Lawyers and the Cloud: Three Myths Debunked

We have reached a point in today’s “post PC” environment where most lawyers accept that (a) cloud services and mobile apps exist, (b) they offer an enticing way to store and share data for a law practice, and (c) they are here to stay. 

That said, there are still skeptics that believe that the public cloud is not ready for legal services. In this guest post, Chad Burton, Founder of Burton Law, and Nitin Gupta, Legal Industry Lead at Box, offer their take on three of the most common cloud myths regarding cost, security and data retrieval.

Myth #1: “The cloud is more expensive than old-school technology.”

With most cloud-based applications, the user pays a monthly or yearly license fee. This scales by number of users. In other words, the more users you have, the more license seats you buy. This is great for starting a new firm or looking at growth for an existing firm. Most applications have robust customer service and “help” sections that guide teams to better deploy the system without having to hire IT support. Additionally, updates typically occur without any needed changes to computing hardware. Since everything runs off of the Internet, the type of device you use to gain access to content, edit documents or other data is of lesser consequence.

Let’s contrast this to traditional methods of IT investment, where the law firm buys a server (typically several thousand dollars) and pays thousands for a software package. Here, the firm has more upfront costs and typically will need an IT person (whether on-site or outsourced) to help train and maintain the software and server. Updates are not rolled out as frequently and often cost additional money. If those updates exceed the law firm’s current hardware capacities, computers and servers need to be upgraded as well.

So, how does this play out from a cost perspective? The cloud tends to be strung out in payments over time, versus more upfront costs for traditional methods. While there are many variables depending upon the platforms used and hardware purchased, there’s a good argument that these different approaches on technology will even out over time. Here is an informative white paper from cloud-based practice management vendor, Clio, addressing the topic of the cost effectiveness of cloud services for law firms.

Myth #2: “The cloud is less secure than storing documents in paper form.”

First, let’s put on the table that not all cloud-based applications are created equally. Security will fall in different priority levels for different providers. Companies that provide cloud and mobile solutions for lawyers and law firms must understand that security is incredibly important. If they don’t, the chances are they will not last long in the industry.

This is where lawyers can use their existing skills to learn about providers. Typically, cloud-based applications have gone through the analysis and put in place measures to secure data. This will be explained in privacy policies and terms of service, as well as individual contracts between the provider and user. If it is not clear how data is protected, ask.

With the amendment to the comments to ABA Model Rule 1.1 regarding competency, it now falls on the lawyers to understand the “risks and benefits of technology” as applied to delivering legal services. If you cannot figure out the security issue on your own, get help from other lawyers, technology consultants or your bar association.

With the right platform, there is a strong argument that your data is more secure on the cloud, as opposed to paper form. Many lawyers still have law offices where files are not electronically stored (in any fashion, even on a local server). What happens with a natural disaster, such as a fire or tornado, and the law office suffers damage or is destroyed? If the data is secured on the cloud on a remote server, then you often can get up and running quicker at a different location. If the office was in paper-only form, there’s not much you can do to recover that data.

Myth #3: “If I put my data in the cloud, I may never get it back.”

Again, you have to look to the validity of the company providing the service. Do they have reasonable periods of time to retrieve data if you terminate your relationship? How strong is the company, in general? What is the reputation of the management? Are they properly funded? These questions go to the credibility of the customer relationship. Enterprise-based platforms recognize the need for portability and retrieval of data. Look at the terms of service for answers here.

Regardless, the user can take precautions to automatically download copies of data that is being stored on the cloud with little effort. For example, with cloud collaboration service, Box, even if you do not use the Box Sync functionality for day-to-day use, law firms can sync documents in the background to an external drive or dedicated computer to save a local copy of documents. This way, if you are more comfortable having that local copy, you can have it. Syncing happens automatically and does not take additional people power to always store data.

Hopefully, if the cloud is still a new concept and you are trying to get your head around it, these issues can help guide your thinking on ways to improve the functionality and collaboration in your law practice, and help you deliver better legal services. You can also learn more on how to use the cloud effectively and securely at law firms in our recent guest post on “Three Ways to Deliver Better Legal Services” and in our recent webinar on “Secure Collaboration in the Cloud” we conducted for ABA Legal Technology Resource Center.


Image credit: “Crossroads road sign. Pointer to the right MYTH, but FACT left,” from Shutterstock.

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