chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
January 14, 2019 TECHREPORT 2018

2018 Cloud Computing

Dennis Kennedy

Although cloud services have become so popular in general businesses as to be nearly ubiquitous, there still has not been a sea change in the legal profession.

The terms “cloud” and “cloud computing” have become much more familiar to lawyers in the last few years, but there can still be some confusion on the standard definitions. In the enterprise IT world, you will find public, private, and hybrid clouds, and many flavors of “as a service”: software (SaaS), infrastructure (IaaS), and platform (PaaS), to name the three most common.

To keep it simple, the 2018 Legal Technology Survey Report has focused on the basic concept of a “web-based software service or solution,” including 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, commonly now, a mobile app), where the software itself is not installed locally on the computer being used by the lawyer accessing the service. Your data are also processed and stored on remote servers rather than on local computers and hard drives. Another common way to describe cloud services is to refer to “web services” or “hosted services.”

Cloud services might be hosted by a third party (most commonly Amazon or Microsoft) or, more commonly in the legal profession, by a provider running its services on Amazon, Microsoft, or another cloud provider. It’s also possible, though unlikely, that a law firm could host and provide its own private cloud services.

The cloud approach has become quite popular in the business world (e.g.,, BaseCamp, Google for Work, and Slack), and for individuals (e.g., Dropbox, Gmail, and Evernote). You can also easily find legal-specific cloud services such as Clio, Rocket Matter, NetDocuments, PracticePanther, Bill4Time, MyCase, and many others.

The 2018 Survey results again show lawyers still moving much more cautiously to the cloud than the rest of the business world. The 2018 Survey reports that cloud usage bumped up very slightly, from 52% to 54.6%, an increase of approximately 4%. The details of the results suggest that there continues to be misunderstanding and confusion about what cloud services are—something we’ve seen in prior years. For example, only 36.2% of respondents from firms of more than 500 lawyers answered “yes” about cloud usage—a surprisingly low number that probably says more about the low level of knowledge and engagement of large firm lawyers in the details of their technologies than it does about actual cloud usage in large firms. Solo and small firms continue to lead the way in cloud adoption.

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 of a cloud service is Dropbox, a cloud service for file storage and sharing, that many lawyers report they are already using. The standard Dropbox business account currently costs $199 per user per year. Many traditional software providers have moved to cloud models and offer hosted versions of their products, joining a large number of companies that focus solely on the cloud. The EXPO at ABA TECHSHOW 2018 again had a noticeable increase in the number of exhibitors with cloud products over prior years.

Despite slow growth and wariness of lawyers, cloud computing appears to be moving toward becoming a standard approach in legal technology, with more than half now using cloud services.

As you will see, however, the 2018 Survey highlights a major concern that, while lawyers talk the talk about security concerns in cloud computing, to a shocking degree, they do not walk the walk. If you take only one thing from this TECHREPORT to add to your 2019 technology agenda, it should be to up your game on cloud security, for your sake and, even more so, for the sake of your clients.

Survey Highlights

  • Cloud usage grew a mere 4% from 2017 to 2018, from 52% to 54.6%. Solos and small firms continue to lead the way.
  • 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 security measures is quite low, with no more than 38.1% of respondents actually taking any one of the specific standard cautionary security measures listed in the 2018 Survey question on the topic. 10.7%, an increase from 9% in 2017, reported taking no security precautions of the types listed. Only 40.7% of respondents report that adoption of cloud computing resulted in changes to internal technology or security policies.
  • Despite some reservations, lawyers continued to use popular consumer cloud services like Dropbox, Google Apps, iCloud, and Evernote at higher rates than dedicated legal cloud services. Clio and NetDocuments rank the highest among the legal cloud services.
  • Lawyers are becoming more familiar with cloud technologies and are attracted by anytime, anywhere access, low cost of entry, predictable monthly expenses, and robust data backup. Notably, almost 31% indicate that cloud services provide the benefit of giving greater security than they can provide on their own.
  • Concerns about confidentiality/security and lack of control lead the worry list by a wide margin. Almost 95% of lawyers rate the reputation of the vendor as important in their decision-making process.
  • The 2018 Survey results also suggest that client-focus is not top of mind for lawyers using and considering the use of cloud computing. The consideration of client needs, expectations, and desires could become a key target area for innovative lawyers and firms.
  • Solos, small firms, and medium-sized firms have higher cloud usage than large firms. These results might reflect a lack of familiarity with the tools used in large firms.
  • Only 10% of respondents indicated that they expected to replace an existing software tool with a cloud tool in 2018. 47% have no plan to do so.
  • A third of lawyers are at firms with extranets. Extranets are used primarily for firm lawyers (89%) and much less likely for clients (36%).

1. Usage Numbers

The percentage of the 2018 Survey participants answering “yes” to the basic question of whether they had used web-based software services or solutions grew by roughly 4%, from 52.1% to 54.6%. 32.9% said “no,” a small decrease. “Don’t know” responses bumped up a bit to 12.5% from roughly 10% in 2017 and 2016. Solos (58.5%, up from 55.7% in 2017) and firms of 2-9 lawyers (57.9%, up from 56.3% in 2017) continued to lead the way in usage. Larger firms “yes” responses ranged from 36-56%, similar to 2017. However, these overall results can be confusing given answers to other questions, suggesting the possibility that actual usage might be higher than the reported usage. For example, 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. Security: Time for 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 or even in the past few years. The lack of effort on security has become a major cause for concern in the profession.

