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Deciding If the Cloud Is Right for Your Law Practice

By Angela Moskalenko

Cloud computing has advanced significantly over the years, but there are still some firms that haven’t jumped on board with this technology. Budgets, compliance requirements, concerns about security, and other business considerations can hold law firms back from adopting a cloud platform.

The benefits of the cloud speak for themselves, however. According to Jeff Chandler, contributor to Law Technology Today, 80 percent of cloud adopters saw significant process improvements within six months of their transition to the cloud platform, and 82 percent reaped substantial cost savings. By following the tips below, you can decide if the cloud is right for your legal practice.

Assess Current Systems

Adopting a new solution can be daunting when compared to sticking with a familiar system that you’ve used for years. However, these tried-and-true systems might actually be outdated and can create significant workflow bottlenecks, not to mention skyrocketing maintenance costs and lost productivity. You must ask how you and your staff members are utilizing available tools and whether they’re providing value or hindering performance.

Another factor to consider is cost. Do you know how much you are spending each month to maintain your current system? If it’s an aging on-premises network, chances are you’re spending more to keep it running compared to a new cloud network that offers many more features and will make your life easier, safeguard against outside threats, and allow you to compete with larger firms.

Law firms must assess their current systems to identify what functions would be replaced with cloud solutions. It is important to consider where issues originate. Implementing a cloud-based system specifically designed for law firms is typically the best path because the firm will benefit from improved security, performance, reliability, and costs savings, as well automatic software updates.

Identify Staff Needs

Legal roles have evolved over the years to better serve clients and help provide the best outcome. Much of the software used to facilitate these new responsibilities has remained locked in the past, however, creating significant holes in functionality and performance. Lawyers no longer stay at a desk or laptop—they’re increasingly using mobile devices while at the courthouse, in the field, meeting with partners, or consulting clients. Traditionally, lawyers would be required to carry stacks of files with them pertaining to each case, making it easy for these documents to be forgotten, lost, or stolen somewhere along the way.

Mobile devices were introduced as a means to provide flexibility, but this hardware alone isn’t enough. Your firm also needs the necessary functionality within mobile initiatives, as well as security.

Greater accessibility for business resources is a must for today’s law firm, but mobile devices alone can’t guarantee access to necessary information, particularly if it’s only stored on a desktop. The cloud ensures that lawyers have a resource platform wherever it might be required. Paired with a robust mobile strategy, users can have access everywhere possible, solving challenges of scale, platform support, and updating. Cloud and mobile technologies provide greater value when they are used together and actively rely on each other to produce benefits.

Attorneys must be able to access critical information when they need it, from any location. This will help them quickly resolve issues or gain important insight for a case. Legal practices must be aware of these types of needs to determine if their current solutions are still beneficial. IT Law Group noted that cloud computing can provide the flexibility required by users and expected by clients.

However, in bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environments, maintaining governance is a considerable challenge for many businesses. Without being able to manage mobile hardware, it’s uncertain that users will follow data best practices, download appropriate applications, regularly update systems, and use security capabilities. Wrangling all of the potential devices and enforcing BYOD policies have posed significant problems for organizations, particularly in heavily regulated fields.

The good news is the cloud solves many of these issues by offering centralized management for security, data access, computation, and storage. Computerworld contributor Bill Claybrook has noted that with the cloud, organizations can rely on security of the mobile device to get to the app but will need to authenticate against the back-end system in the cloud to view critical data. This will ensure that even if a phone is lost or stolen, malicious parties can’t access business resources or information.

Secure Your Data

Security has long been one of the biggest factors holding firms back from cloud adoption. The legal profession has specific regulations that it must abide by to protect client information and maintain compliance. Many cloud providers have some security protocols in place, but they might not be able to fulfill the unique requirements for your legal practice and client requirements.

Security issues and concerns are especially relevant for law firms. Firms hold onto some very important data for their clients, and they often work with institutions from regulated industries such as finance and health care. Therefore, understanding and adequately protecting your firm from outside threats is of the utmost importance and could shape the very future of your firm. To that end, what kinds of issues are facing the modern firm, and how can the cloud help to sidestep them?

A good place to start is a hacking technique called a ransomware attack: A hacker gets an employee to download a piece of malware, either through an infected website or an e-mail campaign (the latter of which I’ll discuss in more detail later). Once this malware has infiltrated the company’s defenses, it encrypts all data on a network and refuses to budge until someone pays a ransom. In fact, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has identified a piece of ransomware called CryptoWall 2.0 that doubles the amount demanded after a certain period of time.

Another major player in the current hacking culture is phishing. Although phishing certainly isn’t new, it’s still a tried-and-true method for many hackers. In these e-mail campaigns, the hacker masquerades as a reputable e-mail account, such as a business partner or a financial institution. The hacker then sends out a massive number of e-mails, either containing a piece of malware such as ransomware or using deception to trick victims into simply giving up their login credentials.

