The vast majority of enterprises have embraced the cloud: nine out of ten companies will have some part of their applications or infrastructure in cloud storage services or web-based software by 2019, according to IDG Research, and the rest expect to follow by 2021. This is not surprising: the benefits of using the cloud, after all, are indisputable, including scalability, reduced costs, less burden on IT, and rapid deployment.
But for law firms, this creates a complex conundrum. Every practice has a heightened need for security and compliance, thanks to sensitive client information, and firms of all sizes are understandably concerned about the safety of using public cloud computing services. In addition, even today, many practice management and other software packages require a server, which has traditionally been on-site, making cloud adoption daunting.
Law firms have long been concerned about how to control where data is stored and who has access. Lawyers traditionally addressed this concern by using locked desk drawers and file cabinets. Eventually, they graduated to password-protected systems. Yet today, as every industry undergoes digital transformation, customary solutions are no longer enough. Still, security concerns shouldn’t keep law firms from accessing the many advantages of cloud in order to maximize firm performance.
An ideal solution may be the use of a private cloud rather than a public cloud storage service. A private cloud is a server in the cloud that hosts server-based software, which firm employees can access from anywhere, at any time. With a private cloud, your law firm’s server and IT platform is replaced by a hosted and managed virtual desktop that enables your entire staff to access applications and documents (including Word, Excel, Outlook, practice management, and billing software) using any device (a PC, Mac, iPad, etc.).
It’s important to be mindful that data, with private cloud systems and programs, is hosted in a single-tenant environment—with data segregation, encryption, and resource allocation specific to the firm. The result is a great balance: a platform that offers all the benefits of a cloud with all the security of traditional on-site servers.
The Biggest Private Cloud Benefits for Law Firms
The cloud provides law firms with several advantages, including:
- Removing single points of failure. Using a private cloud is much more than a backup copy of a file. By storing your programs, systems, and data in the cloud, you can greatly mitigate the risk of breach or data loss. And virtualizing a firm’s IT infrastructure helps you easily reset to the last good state.
- Eliminating IT server headaches. Even at a small firm, you need a server that securely and reliably hosts software. However, any physical server requires maintenance to keep it running and must be fixed when it breaks. The private cloud is the server and includes updates, maintenance, and repair as part of the contracted service, which means you don’t have to buy or manage servers.
- Managing cases from any location, at any time. On-premise servers (and software that’s installed on individual computers) limit your staff to using a single desktop or laptop. Modern law firms are at a disadvantage by operating this way—today’s competitive environment means clients demand agility and flexibility, and legal staff must handle off-site meetings, courthouse appearances, and in-transit communication. With a private cloud, everything is installed on the virtual server and anyone can log in to work anytime, from anywhere, on any device.
- Making data more secure, not less. No law firm wants to be the feature in a headline relating to a cybersecurity breach. But while many assume their data must be more secure on-site, that simply isn’t true. While your IT team may have configured a basic firewall with occasional spot checks, that's likely not sufficient to keep hackers at bay, especially since any Wi-Fi internet connection can leave your data exposed. With a private cloud system built from the ground up by experts who intimately understand the business operations of law firms, you’ll have a secure environment to store sensitive data—and one that is run by those who are in the business of keeping your data safe and secure.
- Creating a centralized system that is more efficient and reliable. Even today’s small law firms may have a second office, or remote employees, which makes handling applications and data more complex. VPNs may be slow and clunky, creating a difficult experience for employees who work on-the-go. In addition, separate offices may end up with duplicate data, which leads to accuracy issues and rising costs. With a private cloud, all of your firm’s software, documents, data, and email live in one centralized system that everyone is able to access and uniformly experience. Instead of working in a disjointed system, employees have a seamless experience, which can boost efficiency.
Proof of Private Cloud Success
Freedom from the physical office
James Farr, a criminal defense attorney in Anchorage, Alaska, is constantly out of his office at client meetings or court. That means being free from the physical office is essential—he and his paralegal must be able to work from anywhere, anytime. By leveraging a dedicated, private cloud environment, he was able to eliminate headaches and expenses around local hardware. No longer is backing up data to physical hard drives required every night. Instead, everything is done automatically.
