Cloud Computing and Lawyers: What Attorneys Need to Know

With all of the strict laws and compliance requirements that exist in the industry, running a law firm can often feel like a walk on a tightrope. But with cloud computing, new opportunities are providing new freedoms.

When used strategically, they can totally change the game.

A Primer on Cloud Computing

The innovation and evolution of cloud computing has been one of the single-most transformative technologies of the century. It’s revolutionized every industry on the planet, including both product-based businesses and service professionals.

As a lawyer, you don’t have to be a cloud computing expert. You do, however, need to possess a baseline understanding of what it is and why it matters. This will allow you to maximize the use of cloud technology within your firm and enjoy the many benefits that stem from an investment in this area.

According to Microsoft Azure, a leader in this industry, “Cloud computing is the delivery of computing services—including servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics, and intelligence—over the Internet (‘the cloud’) to offer faster innovation, flexible resources, and economies of scale.”

For lawyers and their firms, the biggest benefits of cloud computing include:

  • Low cost. Cloud computing requires far less overhead. This makes it a much more cost-effective option for law firms that want to enjoy greater efficiency at a fraction of the cost. There’s no need for expensive hardware, software, or on-site servers. Everything is managed online and paid for through a simple, predictable monthly fee.
  • Scalability. With cloud computing, you never have to worry about your expenses and hardware investments outpacing your growth. You can scale elastically and enjoy greater cost-savings as you grow. (You can also scale back down, should circumstances require you to become smaller for a period of time.)
  • Improved performance. By investing in the cloud, you instantly gain access to a massive network of the world’s top data centers and advanced technology. This gives you increased performance (without having to invest in the newest software or hardware on your own).
  • Greater security. Cybersecurity is extremely important in today’s digital world. When you invest in cloud computing, you gain access to superior security that keeps your client’s sensitive data out of the wrong hands.
  • Faster speeds. Nothing is more frustrating than slow page loading speeds, lagging applications, and glitchy interfaces. Cloud computing provides self-service and on-demand services, which allows law firms to navigate millions of data points in a matter of just a few clicks.
  • Enhanced reliability. At the end of the day, your firm needs a digital platform that you can trust. Cloud computing platforms have robust disaster recovery systems and data backup solutions that make business continuity less expensive and time-consuming. The result is far greater peace of mind.

When you combine all of these benefits, it’s easy to make a case for cloud computing. And while the legal industry is certainly lagging in cloud adoption, you’re probably more familiar with cloud computing than you realize.

For example, if you use a resource like LexisNexis or Westlaw for legal research, you’re an active user of a cloud service. Similarly, if you use a mainstream email platform like Yahoo or Gmail, you’re using a cloud service. Wikipedia, Spotify, YouTube…these are all cloud services.

Whether you realize it or not, much of your online activity is already rooted in the cloud. And by being more intentional about how you leverage cloud computing in your own practice, you can enjoy a multitude of benefits (like the ones highlighted above).

How the Cloud Impacts Attorneys

By and large, the legal services industry is trailing behind most other industries in cloud adoption. According to the latest 2020 survey from the American Bar Association (ABA), 66 percent of firms with 500+ lawyers, 65 percent of firms with 50-99 lawyers, and 52 percent of solo practices are using cloud solutions.

Confidentiality and security issues are the major concerns for attorneys who are slow to adopt. Other common points of contention include the perceived loss of control over data, the cost of switching, and unfamiliarity with the technology.

As you consider growing your own firm’s dependence on the cloud in the coming months, here are some different factors to consider:

1. It’s Time to Trust the Cloud

When it comes to attorneys who are hesitant to invest in cloud computing, reliability and security are always chief concerns. But is this an overblown issue?

“Lawyers have always entrusted confidential data to third parties, including process servers, court employees, building cleaning crews, summer interns, document processing companies, external copy centers, and legal document delivery services,” Nicki Black writes for MyCase.com. “Absolute security has never been required in these situations because absolute security is an impossibility. Rather, due diligence requires that you take reasonable steps to ensure that confidential client data remains safe and secure. Cloud computing is no different.”

Now is the time for our industry to get over the perceived lack of reliability and come to grips with the fact that the cloud is by far the best solution for keeping data safe (particularly data at rest).

Think of it like this: When you store sensitive data on your own servers and computers, you’re 100 percent responsible for updating your devices, installing new software versions, patching vulnerabilities, and ensuring all accounts are properly protected. When you move to the cloud, the bulk of this responsibility shifts to the cloud provider. This frees you up to spend more time focusing on serving your clients (rather than wasting energy on administrative tasks).

Having said that, the cloud does have its own unique set of challenges. Depending on the cloud provider you choose, there’s always the risk of temporarily losing access to your data. And, for better or worse, your entire security strategy is only as good as the security of the cloud provider. You’ll need to carefully negotiate an agreement that protects you and your clients in a worst-case scenario.

2. Use the Cloud to Enhance Collaboration

One of the cloud’s best features is the flexibility it gives firms to work remotely and collaborate efficiently regardless of geography. Using cloud computing, many firms have been able to scale and expand with less friction than ever before. Sibley Dolman Gipe, for example, now has ten offices spread throughout the entire state of Florida.

With locations in Clearwater, Boca Raton, Doral, Tampa, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, New Port Richey, St. Petersburg, North Miami, and Sarasota, Sibley Dolman Gipe has branded itself as “Florida’s nationwide personal injury law firm” – and cloud computing plays a major role in this evolution.

Like other law firms that have expanded from a single location to multiple locations, cloud computing has served as the backbone for this growth. In particular, it allows for effective team collaboration, remote team members, smart calendaring, virtual meetings, and centralized file storage.

One of the more noteworthy developments with remote cloud solutions is the rise of location independence for legal staff. It’s no longer necessary to hire in-person administrative staff members, who can be expensive and resource-intensive.

For the first time ever, firms can hire virtual assistant and other independent contractors to save time and money.

3. Reduce Stress With the Cloud

With so many strict requirements, regulations, and stipulations on what data lawyers can collect, when it can be accessed, and how it can be stored, many law firms and attorneys lose sleep over their tech stacks. And while the cloud is far from perfect, it goes a long way toward reducing stress.

For one, the cloud removes a single point of failure (which exists when data is stored via an on-premise solution, like a local computer). It mitigates risk by spreading data out across multiple systems. Furthermore, the virtualization of your data gives you the ability to revert back to a previous point (in the event of a crash or other compromising event).

Secondly, the cloud eliminates many of the IT server headaches that command so much of a law firm’s time and internal resources.

“Even at a small firm, you need a server that securely and reliably hosts software. However, any physical server requires maintenance to keep it running and must be fixed when it breaks,” ABA mentions. “The private cloud is the server and includes updates, maintenance, and repair as part of the contracted service, which means you don’t have to buy or manage servers.”

The Future of Law

It’s hard to know where the industry is going for sure, but the cloud will certainly play a key role in its next interaction and evolution. And though it’s been around for more than a decade, 2021 will be the year that thousands of firms take the first step toward being fully reliant on cloud computing to manage their firms, store their data, and serve their clients.

While there will certainly be friction, there will also be plenty of benefits. When it’s all said and done, the cloud produces a net gain for proactive law firms.

Frank Landman

Frank Landman

Frank is a freelance journalist who has worked in various editorial capacities for over 10 years. He covers trends in technology as they relate to business.

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