What role should the cloud play in your law firm? Read what Heinan told Legal Management below:
The Law Firm and the Cloud
By Heinan Landa
According to the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Legal Technology Survey Report, the percentage of lawyers who say they use cloud-based software and services jumped from 21 percent in 2012 to 31 percent in 2013. In January 2014, a survey conducted by the LexisNexis Firm Manager Team found that 72 percent of practicing attorneys are more likely to use cloud tools in 2014 than in 2013. Additionally, the survey revealed that 40 percent of attorneys are already using cloud-based tools. But which functions are they putting into the cloud and which cloud vendors are they using?
These questions prompt more urgent ones. Before talking about which functions law firms are transferring to the cloud, you must first be aware of the available cloud platforms:
- IaaS or Infrastructure as a Service: Essentially, this is putting your servers in the cloud. Examples of this include Amazon, Rackspace and Microsoft with their Azure product.
- SaaS or Software as a Service: This is when you put your applications in the cloud. Examples of this type of cloud include Salesforce.com, Microsoft Office 365 and NetDocuments.
- Cloud Backup and Storage: When you’ve decided to outsource your data storage and backup function, there are many cloud options to consider including Dropbox, Mozy.com and Carbonite.com, among others.
- VDI or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure: This is a fully hosted corporate cloud solution—everything from your servers to your applications is in a customized cloud and delivered to you at work, at home or on your mobile device.
Once you have familiarized yourself with the available cloud platforms, you need to decide which functions you would like to send to the cloud.
FUNCTIONS LAW FIRMS COMMONLY TRANSFER TO THE CLOUD
- Practice Management Software
- Time and Billing Software
- Document Management
- Contact Management
In fact, according to the ABA survey, 46 percent of attorneys reported using the cloud for time and billing capability, 44 percent for case and matter management, 44 percent for document management, 39 percent for contact management, 37 percent for scheduling and calendaring, and 26 percent for accounting. The SaaS cloud platform vendors most commonly used to accomplish these tasks included Hosted Exchange, Dropbox, Google Docs, iCloud, Evernote, Bill4Time, NetDocuments and RocketMatter. Before switching, however, assess the functions that your server-based systems perform; in doing this, you are creating a list of requirements for a cloud-based system.
FUNCTIONS LAW FIRMS SHOULD TRANSFER TO THE CLOUD
- Backup: If you haven’t transferred your storage and backup to the cloud, you must. Even if you are keeping an on premise server for local backup, you must have another copy in the cloud. Your IT support company, or your internal IT staff, should have a plethora of options to accommodate this need.
- Document Management: With all of the documents attorneys are forced to juggle, it only makes sense that a robust document management system live in the cloud. With intrinsic reliability and access from any and all mobile devices, a cloud-based document management makes working on the go and preserving the integrity and hierarchy of your data possible.
- The Whole IT System: Yes, we are recommending that law firms move toward a customizable hosted cloud desktop solution (our firm offers OptimalSphere, but there are others out there). Here’s why:
- Mobile Access: It is becoming increasingly important for attorneys to be able to work as if they were in their office from any device at any time from any location. The only cost-effective and secure way to do this is through a corporate cloud that provides easy access to all business critical functions, 24 x 7.
- Predictable IT Costs: In addition, this IT model provides a predictable monthly operating expense, robust data and backup and recovery, and increased reliability.
- No More Hardware Headaches or Expenses: If your IT can be customized, managed, maintained and delivered to you on-demand, this makes hardware a non-issue. So the next time your firm is due for an upgrade cycle (servers and workstations should be upgraded every 3-5 years), the return on your hardware investment has already been achieved and it makes more sense to think seriously about a full corporate cloud solution.
In general, law firms have been slow to warm to the cloud. Security concerns and confidence in traditional systems when combined with the confusion between public, private and hybrid cloud models and corresponding vendors has held the sector back a bit. Currently, however, the legal industry has begun to see the value in the computing model — from particular cloud-based applications and services, to storage, to transferring a firm’s entire infrastructure to a cloud-based managed service. Increased vendor confidence has also helped push law firms toward cloud utilization. In fact, 40 percent of those who responded to the ABA’s Tech Survey agreed that cloud-based tools will eclipse premise-based IT solutions in the next three to five years.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Heinan Landa is CEO of Optimal Networks, a Rockville, Maryland-based technology support, management and consulting company. For more than two decades, Optimal has helped approximately 500 clients navigate the ever-increasing changes in technology. Heinan can be reached at 240-499-7900 or [email protected].