Cloud Computing

ABA TECHREPORT 2016

Dennis Kennedy is a well-known legal technology authority and Senior Counsel, Digital Payments & Labs, at Mastercard. He has co-authored several books on social media and collaboration tools, writes a tech column for the ABA journal, and is co-host of The Kennedy-Mighell Report podcast on the Legal Talk Network. He currently chairs the board of the ABA's Legal Technology Resource Center.

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The terms “cloud” and “cloud computing” have become much more familiar to lawyers in the last few years, but there can still be a fuzziness to what people mean when talking about cloud computing. The 2016 Legal Technology Survey Report has focused on the basic concept of “web-based software service or solution,” including Software as a Service (SaaS). In practical terms, you can understand cloud computing as software or services that can be accessed and used over the internet using a browser (or, more commonly now, a 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 both the business world, large and small (e.g., Salesforce.com, BaseCamp, and, in the last year, Slack), 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, NetDocuments, Bill4Time, MyCase, and many others). The 2016 Survey results show lawyers still moving cautiously to the cloud, although with a significant jump in usage from 2015. It is fair to say that the legal profession lags behind the rest of the business world in the use of cloud services.

It might also be that many more lawyers are actually using the cloud than they realize—a trend we’ve seen in prior years. Answers often show confusing and contradictory statements about the actual use of cloud computing, as well as “don’t know” answers.

The key cloud computing benefits have remained constant over the years. Lawyers and law firms see the cloud as a fast and scalable 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 is Dropbox, a cloud service for file storage and sharing that many lawyers report they are already using. 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 is slowly becoming a standard approach in legal technology that is being considered by most lawyers. Even with the reservations lawyers have, it is important to note that cloud usage increased significantly in 2016.

Survey Highlights

Cloud usage grew more than 20% from 2015 to 2016, from 31% to just over 37%. Usage had held steady at roughly 30% from 2013 through 2015. Solos and small firms continue to lead the way.

Despite some wariness, lawyers continued to use popular consumer cloud services like Dropbox, Google Apps, iCloud, and Evernote.

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 38% of respondents actually taking any one of the standard cautionary measures listed in the 2016 Survey. 12% reported taking no precautions of the types listed in the survey questions.

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 are 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.

The results also suggest that client-focus is not top of mind for lawyers using and considering the use of cloud computing. Considering client needs, expectations, and desires could become a key target area for innovative lawyers and firms.

Lawyers who say that they will not consider using cloud services dropped to 4%. Lawyers already using cloud services show a growing willingness to continue using cloud services (74%, down marginally from 78% in 2015). Lawyers who do not already use cloud services indicate a growing willingness to consider cloud computing or already have it in their plans.

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. In perhaps a bit of a surprise, the largest percentage of users were in the 40-49 age group.

By practice area, the percentage of cloud usage runs from the mid-30s to the low-40s, with real estate lawyers being the lowest percentage of users at 33%.

Reflecting the significance of the economic rationales for cloud computing, managing partners lead the way in cloud usage at roughly 48%.

1. Usage for Law-related Tasks

The percentage of the 2016 Survey participants answering “yes” to the basic question of whether they had used web-based software services or solutions grew by roughly 20%, from 31% to 37.5%. 52.5% (down from 58% in 2015) said “no.” “Don’t know” responses dropped slightly to 10%. Solos (42%, up from 37% in 2015) and small firms of 2-9 lawyers (46%, up from 40% in 2015) continued to lead the way in usage. Large firm “yes” responses ranged from 12-33%, showing increases from 2015, most noticeably in medium-sized firm categories. 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 mobile apps.

2. Consumer Cloud Services Remain Popular

The 2016 Survey asked respondents what cloud providers they used and Dropbox once again topped the list at 58%, up from 51% in 2015. Other consumer cloud services also remained popular, with significant increases—Google Apps at 49%, up from 39%; iCloud at 28%, up from 21%; Evernote at 25%, up from 16%—despite a lot of discussion about encryption and other security concerns in the press and among lawyers.


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 (16%, down from 19% in 2015), followed by My Case (7%, down very slightly from 2015), RocketMatter (4%, down from 6%), NetDocuments (3.5%, up slightly from 2015, and Bill4Time (2%, down from 4%). These results might reflect both the difficulties lawyers and others have with determining what exactly is a “cloud” service and the increased number of legal cloud service providers, especially in the case management category. Note that services that many would consider “cloud”—WestLaw, LexisNexis, and FastCase to name a few—do not show up in the results except presumably as small components of the “other” category (16.5%, up from 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.

In the last year, the collaboration tool Slack has become very popular in small businesses and technology companies. There is no indication of its uptake in the legal world, although we might expect to see that in the 2017 Survey results.

