Over the past few months, my mind has been in the clouds ...literally. The Association of Legal Administrators asked me to author a "working in the cloud" feature for the May issue of Legal Management (LM), ALA's member-only publication. The idea; talk to law firms, CIOs, technologists, vendors and analysts and gauge the state of legal cloud computing. What are firms doing? which cloud technologies are hot? what's the overall attitude toward cloud alternatives? and what's next on the path to 'cloudy skies'? You can read the full article, "Getting Comfortable in the Cloud" here.
Obviously, this is a topic with many angles and 'it depends' and 'what if' scenarios, especially in the legal market. The LM article and accompanying sidebar only scratch the surface in documenting the relevance of cloud technologies in everyday law firm life.
Since I've had way too many great conversations to fit into one feature, I figured it would be practical to include additional expert quotes and commentary here. Consider it the companion guide to our Legal Management content.
State of the (cloud) union
So David Houlihan, Principal Analyst with Blue Hill Research, was one of my bar mates in New York recently when we joked about the cloud (still) being the hottest trend in annual legal technology surveys and benchmarking studies. Hot might describe the rate at which firms are increasingly open-minded when it comes to cloud applications and starting to deliver business value to their users via various ‘as-a-service’ models. Or, hot might describe the earnest belief that this ‘cloud thing’ is new. As David stated “the irony is that thanks to LexisNexis and Westlaw, legal has actually been doing cloud solutions for longer than we've had ‘the cloud,’ we just don't think of it that way.” The same goes for email … Microsoft launched Hotmail (now Outlook.com) in 1996 and 8 years later Google introduced Gmail. Right around the Great Recession in 2008, folks started giving this web-based/application service provider model a new label … cloud computing.
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, the author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers, and Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase.com: "After solo and small firms, I think that large firms will be the next to incorporate on a large scale cloud computing into their systems that store confidential client information. Right now most large firms are already using cloud computing for less sensitive data but will eventually use the cloud, most likely via private clouds, for other types of data as well. And midsize firms will be the last to move to the cloud in full force. The biggest barriers for many firms are security concerns. However, when lawyers educate themselves about the security of their data as it now exists in their firms when stored on premises versus the security offered by many cloud computing providers, they often realize that many legal cloud computing solutions offer more secure storage for sensitive data than what they're currently using."
Adds Houlihan: "Cloud/SaaS models create deployment and pricing models that put software capabilities within reach of the limited financial and IT resources of small firms. eDiscovery is increasingly a cloud market as well, especially as the market matures and basic capabilities are commoditizing."
Speaking of cloud-based eDiscovery ... Brett Burney, owner of Burney Consultants, 2015 ABA TECHSHOW Chair, prolific speaker and author on all things legal tech (especially eDiscovery/lit support): "Most of these SaaS-focused eDiscovery and litigation support players have been in the market for the last 7-10 years but just like any cloud-based service, they continue to be questioned about their overall security capabilities. Lawyers continue to find it incredibly difficult to overcome their irrational fear of using cloud-based services, even though every lawyer uses unencrypted e-mail every day to send the most sensitive and confidential information to clients."
"The biggest advantage of SaaS e-discovery tools is that they’re so easy to use. If you can upload a picture to Facebook, you can upload a .PST file to these services. Files are processed on the backend and presented to reviewers so they can filter, search, tag, and produce the files themselves. And these tools come with all the advantages of any other cloud-based platform in that updates and security patches get applied automatically without the firm having to worry about it," concludes Burney.
The cloud at work
Microsoft Office 365 and Azure have given Houston-based Bracewell & Giuliani an easy, cost effective platform to build out a firm alumni and emergency site as well as a client extranet solution. Azure provides the ability to securely tie back into the firm’s network, saving internal users from providing multiple logins and passwords.
Sean Luman, Senior Director of Knowledge Management at Bracewell & Giuliani: “After discussing benefits, costs, and limitations of each, we opted for the Azure solution. Maintenance of these machines is much easier than on-premise or private data center boxes and speed is solely dependent upon internet connection performance. While the above issues could be problematic with on premise solutions, the Azure cloud deployment has made so many of the arduous and mundane tasks we loathed obsolete.”
