stored in an electronic format. Think, e.g., about the recent example of the FBI analyzing tens of thousands of emails that were leaked by WikiLeaks, in just four days. As more and more information is being stored electronically, E-Discovery is becoming more and more important. In 2017, it is expected to go mainstream.

Experts predict the following trends for E-Discovery in 2017:

  • The increase in social media usage implies that E-Discovery will have to be able to incorporate the analysis of social media information as well.
  • The Internet of Things will also have a serious impact on E-Discovery, as it will have to learn to process the data that are produced by billions of devices. In the US, e.g., there is a murder case where Amazon is asked to give access to the data one of its digital Echo devices (virtual assistants) may have recorded as evidence.
  • Because of these two developments (social media & Internet of Things), data privacy is becoming more important than ever.
  • Machine Learning is expected to become the most important technology for E-Discovery.
  • Cross-border compliance will continue shaping E-Discovery: multinationals, e.g., must comply with laws in several countries. This has implications on what can be stored where, which in turn has its effects on E-Discovery.

 

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