LexisNexis. (Photo: Raysonho via Wikimedia Commons)

Buying new software comes with the risk of developing a relationship with a vendor who might not always necessarily be there. While attorneys may be perfectly content to use the same software forever, vendors routinely update, retool, or even shutter their platforms.

While firms and legal organizations are long accustomed to dealing with changes in vendor products for their on-premise technology, the great migration into the cloud space means clients may have new difficulties recouping data if they need to make a system change.

LexisNexis announced that it planned to discontinue sales and development of its cloud-based Firm Manager software in January of this year, but legal blogger Robert Ambrogi reports that the company this week followed up with a second announcement that it would close the platform down altogether on October 31. LexisNexis spokespeople did not return multiple requests for comment.

The company has offered subscribers affected by the closure a one-year subscription to either one of its other practice management platforms, Time Matters and PCLaw, but has otherwise encouraged users to export their data from the system before it shutters altogether in October.

The Firm Manager closure and its cloud architecture raises some questions around how law firms may need to rethink their data exit strategies in an increasingly cloud age.

Mark Denner, senior director of the Information Lifecycle Management Practice at HBR Consulting, found Lexis’ decision to turn off Firm Manager altogether to be somewhat surprising. A more common strategy he sees in this space is to sunset a product by suspending development and further sales of the product, but continue support.

When vendors discontinue their on-premise software, law firms have a few options. With an on-premise software, firms can control how they can extract data if and when they choose to migrate to a new system, as data tends to be stored in back-end databases on firm-owned servers.

In this case, law firms can continue to use the software for as long as they’d like. Denner said this strategy is very common, especially given attorneys’ traditional reticence towards technology and change, but it also tends to create some problems down the line.

“If a vendor discontinues a product, but you’re running it on-premise, law firms can make the decision to keep on running it even though it’s not supported anymore. That works fine for a while, but what really becomes a problem is that you can’t upgrade operating systems or databases,” Denner explained.

Without development updates, firms need to retain older operating systems to run these discontinued software platforms. This strategy recently created some enormous problems in the healthcare sector, where a large-scale ransomware attack dubbed “WannaCry” exploited a vulnerability in older Microsoft operating systems to hold computer data hostage in hospitals and other enterprises in over 150 countries.

While U.S. law firms were largely not affected by the WannaCry attack, Denner explained that hosting older software is part of the reason they may be vulnerable to similar attacks. “One of the reasons why firms still have [Windows] XP or other operating systems around is they’re trying to support a legacy application,” he said.

Cloud-based platforms, unlike on-premise ones, host user data off-site and in the cloud, making it impossible for users to use the software after discontinuation. Additionally, because cloud architecture is a little different than the traditional SQL or Oracle databases that house data on computers, user data hosted in the cloud might be abstracted or virtualized in a way that makes migrating data into a new system a whole different ball game.

The Firm Manager closure could potentially be a wake up call for firms who don’t currently have a contingency plan in place if their cloud-based vendor goes dark.

Denner said that vetting cloud systems for an exit plan needs to include some consideration of the difference in architecture. “There’s no guarantee that you can get your data out and plug it into a new platform without data loss and significant outages,” he noted. Especially when firms have housed mass amounts of client data, even just the process of exporting data could potentially take “days or weeks,” he added.

Using cloud-specific considerations to create a data exit strategy ahead of time and revisit it during contract renegotiations, Denner believes that law firms can prevent any data loss during any changes in their vendor offerings.

“The takeaway is for you to incorporate some level of risk into your analysis, understanding that a cloud-based future has a different set of considerations around vendors potentially ending support for their applications,” he said.

Contact the author at ghernandez@alm.com.