“As long as I’m practicing law, I will work in a private cloud environment,” he says. “I’m not going back to the alternative of local servers with local support.” There are tremendous advantages to using a custom-built private cloud developed specifically for legal professionals, he adds, as opposed to being tied to a local office environment. “Not only can I work from anywhere, but it has freed me from recurring IT headaches and unforeseen expenses in managing my own on-site computer network,” he explains.
No security worries
For lifetime Wichita Falls resident David F. Gossom, who has been running his law practice since the early 1980s, it’s essential to hold onto his solid reputation for providing the highest quality legal services in a wide range of areas. Clients appreciate his practical approach and dedication to client satisfaction, while his use of technology helps him stand out. Thanks to his use of private cloud, he can truly be a lawyer on the run—able to meet his clients when and where they need him with the data and files he needs, and able to check his calendar for appointments remotely. He was also able to update his computer equipment without worrying about losing data and files.
Another big plus: not having to worry about security. “…it's all done for me, and I don’t worry about whether my antivirus is up to date or out of date, whether I need to update it or buy a new one, or whether my antivirus is interfering with the program that’s running.”
The flexibility of remote communication
There’s really no reason not to make the move to private cloud, says Michael McCready of Chicago-based McCready, Garcia & Leet, which boasts significant experience and expertise in personal injury and workers' compensation cases. With a growing firm, increasing caseload, and an internal server quickly reaching the end of its lifespan, McCready, Garcia & Leet had a decision to make—purchase another server and continue to pay for outsourced IT help, or migrate to the cloud.
The decision to move to the private cloud was simple, McCready explains: “For an office with multiple attorneys, the ultimate flexibility is having the ability to connect remotely, from anywhere, with any device.” It’s as if, he adds, “We’re all sitting next to each other in the same room.”
Private Cloud Is a Process—But It Can Help Law Firms Make a Big Move
According to a study by Forrester Research, the cloud will continue to mature and come of age in 2019, as the global market for cloud expands more than 20%. Yet, the American Bar Association’s 2018 Cloud Computing TECHREPORT found lawyers are “still moving much more cautiously to the cloud than the rest of the business world.” According to the report, last year, cloud usage increased only 4% to just over 54%. The authors suggested the results show there “continues to be misunderstanding and confusion about what cloud services are—something we’ve seen in prior years.” Solo practices and small firms continue to lead the way, the report found.
To future-proof their practice in an age of digital transformation and increased competition, now is the time for law firms to take the lead and transition to the cloud in order to take advantage of its many benefits, which include more efficient operations, lowered costs, new data-driven insights, and easier scaling. That said, they must do so in the best, most strategic way possible that meets their need for increased security and compliance. A private cloud can strike the right balance.
Questions to Ask Your Private Cloud Solution Provider
- Where is the data stored? (It should be stored in the U.S.)
- What are the data center and vendor certifications? (They should be SOC1, SOC2, SOC3/SSAE16.)
- What are the support hours?
- Where is the support staff located?
- What is the headcount?
- What is the process for migrating to the cloud and away from the cloud?
- How long has the cloud vendor been in business?
- How many clients does the cloud vendor have?
- What is their long-term business viability?
- What is bundled in the SLA?
- What is the guaranteed uptime?
- What are the security controls (such as encryption, MFA, cybersecurity monitoring)?
- Are there case management and workflow automation tools?
- Is there ubiquitous access to client/case information with document and email management?
There are certainly challenges law firm IT organizations should keep in mind as they make the transition to a private cloud from legacy storage systems, including data migration, user accounts and access permissions, security, and training. Working with an experienced vendor that can assign a team to guide the firm through the cloud client journey can be invaluable, from a CSM and project manager to system engineers and professional services. This is a process that private cloud service providers routinely manage, therefore, selecting an experienced team can make the greatest difference. And keep reputation in mind: According to the American Bar Association’s 2018 survey on cloud computing, almost 95% of lawyers rate the reputation of the vendor as important in their decision-making process.
Spending on private cloud is increasing globally, perhaps as organizations see the benefits of how it can help make the move to the cloud seamless and secure. According to the latest worldwide market study by International Data Corporation (IDC), private cloud spending reached $4.6 billion, an increase of 28.2% year over year.
Certainly, more modern law firms are looking to the private cloud to rein in IT expenditures, manage critical data and applications allow remote access, and maximize performance. You can rest easy knowing your data is safe and secure while providing immediate access to all applications and documents at an affordable monthly price. Private cloud is a game-changer for law practices everywhere. Are you ready to play?