Think Tank: Will The Cloud Ever Take Hold In Large Law?

Cloud Law

Think Tank: Will The Cloud Ever Take Hold In Large Law?

By David Carter, Vice President of Information Technology and Customer Support, Aderant

What role will the cloud have in the law firm technology stack of the future? It’s a challenging question to answer because the legal community is divided on the benefits and drawbacks of the cloud. What one law firm sees as a benefit, another cites as a risk.

Security is a prime example.  A 2015 ALM survey of 79 Am Law 200 firms found 86% said security was among the top barriers to cloud adoption in legal.

In a day and age where data breaches seem to be a daily news event, and law firms are accused of being the “soft underbelly of corporate America,” it’s unnerving to hand data over to another company and hope that it’ll be safe.

“A 2015 ALM survey of 79 Am Law 200 firms found 86% said security was among the top barriers to cloud adoption in legal.”

On the other hand, a 2016 ILTACON session, presented in part by Rick Varju, a director responsible for infrastructure at Foley and Lardner LLP, cites security as a benefit of the cloud.  In a presentation titled What To Expect When Considering the Cloud, he noted many enterprise cloud vendors field entire teams of people dedicated to security.  In addition, these vendors maintain an arsenal of technology tools, that most law firms can’t afford, to ward off threats.

By contrast, a team of three full-time engineers is responsible for security at his firm. Those three very talented IT security experts support 2,200 people, including 900 lawyers fanned out across 20 offices – three of which are international locations.

“That is scary to me,” he said in the session which was recorded in audio and is publicly available online.

A Cloudy Outlook for the Legal Cloud

The mixed law firm perspective of the cloud can be observed in opinion surveys.  The answers to cloud questions vary greatly, which only underscores the lack of industry consensus.

The 2016 ILTA/InsideLegal Technology Purchasing Survey, which included larger law firms in the sample set, suggested law firms are increasingly warming to the idea of a “cloud-first” approach.

The survey did show law firms are investing more in cloud tools: 34% of respondents said they purchased cloud storage in the last 12 months. In addition, another 25% said they planned to purchase more over the next year, which is a considerable increase compared to 15% in the same survey the previous year.

Yet this all seems rather experimental in the larger context.  The purchase of some additional cloud storage hardly seems like the beginning of a significant migration to the cloud.

The same ILTA survey found a lukewarm attitude toward consuming cloud technologies as a primary means of delivering legal software or services. More than half of respondents indicated that less than 25% “of firm software and service solutions will be cloud-based” in the next few years. Moreover, that answer slid 7% from the same survey the previous year which dampens the cloud-first outlook.

Legal Innovation Will Drive Cloud Adoption 

The ILTA survey did reveal what might motivate firms to adopt the cloud: profit. These investments in cloud tools aren’t aimed at cost savings, but rather at “turning increased productivity, efficiency and automation into profits,” according to the report.

It’s a sentiment similar to that which Mr. Varju expressed in his ILTA presentation.

While he acknowledged cost containment as one of the reasons firms should consider the cloud, it shifts costs from capital expenses to operating expenses. He noted, rather profoundly, the cloud is about “more than just saving money.”

The purpose of the cloud in a law firm is about “doing things differently,” he said. The cloud, or even a partial adoption of a “hybrid model” cloud, will enable law firms to refocus IT resources on innovation rather than reacting to “recover an Exchange server.”

In a highly competitive legal market, finding innovative new ways to deliver legal services is what may ultimately brighten the cloud’s future in large law firms.

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