Skip Lohmeyer, Jackson Kelly’s CIO: “The core competency of a law firm is not to purchase and maintain a bunch of software and hardware. But, purchasing and maintaining makes perfect sense if there is a competitive or operational advantage. However, if a service company has commoditized the same, functional service in the “cloud” (or SaaS, IaaS, etc.) and the cost is about equal, it stands to reason the firm should be looking at those as serious alternatives. Security, compliance, continuity, functionality, and performance all top the list when considering cloud services vs. in-house/firm owned and operated solutions. [See Lohmeyer’s "Should Your Firm Head to the Cloud" Legal Management sidebar for more]
Rick Varju, Foley & Lardner's Director of Engineering & Operations: “Firm leadership understands the value that hosted applications and services can offer, provided we maintain full ownership and control of our data and the hosted service provider meets and maintains industry standard data security requirements. We've been moving closer and closer to a ‘cloud first’ approach to new application and services planning and provisioning over the past couple years. Today, more and more of our new technology discussions start off with a focus on whether or not the cloud-based offering of the application can be pursued as an alternative to hosting it all internally.” [Look for more from Rick and what Foley's is doing in the Cloud in the upcoming October issue of Legal Management]
Jared Correia, Assistant Director and Senior Law Practice Advisor for the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program, advises the state’s practitioners on law practice technology decisions and purchases including the cloud. "The gateway drug for most solos and small firms with respect to the cloud is case management. Those are the systems that people will buy first, then, they start adding. That's once they've figured out the benefits of an law practice management system."
“Most of the innovation in our community comes from lawyers situated in the entrepreneurial sectors of the big city (Boston). These are usually solo lawyers or very small firms, whose managing partners have a significant interest in technology for gaining efficiency … hence the interest in the cloud. Generally, solos and small firms discover cloud technology when an existing system fails: the server goes, or the case management system that hasn't been updated since 1998 gets too wonky; then the potential cost-savings, at least initially, become very appealing to them.”
Seizing up cloud training
Stacy Gittleman, CEO and Founder of Encoretech, a nationally recognized technology training, learning and development organization, looks at cloud computing from a firm user’s and overall training impact perspective. “Until recently, users have had a lifetime of experience navigating drop-down menus, tool bars and right-click functionality with relative minor change to the user interface and application workflow for each new version of software; that all changes with a move to the cloud,” notes Gittleman.
Editor comment: If we state the case for cloud computing, can't we make the same assertion for non-traditional, cloud-based training? Lawyers are increasingly mobile as are their clients so the services offered to support technology use and overall productivity have to match this ‘lifestyle’. However, Gittleman and other professional trainers will make the case that instructor-led hands-on classroom training is still warranted. Especially for new cloud rollouts, initial live support is crucial since most of the “learning” happens when users are back at their desks.
Cloud futures: we have SaaS and many 'as-a-service' models ... what's next?
Doug Horton, CEO of Handshake Software: “The next big thing for computing in law firms will be a "service-as-a-service" model … rather than mid to large sized firms hiring full time application/technology-skilled staff, they will be able to "rent" them as needed for discrete projects, just as they can "rent" data space and computing power. The advantage to the law firm is that they do not have to carry excess capacity and are able to "staff" up accordingly based on specific projects.”
Horton contends that the only full time employees in law firms might well be the lawyers, paralegals, KM or other staff who are directly involved in providing the legal services to the clients - the actual work product of the firm. Various law firms are already outsourcing different back-office and operations functions so the service-as-a-service model may not be so farfetched.
Matt Duncan, CEO of NetDocuments: “The future of the cloud will rely on an increasing focus on system integration and customization to firms’ unique technology landscape. Apps and integration marketplaces and platforms, open APIs, and the technology and channel partners to support them, will be at the forefront of legal technology innovation.”
Duncan concludes: The biggest challenge firms are facing today revolves around the client demands for security and compliance. The Am Law and Global 100 firms are faced with an onslaught of audits coming from their big-name clients. This presents an incredible opportunity for specialized vendors to address these information governance and data privacy concerns, without putting the burden on the firm itself. Meeting these client demands is simply not possible or feasible with on-premises or hosted solutions as it becomes prohibitively expensive and cumbersome for a firm to tackle global data privacy, security, and data encryption demands."
This concludes our impromptu legal thought leader cloud 'sound-off'. Also, I hope you take a moment to check out the Legal Management cloud feature or peruse the entire May issue -- free for members, available on a subscription basis for non-members. Enjoy.