Cloud computing offers many benefits for law firms, legal departments and professional services firms, especially those operating internationally. It provides a secure and centralised means of storing data for access by legal staff wherever they are. Yet, according to the Cloud Industry Forum’s 2015 survey, cloud adoption is often hindered by concerns about security, privacy and lack of control.
However, reputable cloud providers are responsible for keeping the data safe and maintaining the cloud platform to the latest standards of security and compliance, therefore removing a major IT headache and, in many cases, exceeding the security rigour perhaps conducted if the data was managed and stored in-house. Many legal cloud-based solutions are also charged on a subscription basis, removing the need for capital investment – and the danger of obsolescence.
Driven by the need for greater client collaboration and access to data on the move, law firms have started to tap into the benefits of the cloud, perhaps subscribing to a cloud service for one or two functions. However, the extent to which they may put data in the cloud depends very much on whose data it is. If a client specifies that data relating to them should not be kept in the cloud, the law firm will have no choice but to use an on-premise data storage and processing solution for that client. This does not mean that the firm cannot use cloud computing at all – it may work well to use a mixture of the two.
In a pure cloud model, all the firm’s data and applications are cloud-based. The cloud supplier is likely to be providing software as a service to organisations from a variety of sectors and storing all their data across its servers. Data is encrypted and there are robust firewalls between different companies’ data, but this may not suit the requirements of all law firm clients.
A hybrid model that falls somewhere between on-premise and pure cloud provides an alternative and best of both worlds. The cloud vendor hosts some or all of the law firm’s applications and data, but the firm’s data is not co-located with anybody’s else’s. Dedicated servers store the law firm data and applications and the provider looks after security, maintenance and updates. This is similar to the law firm providing its own private cloud, with applications and data stored centrally on internal servers. These will be accessible by all staff, even those working remotely and on mobile devices; but in this case the firm will look after its own security, maintenance and updates.
Here are some top tips to assess how cloud computing could work for you:
1. Check your client contracts. It may be that when contracts with existing clients were originally signed, the client specified where their data should be held and that did not seem to be an issue at the time. It may be necessary to wait for these contracts to come up for review to make changes. Contracts for new clients may be redrawn to reflect the realities of cloud-based working.
2. Assess your organisation’s cloud readiness. Is it already using cloud computing for any business functions? Many organisations find that they are already using cloud computing by the back door as individual employees subscribe to the likes of Dropbox and Google Drive. In a legal environment this is less likely to be the case, but it is worth allowing for this possibility during your analysis. It may be that a hybrid cloud environment will work best for you – a mixture of on-premise and cloud-based computing.
3. Evaluate current processes and data storage requirements. Do you need to provide more mobile and flexible access to data and corporate systems? If your current setup is entirely on premise, it may feel much more within your control; but ask yourself how secure and resilient it is. What do you have in place in case of fire or flood, or if a rogue employee attempts to access the data? With an in-house data centre, it may be possible for employees to simply walk in and steal the data using a removable device.
4. Plan to demonstrate a quick win. If all the numbers add up and it looks like cloud computing would be a cost-effective way to provide the mobility and flexibility needed to underpin improved service levels, there is a very strong business case. Consider supplementing this with a real-world proof point, putting a single application such as file sharing into the cloud and letting people see for themselves the benefits of convenience and flexibility that this brings.
5. Addressing security. Law firms and legal departments risk massive losses and reputational damage if they fail to secure sensitive data. For many, concerns about security have been a barrier to cloud computing. In fact, specialist cloud vendors serving the legal sector are highly focused on security and resilience – their business depends on it. That said, legal professionals have a deep insight into the complex regulatory environment around storing and processing sensitive data, and should look to carry out high level due diligence when selecting a cloud supplier. Regulatory bodies from the Law Society to the Information Commissioner’s Office have issued guidance on the use of cloud computing, which you can tap into.
There is no doubt cloud computing offers real benefits. Improved mobile and flexible access to data means that legal staff can be more productive and provide higher service levels to clients. Response times will be quicker and firms can look to start sharing information from the cloud with their clients. Timing is key – if the firm has just finished a bi-annual IT refresh or taken on a major new client who has mandated no cloud computing, then clearly the timing is not right just now. However, as innovators offer a superior service based on cloud computing, law firms that do not want to be left behind will need to consider their own ambitions.
About the author Lloyd Ellison (pictured above) is director of sales at Tikit. He joined Tikit in February 2013. Mr Ellison has held various management and leadership positions in IT sales and marketing since 2006. He has a good knowledge of software, IT services, network and communication technologies. His experience stretches across many client sectors. Mr Ellison has enjoyed working closely with many professional services firms, UK FTSE 100 and Global 500 clients during the past decade.