Cloud computing and the future of law as a profession, as well as the way we practice has been hotly debated by everyone as of late, from American Lawyer Magazine and Lexpert, to Precedent but, the one aligning factor has been that technology will have implications on the way everyone does business.
Cloud computing is just one of those technologies, and it has increasingly been gaining traction in the media, and amongst members of the legal profession as a viable option, but an option for what? Getting a clear cut response to what the Cloud is, could easily be likened to searching for Big Foot. The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC), during a recent podcast on technology tips defined, “…the cloud is something that’s hosted outside your network on someone else’s computers.” They go onto mention services like photo sharing site Flickr, and Hotmail, to demonstrate that fact, that whether you were aware of it or not, you are already interacting with the Cloud.
According to a recent survey by the American Bar Association, the number of lawyers using cloud-based software jumped 10% in 2013, making it all the more important to discuss the Cloud, and its benefits and potential pitfalls, as it use becomes increasingly common place. The benefit of the cloud is that it makes your practice, “…agile, flexible, efficient, cost effective, and competitive,” says Mitch Kowalski, lawyer and author of Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st century.
From a cost perspective, you no longer need to be concerned with subscription fees for software updates, or expensive IT support. You simply pay a monthly fee for the use of the cloud and software, and your service provider takes care of the rest. For example, Clio a cloud-based software geared towards the legal profession, allows the uploading of documents, real time collaboration, and billable hours tracking; costs $49 per month per lawyer, and $25 per month per support staff. Alan Gahtan, a sole practitioner points to another cost saving measure, “…Cloud computing gives law firms the ability to move quickly expand and contract as their business requires it, rather than having to worry about maintaining a fixed number of physical servers.” Besides the monthly fixed expense, this ability to quickly adapt ensures that you can better manage cash flow, while being responsive to firm and client demands.
Before moving to cloud-based software, there are many things to consider; such as compatibility, functionality, and technical constraints. The Law Society of British Columbia has put out their own checklist of questions and factors you need to weigh prior to making a move, however, other law societies are still leaving it up to personal discretion.
Regardless of your area of law, there are currently some practical limitations on cloud-based software that you will have to tackle. These include having the necessary internet bandwidth, compatibility requirements with other server or cloud-based programs, legal restrictions, and a provider’s contingency plan for outages. Kowalski says it is important to, “Take all the time necessary to work out your cloud strategy and decide what you’re sending, why you are sending it there, and what you hope to achieve. Proper planning is required to ensure that the move achieves your goals.”
The biggest roadblock to more wide spread adoption of the Cloud is not just a lack of understanding, but fears regarding security and data breaches. Kowalski believes these fears are unfounded, “… the Cloud actually makes a law firm’s data more secure…if you select a reputable cloud service provider, you’ll be selecting a company whose core business is data security.” Most articles though are still saying that some practices may want to avoid using the Cloud, for storing sensitive documents, as in the case of criminal proceedings, because the government or a government agency may be able to gain access. David Whelan, Manager of Legal Information, Responsible for the Great Library at Osgoode Hall, points to encrypting documents, prior to uploading them, making security issues less probably, and Kowalski agrees stating, “…if those files were properly encrypted, any seizure of them would be a fruitless exercise by authorities.”
In the end, LSUC maintains that lawyers use their own judgement and adhere to the “Rules of Professional Conduct.” Using the cloud comes down to a personal preference and what your firm’s needs are. The debate continues and will only grow as more service providers focused on the legal market, emerge. Remain engaged and do your due diligence, there are a lot of factors to take under consideration when considering the Cloud, but the most important opinion and knowledge base will be your own.