3. Security—Still More Talk than Action

Although lawyers have a lot of concerns and wariness about cloud services, especially security, confidentiality, and control 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 and reflect little, if any, positive movement in the past year.

Of 13 precautionary measures listed in the 2016 Survey, the measure most commonly used was only used by 38% of the respondents; essentially the same as in 2015. The most popular precautions were: reviewing privacy policies (38%), using only services with SSL/encryption (36%), making local data backups (35%), and using cloud services only for non-confidential purposes (30%). Even the basic approach of actually reviewing terms of service dropped to 30% (down from 33% in 2015). A case of the cobbler’s children’s shoes?

The numbers only get worse from there.

Only 29% of respondents reviewed ethics rules and opinions, 25% evaluated vendor company history, and only 26% sought advice from their peers. All of these numbers decreased from 2015.

At the very bottom are things that lawyers should do well. A mere 7% negotiated confidentiality agreements in connection with cloud services and, in next to last place, only 2% negotiated service legal agreements (SLAs). Using data escrow was in last place. Does anyone else hear a wake-up call?

4. Where is the Client-focus?

Largely missing in action in the results were clients and client concerns. Here are a few numbers to consider. Extranets are probably the classic example of a secure cloud tool that can help clients and help collaboration on projects with external parties. The results show that 87% of forms allow access to their lawyers and 47% to their staff. Access to clients, who potentially benefit the most from extranets, was only provided by 23%. Collaboration for outsiders was permitted by 26%.

Thirty percent of respondents saw “client intake” as a benefit of cloud services—the only category clearly identifying client needs. Only 9% expressly considered specific client concerns (other than confidentiality and security, of course) as part of their overall concerns about cloud computing.

5. Benefits of Cloud Computing

There was not a lot of change in the perceived benefits of cloud computing shown in the 2016 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 and quick start-up times are also seen as important benefits by almost half of the respondents. Only 32% of lawyers see “better security than I can provide in-office” as a benefit of cloud computing, a striking number—especially to anyone familiar with data center security procedures.

6. Biggest Concerns

While more lawyers reported using the cloud, they continued to express reservations and concerns about the cloud. When current cloud users were asked to identify their biggest concerns, they cited “confidentiality/security concerns” (72%, up from 69% in 2015) and concerns about losing control of data (57%, up from 45%). Concerns about losing access to and ownership (41%, down from 57%) and vendor longevity (27%, down from 28%) were other significant concerns, as was the perceived lack of ethical guidance (24%, up from 23%). Only 9% listed client concerns about lawyers using the cloud.

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, 63% cited confidentiality/security concerns (up from 59% in 2015), 54% cited the loss of control (up from 47%), and 24% cited a perceived lack of ethics guidance. “Unfamiliarity with the technology” remained fairly steady at 50%.

7. Name and Reputation of Cloud Vendor

Ninety-four percent of respondents using cloud services considered the name and reputation of the cloud vendor as either very important (74%, up from 70%) or somewhat important (20%, down from 22%) to their decision. However, only 25% of respondents (down from 31% in 2015) reported that they evaluated the vendor’s history and only 26% (down from 30% in 2015) sought out peer advice/experiences in connection with the vendor. This area is definitely one in which lawyers can improve their due diligence efforts.

8. Desired Features

The 2016 Survey measured what core functionality lawyers already using cloud services considered necessary. Time and billing again led the list at 59%, followed closely by case and matter management (56%), and scheduling and calendaring (55%); all increased slightly from 2015. Document management was listed by 53% of respondents, which is interesting given the high percentage of use of Dropbox, which arguably falls in the document management category.

The 2016 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 42% of non-users mentioned time and billing, the first choice of actual users. Non-users’ top desired functionality was document management at 42%.

9. Continued Use

The 2016 Survey results indicate lawyers are definitely willing to continue using cloud services. The percentage of “yes” answers to this question dropped slightly from 74% to 77%. The “no” answers dropped from 6% to 4%, leaving 22% 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 of whether respondents currently not using the cloud will use a cloud service in the next year, there were mixed opinions. 42% said “no” (down from 46%), 31% said “maybe” (down from 36%), and the rest said “yes, sometime.” These results reflect the wariness lawyers already have about using cloud services in their practices, even as use in personal matter continues to grow, especially in connection with mobile apps.


Conclusions

The 2016 Legal Technology Survey Report indicates that, for a significant number of lawyers and firms, cloud services are already part of the IT equation, and we saw a significant uptick after a few years of plateauing. The continuing lack of actual attention to confidentiality, security, and due diligence issues remains 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. “Remember your client” might be the biggest lesson for 2017.

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