The reason that phishing is so scary for a law firm is that it’s incredibly hard to prevent and detect. Once a hacker has his hands on an employee’s login credentials, he can access private digital spaces at his leisure, quietly slurping up valuable information without anyone noticing. While this obviously means firms should train their staff to avoid phishing, it’s also important to invest in technological solutions. This is where multifactor authentication comes in. This term encompasses any login strategy that uses multiple credentials in order to allow someone access to private information. According to TechTarget contributor Margaret Rouse, multifactor authentication can come in three forms:

  1. What you know: A specific password or other piece of information that only the user would be able to know.
  2. What you have: This is along the lines of sending a text to a smartphone that only the user has access to.
  3. What you are: Using a person’s fingerprint or retinal scan would be a part of this category. This is mostly used for physical security.

By relying on multifactor authentication, a law firm can put a pretty large barrier between important information and the hackers trying to steal it.

Hitting a company’s network is advantageous for hackers on multiple levels, as vulnerabilities could lead to a data breach, deleting information, or simply shutting down the whole system. Therefore, legal institutions should endeavor to do everything they can to protect their network from outside threats. By far, one of the best ways to do this is to institute a true cloud network, including the most current firewall technologies. These systems basically act as the gatekeeper of a network, allowing only traffic that is predetermined as safe onto the network. With such safeguards, the vast majority of the attacks a hacker can throw at an organization are detected at the perimeter. When configured properly, cloud security and firewalls can stop everything from ransomware and spyware to worms and zero-day threats, making these systems an absolute necessity for companies focused on security.

Consider Encryption

Of course, it’s impossible to predict exactly how a hacker will attack or what technique he will use. Therefore, law firms should consider utilizing encryption in order to stave off any major cybersecurity breaches. In fact, many financial institutions require encryption for the law firms they retain.

Encryption is a security technique whereby information is scrambled to the point that only the person with the right decryption key can read the data. Encryption can act as a final defense against attacks from outside hackers who want nothing more than to steal private information. Decrypting large amounts of data is incredibly time consuming, and a cybercriminal who gains access to a network may be put off by strong encryption and decide to move somewhere else.

A true cloud network should feature encrypted backup, as well as encryption for data at rest, so your data is safe and sound.

Investigate the Benefits of a Cloud Network

A true cloud network solves a large number of issues by offering centralized management for security, data access, computation, and storage. In addition, a cloud network will eliminate the need to maintain on-site servers, thus reducing costs.

Speaking of costs, another benefit to a cloud network is accurate budgeting for your current and future IT expenditures. Typically billed on a monthly basis, a cloud network eliminates the need for large capital investments up front.

Another benefit of moving to the cloud is elasticity. If your firm grows or downsizes, adjustments can be made to your cloud network quickly and cost-effectively. For example, if more server space is needed, there is no need to wait for parts and an on-site visit from your IT partner. Accommodations such as this can usually be made within a few hours.

With a capable cloud provider, law firms can quickly recover following disasters. ITProPortal contributor Kevin Scott-Cowell noted that cloud vendors keep systems up and running, enabling you to continue your normal operations. Look for a vendor with an uptime record of 99.999 percent and 24/7/365 monitoring to quickly catch and address issues before they cause damage. If something happens on your end, your IT partner should be available to guide you and restore critical systems as fast as possible.

A cloud network will enable greater accessibility, improved security, and better recovery options than an on-site network. These features will significantly benefit lawyers as they look to operate in more places and view critical documents on various devices.

With a solid cloud network, firms can rely on a fast, secure system, especially if your IT partner utilizes a cloud provider such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) rather than a data center using terminal services. AWS is the world’s largest and most secure cloud provider and maintains practically every certification known to man. Entities such as Dow Jones and Netflix utilize AWS for their cloud solutions.

Look to partner with an IT provider that focuses on the legal industry for the appropriate protection you require and the cloud environment that will be right for your firm. An IT company with experience in configuring and maintaining cloud technology specifically for legal practices would be ideal so that your network is configured and maintained properly. A well-configured network is a key to speed, reliability, and efficiency.

Head for the Cloud

Cloud computing has already made a name for itself, and your legal practice can take advantage of this technology to realize substantial benefits. By following these tips, you can determine if the cloud is right for your law firm and what considerations to make as you decide on a solution.

Angela Moskalenko is the director of business development at Afinety, Inc., which provides IT services specifically designed for law firms, including complete cloud solutions. She oversees the Sales and Business Development department while focusing on strategies for growth and client satisfaction. Previously she was an account executive with Afinety and assisted clients with recommendations for their networks. Parts of this article originally appeared as blog entries on the Afinety website.