Of 13 standard precautionary security measures listed in the 2018 Survey, the measure most commonly used (reviewing the privacy policy) was used by only 38% of the respondents, down from 41% in 2017. Given the emphasis on data privacy in 2018 because of the European Union GDPR, this result is especially concerning. The next most widely-employed precautions were making local data backups (36%, down from 41% in 2017), using only services with SSL/encryption (34%, down from 36%), reviewing Terms of Service (34%, staying the same), and reviewing ethical decisions on cloud computing (33.5%, up from 30%). Would lawyers recommend that their clients take these approaches?

The numbers only get worse from there.

Only 30% sought advice from peers and only 29% evaluated vendor company history, despite the stated importance of vendor reputation (95%) in selecting vendors. There were no meaningful increases in these numbers as compared to 2017.

At the very bottom of the results are things that lawyers should do quite well. A mere 7% negotiated confidentiality agreements in connection with cloud services, and, in next to last place, only 5% negotiated service legal agreements (SLAs). Using data escrow was in last place (1.4%). If security and confidentiality are lawyers’ biggest concerns about cloud computing, does this behavior make any sense?

3. Consumer Cloud Services More Popular Than Dedicated Legal Services

The 2018 Survey asked respondents what cloud providers they had used. Dropbox, the well-known online file storage service, once again topped the list at 60%, essentially the same as in 2017. Other consumer cloud services also remained popular (Google Docs, 36%, down from 38%; iCloud, 22%, down from 28%; Evernote, 14%, down from 18%), despite a lot of discussion about encryption and other security concerns about consumer cloud services in the press and among lawyers. Surprisingly, Office 365 usage is reported at only 6.8%.

Legal-specific cloud services have not reached the same levels of popularity as the consumer services. Clio continues to be the most popular legal cloud service named by respondents (9.7%, down from 12.4% in 2017), followed by NetDocuments (8.7%, up from 4.3%), and MyCase (2.9%, down from 3.7%). RocketMatter and Practice Panther were next at 1.6%. 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, FastCase, to name a few—do not show up in the results, except possibly as small components of the “other” category (17.6%).

The high level of use of Dropbox in larger firms (60%) in firms from 50-499 lawyers 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 few years, the collaboration tool, Slack, has become extremely popular in small businesses and technology companies. As of right now, there is still no indication of its uptake in the legal world.

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 collaborate on projects with external parties; the results show that 89% of firms allow access to their lawyers and 56% to their staff. Access to clients, who potentially benefit the most from extranets, was only provided by 36%. Collaboration for “friendly” outsiders was permitted by 21%.

5. Cloud Benefits

There was not a lot of change in the perceived benefits of cloud computing shown in the 2018 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 31% 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 as compared to standard security practices in law firms.

6. Biggest Lawyer Concerns

While more lawyers reported using the cloud, 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” (63%, down from 69% in 2017) and concerns about losing control of data (47%, down from 49%). Concerns about losing control over updates (25%) and vendor longevity (23%) were other significant concerns. 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, 56% cited confidentiality/security concerns, 40% cited the loss of control, and 19% cited the cost of switching. “Unfamiliarity with the technology,” was listed by 39%, up from 37% in 2017.

7. Name and Reputation of Cloud Vendor

Ninety-five percent of respondents using cloud services considered the name and reputation of the cloud vendor as either “very important” (69%) or “somewhat important” (26%) to their decision, up slightly from 91% in 2017. However, only 29% of respondents reported that they evaluated the vendor’s history and only 30% 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. Replacing Existing Tools with Cloud Services

Even though interest in cloud services is high, the interest does not seem to translate into substantial action at this point, at least in terms of replacing existing software tools. Only 10% of respondents indicated that they expected to replace an existing software tool with a cloud tool in 2018. Lawyers might be looking to the cloud only for new tools or to supplement existing tools. They also might not be thinking of mobile app as cloud tools.

9. Internally-focused Extranets

Extranets are the premier example of a client-facing tool. Lawyers, perhaps ironically, have focused on extranets as internal tools. Extranets are private websites for which a user—internal or external—must have authorization to use. A law firm extranet could be used to allow a client to access files or gain other information on matters.

A third of lawyers are at firms with extranets. Extranets are used primarily for firm lawyers (89%) and staff (56%), but much less for clients (36%). These numbers suggest opportunities for lawyers to open up these tools for clients.


The 2018 Legal Technology Survey Report shows that, for only a small majority of lawyers and firms, cloud services are now part of the IT equation. Compare that to the 96% number in the RightScale report mentioned in the opening paragraph for businesses in general. Reported growth in cloud use stayed relatively flat in 2018. However, the continuing lack of actual attention to confidentiality, security, and due diligence issues remains a serious concern, especially with the growth in mobile apps running on cloud services. The results on security procedures will continue to fuel client concerns about security efforts by their outside law firms.

There is much that law firm IT departments and technology committees, legal technology vendors and consultants, corporate law departments, clients, 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. Applying basic common sense, diligence, and increased attention to security efforts might be the biggest lesson to learn for the upcoming year. In short, cloud cybersecurity must be on your technology plan for 2019.


Dennis Kennedy is an information technology lawyer, a legal technology author and speaker, and a member of the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center Board. He co-hosts the legal technology podcast, The Kennedy-Mighell Report, and has co-authored books for lawyers on LinkedIn, Facebook, and collaboration tools and technologies. 

The material in all ABA publications is copyrighted and may be reprinted by permission only. Request reprint permission here.