Cloud computing simultaneously intrigues and confuses lawyers. Getting them to agree on definitions of the “cloud” and “cloud computing” can be as difficult as agreeing on what images cloud formations suggest. The ABA 2015 Legal Technology Survey Report focused on the basic concept of “web-based software service or solution,” including Software as a Service (SaaS). When we say “cloud computing,” we mean software or services that can be accessed and used over the Internet via a browser (or mobile app) where the software itself is not installed locally on the computer being used by the lawyer accessing the service. Another common way to describe cloud services is to refer to “hosted software” or “hosted services.”
The cloud approach has become quite popular in the business world, large and small (e.g., Salesforce.com, BaseCamp), and for individuals (e.g., Dropbox, Gmail, Google Apps, and Evernote). You can also easily find legal-specific cloud services (e.g., Clio, Rocket Matter, Bill 4 Time, and many others). The 2015 Survey shows that lawyers are still moving to the cloud cautiously, probably lagging behind the widespread use of the cloud by businesses and individuals outside the legal profession.
Or maybe lawyers are actually using the cloud in ways that reflect general cloud usage, but simply do not realize that they are doing so. Many survey results show “Don’t know” answers and contradictory statements about actual usage of the cloud.
The key cloud computing benefits have remained constant over the years. Lawyers and law firms see the cloud as a way to use advanced legal technology tools without the need for a substantial upfront capital investment in hardware, software and support services. Cloud services are generally made available in the form of a “subscription,” with a periodic fee (typically monthly) per user. A popular example of a cloud service is Dropbox, a cloud service for file storage and sharing. Many traditional software providers are beginning to move to cloud models and offer hosted versions of their products, joining a large number of companies that have focused solely on the cloud.
Cloud computing has become a standard approach in legal technology; even if the 2015 Survey did not demonstrate much growth in the past year, cloud usage stayed stable despite lawyers’ reservations.
- Cloud usage has plateaued; 31% of respondents reported that they have used cloud services —in line with the 30% in 2013 and 2014—with solos and small firms leading the way.
- Despite some wariness, lawyers continued to use popular consumer cloud services like Dropbox, Google Apps, iCloud, and Evernote.
- Law firm managing partners had the highest level of reported cloud usage (46%) and a noticeably more positive response to the cloud than partners or associates.
- Confidentiality, security, data control and ownership, ethics, vendor reputation and longevity, and other concerns weigh heavily on the minds of lawyers. Yet the employment of precautionary measures is quite low, with no more than 40% of respondents actually taking any one of the standard cautionary measures listed in the 2015 Survey. A shocking 16% reported taking no precautions of the types listed.
- The results indicate that lawyers are becoming more familiar with cloud technologies and are attracted by anytime, anywhere access, low cost of entry, and predictable monthly expenses. Interestingly, the top features of cloud services cited by those using the cloud is different from the features those not using the cloud consider most important.
- Confidentiality and security have moved to the top of the worry list and lawyers rate the reputation of the vendor as the most important factor in their decision-making process.
- Lawyers who use cloud services show a growing willingness to continue using cloud services (78%, up from 70%), and those who do not indicate a “maybe someday” attitude toward cloud services.
- Although newer lawyers (both those with less than 10 years of experience and those with 10-19 years of experience) are leading the movement to cloud services, more experienced lawyers are closing the gap.
- By practice area, family law (37%), corporate (34%), general practice (civil) (34%), and contracts law (33%) are the top practice areas for cloud use. Given the significance of electronic discovery and the availability of cloud-based electronic discovery services, it is somewhat surprising that there is only a 27% usage in litigation practices. Other areas with relatively low adoption rates are personal injury (26%), real estate (26%), wills and estates (27%), and employment/labor (28%).
- By age groups, it is surprising to see that the 40-49 age group (41%) uses the cloud even more than the under 40 age group (37%).
1. Usage for Law-related Tasks
The percentage of the 2015 Survey participants answering “Yes” to the basic question of whether they had used web-based software services or solutions held steady at 31% as compared to 30% in both 2013 and 2014. 58% said “No” and 11% answered that they “Don’t know.” The changes in the latter two categories from 2014 were minimal. Solos (37%) and small firms of 2-9 lawyers (40%) continued to lead the way in usage. Large firm “Yes” responses ranged from 10-22%, showing a decrease from the previous year. However, these overall results can be confusing when compared to answers to specific questions about consumer cloud services. Many mobile apps are also essentially front-ends for cloud services. Many lawyers who do not think that they are using the cloud may in fact be using it every day, especially through smartphone apps.
2. Consumer Cloud Services Remain Popular
The 2015 Survey asked respondents what cloud providers they had used and Dropbox, the well-known online file storage service, once again topped the list at 51%, down somewhat from 58% in the previous year. Other consumer cloud services also remained popular (Google Apps:39%, iCloud:21.4%, Evernote:16%), despite a lot of discussion about encryption and other security concerns in the press.
Legal-specific cloud services have not reached the same levels of popularity as the consumer services. Clio continues to be the most popular legal-specific cloud service named by respondents (19.5%,up 3% over last year), followed by My Case (7.7%), RocketMatter (5.9%), Bill4Time (4.5%), and NetDocuments (3.2%). Interestingly, these results might reflect the difficulties lawyers and others have with determining what exactly is a “cloud” service. For example, NetDocuments is a popular cloud-based document management program used in larger firms, which makes the reported results surprising. Note that services that many would consider “cloud” —WestLaw, LexisNexis, FastCase, to name a few—do not show up in the results, except presumably as small components of the “Other” category (13%).
