October 01, 2015

Cloud-Based Document Management Can Save Attorneys Time and Money

Vinay Jain and Keri Coleman Norris

Time is a legal plan attorney’s most valuable asset. The attorney’s efficiency determines how many clients he or she can serve. Fortunately, advances in technology, particularly cloud computing, have introduced a host of new tools and applications that can help attorneys do their jobs in less time.

Documents are at the foundation of legal practice, and the cloud offers many tools for making document management easier. (“The cloud” simply refers to software and data that is stored on a remote server rather than on a local computer and is accessed via the Internet.) Cloud storage solutions such as OneDrive and Box make it possible to save and access files from a range of devices, whether a desktop, tablet, or smartphone. These services offer the added benefit of backing up your documents at the same time that they save them, giving you (and your clients) the peace of mind of knowing that a faulty hard drive or a spill on a laptop won’t ruin everything.

Cloud computing also facilitates document sharing and collaboration. Attorneys typically send documents as email attachments, including drafts and markups. What usually ensues is a long and unwieldy email thread with multiple versions bouncing back and forth. Sharing documents in the cloud not only eliminates the need for email attachments, but also makes collaboration easier by creating a single, cloud-based version that people can edit together in real time.

One major source of attorney concern about transmitting data over the web is security and the maintenance of client confidentiality. But here too, cloud-based document storage excels. The major cloud-based document storage providers all encrypt the data they transmit and give the document creator the ability to assign various levels of permission (e.g., read-only, edit) to individual users. Some also offer two-factor authentication and the ability to set passwords for specific files and folders.

Cloud computing also allows attorneys to access their documents from anywhere in the world with a working Internet connection, and to pick up their work on a home computer exactly where they left off on a work machine. Moreover, with the intuitive mobile applications that cloud-based storage services provide, a full-fledged computer isn’t even required for most tasks. It is possible to access the same files on a tablet or smartphone as on the desktop.

The cloud even offers solutions for the most traditional aspect of working with documents: obtaining signatures. Cloud-based applications like EchoSign and DocuSign allow you to place signature fields in your documents, which are then sent to the signers, who provide legally binding electronic signatures. For any attorney who has ever had to get a document executed in counterparts and then go through the hassle of keeping track of and collating those individual counterparts, e-signature software is a revelation. It’s also a security enhancement: most e-signature software can be configured to require the recipient to authenticate his or her identity before signing and to keep an “audit trail” that records when the document was sent, received, opened, and signed.

As a whole, attorneys tend to be slow to adopt new technologies. But for legal plan attorneys in particular, the time- and money-saving benefits of cloud computing make it especially attractive.