The high level of use of Dropbox in larger firms also indicates that lawyers in what are traditionally considered “locked down” IT environments are looking for other tools to accomplish tasks they have difficulty doing with traditional law firm tools—another area that deserves further exploration, especially by those firms.
3. Managing Partners Are Getting the Cloud
This years results showed both a higher usage and a significantly more positive attitude about the cloud among managing partners than among partners, associates, or of counsel. Not surprisingly, managing partners appreciated the economic benefits and costs savings of cloud-based approaches, but they also consistently showed more interest and fewer reservations than other lawyers. Since these are the decision-makers, it is safe to predict that law firms will be showing even more receptivity to the cloud in the near future than we have seen already.
4. Taking More Precautions, But Still More Talk than Action
Although lawyers have a lot of concerns and wariness about cloud services, especially security and confidentiality issues, their reported behavior about precautionary measures simply does not reflect what they express their level of concern to be. In fact, the results are shocking.
Of 11 precautionary measures listed in the 2015 Survey, not a single one was used by more than 38% of respondents, a slight decrease from 39% in 2014. The most popular precautions were local data backups (38% total), reviewing privacy policies (37%), using only services with SSL/encryption (36%), and reviewing terms of service (33%).
The numbers only get worse from there.
A mere 32% of respondents reviewed ethics rules and opinions, 31% evaluated vendor company history, and only 30% sought advice from their peers.
At the very bottom are things that lawyers should do well. A mere 4% negotiated confidentiality agreements in connection with cloud services and, in last place, only 3.4% negotiated service legal agreements (SLAs). Is the legal profession becoming its own worst enemy?
5. Benefits of Cloud Computing
There was not a lot of change in the perceived benefits of cloud computing shown in the 2015 Survey. Anywhere, anytime access is the biggest perceived benefit of cloud computing for lawyers. Low cost of entry and predictable monthly expenses are also highly rated benefits. Other economic benefits, such as eliminating IT and software management requirements in addition to quick start-up times are also seen as important benefits by almost half of the respondents.
6. Biggest Concerns
While more lawyers reported using the cloud in 2014, they continue to express reservations and concerns about the cloud. When current cloud users were asked to identify their biggest concerns, they cited “Confidentiality/security concerns” (69% as compared to 71% in 2014 and 70% in 2013) and concerns about losing control of the data (57% versus 68% in 2014). Concerns about losing control of and access to their own data (45%) and vendor longevity (28%) were other significant concerns, as was the perceived lack of ethical guidance (23%, down from 33% in 2014). Only 9% listed client concerns about lawyers using the cloud.
It’s quite interesting to compare the listed concerns of lawyers with their actual adoption of precautionary measures as discussed in Section 4 above.
There were similar concerns among those lawyers who have yet to try the cloud. When asked a question about the concerns that had prevented them from adopting the cloud, 59% cited confidentiality/security concerns (essentially the same as in 2014), 47% cited the loss of control (essentially the same as in 2014), and 25% cited a perceived lack of ethics guidance. “Unfamiliarity with the technology” remained fairly steady at 47%.
7. Name and Reputation of Cloud Vendor
Ninety-two percent of respondents using cloud services considered the name and reputation of the cloud vendor as either “Very important” (70%) or “Somewhat important”(22%) to their decision. However, only 31% of respondents (up from 24% in 2014) reported that they evaluated the vendor’s history and only 30% (up from 26% in 2014) sought out peer advice/experiences in connection with the vendor. This disconnect is quite striking and shows areas lawyers can improve their due diligence efforts.
8. Desired Features
The 2015 Survey measured what core functionality lawyers would require before subscribing to a practice and financial management cloud service. Time and billing led the list at 56%, followed closely by case and matter management (54%) and scheduling and calendaring (48%). Document management was listed by 46% of respondents, which is interesting given the high percentage of use of Dropbox, which arguably falls in the document management category.
The 2015 Survey gathered results from both users of cloud services and non-users and, although there are not a lot of huge differences to the responses about wanted features and the like, it is interesting to see the divergence between the features current users like and those that the non-users want. For example, only 35% of non-users mentioned time and billing, the first choice of actual users.
9. Continued Use
The 2015 Survey results indicate lawyers are definitely willing to continue using cloud services. The percentage of “Yes” answers to this question held steady at 77%. The “No” answers held relatively steady at 6%, leaving 17% in the “Maybe” category. The primary reasons for “No” answers included security and confidentiality concerns, concern about loss of control of data, previous bad experience, adequacy of current software, cost, and lack of perceived need.
10. Future Use
To the question whether respondents currently not using the cloud will use a cloud service in the next year, there were mixed opinions. 46% said “No,” up slightly from 2014, 36% said “Maybe” and the rest said “Yes, sometime.” These results reflect the wariness lawyers have about using cloud services in their practices, even as use in personal matter continues to grow, especially in connection with smartphone apps.
The 2015 Survey -indicates that, for a significant number of lawyers and firms, cloud services are part of the IT equation, but we are seeing a pause or a plateau. The continuing lack of actual attention to confidentiality, security, and due diligence issues is a significant concern, especially with the growth in mobile apps running on cloud services. There is much that law firm IT departments and technology committees, legal technology vendors and consultants, and all legal professionals interested in the adoption of technology by lawyers can learn from these results. They give us much to think about and some indications where firms might want to move their technology strategies in the coming year and beyond.