12 Questions on the Cloud We Hear from Law Firms Other than Security, Part 1

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12 Questions on the Cloud We Hear from Law Firms Other than Security, Part 1

by Josiah Chaves and Tara Levin, Esq. (Click here for Part 2)

The top question law firms have about the cloud is related to cybersecurity, right?

Not anymore.

Now there’s a whole lot of survey data, including some we published in 2017, that found security is the number one barrier to cloud adoption.  Indeed, that was once true, but it no longer reflects our most recent experience.

In fact, for the 2018 Aderant Business of Law and Legal Technology Survey, we flipped that question around. Instead of asking what are the top barriers to cloud adoption, we asked what are the top benefits of cloud adoption?

The top five answers tallied up like this:

  • 51% said disaster recovery;
  • 39% said lower costs;
  • 29% said business continuity;
  • 28% said better cybersecurity; and
  • 25% said improving features and functionality in cloud products.

We believe the cloud community has gone a long way toward alleviating law firm concerns for security. As such, many firms are recognizing the real potential of the cloud and are asking other questions. Since we talk to multiple law firms every week, we have compared notes to come up with a list of those most frequently asked questions – and we answer those here.

It’s worth noting that these questions typically stem from mid-sized-to-large firms. It’s also worth noting the role of the person asking can easily range from law firm administrator – to executive director – to managing partner.

1) How is cloud different than hosting?

Hosted solutions are just like the on-premise solutions many firms have today, except these are managed by someone else. The infrastructure costs are the same, software patches and upgrades still take a long time and need to be tested in a sandbox first.  The cost to scale still means someone has to add more machines even if your firm isn’t managing them.

In other words, hosted solutions have all the disadvantages of on-premise solutions, with the added cost of hiring someone else to manage it. While that removes some of the headaches with IT, and allows firms to focus on law, it doesn’t provide the efficiency gains law firms can obtain with the cloud.

2) Which of the existing systems do law firms typically keep when they move to the cloud?

To borrow from legal parlance, the right answer is “it depends.”

Every firm is different and has unique needs. Some have on-premise solutions they want to keep even as they identify those they want or need to replace.

Replacing any system requires that a law firm consider the technology landscape within the firm first, and then figure out how to move forward. Law firms need to be sure they have access to those critical systems until they are ready to switch over.

It’s important to note, that this type of conversation isn’t just about technology tools. It’s about identifying ways to improve, innovate or transform a firm for the long run.

Moving systems is a big decision and sometimes comes down to challenging the status quo. This is a unique opportunity to identify new ways to innovate the business and gain efficiencies that help a firm win new business and keep more of it in a competitive environment.

3) If you are replacing systems, how does data migration work?

A mid-sized law firm that’s moving to the cloud must think about the impact over the long run. This type of acquisition is a decision a firm will make only every 10 or 15 years. This means firms need to think about two interrelated issues:

  1. You need to get critical data over to the new solution; and
  2. You don’t want to bring too much of the old data with pre-existing issues with it.

For most firms, this comes down to determining what is enough data without bringing so much that it handicaps your ability to improve or implement best practices that did not exist when some of that old data were collected.

4) Can you configure the cloud, so users only see what’s relevant to them?

Customization is one of the hallmarks of cloud computing. Surfacing insights and data that allow a user to take relevant steps for a client is a key checkmark for any cloud procurement evaluation.

We live in a world that thinks the law firm with the most data wins – but that’s only true if a firm can pull it out and serve it up to users in a way that’s useful. Most have reams and reams of data…but getting out of the system silos is a big problem that cloud tools often help solve.

For example, paralegals might not need all the information for work-in-progress (WIP) or accounts payable (AP)…or maybe they do. That all depends on the firm, and its processes and procedures. What law firms do not want to do is put data in front of a user they aren’t going to use.

5) How does the cloud allow you to be more responsive to a client’s needs?

In a word: mobility.

The cloud allows lawyers and staff the ability to get information from their systems any time and from anywhere. If an attorney takes a client call at their child’s soccer game, he or she also wants to provide the client with the right information. This is possible with information stored in the cloud – and you can log that time entry for the phone call immediately too.

This is an important point because the cloud provides immediate access to the systems a lawyer needs to manage a firm and to be responsive to clients. You can’t predict every question you might get from a client, but then you don’t have to if you have access to the data you need.

6) Is reporting in the cloud easier than on-premise?

We spend a lot of time with law firms and here’s how reporting works in many of them now:

A lawyer gets a client call asking for information like the status of a matter and the budget. The lawyer doesn’t know, so he or she hangs up the phone and dashes off an email to the administrative help and then waits.

Why do they wait? Because the back office needs time to go into the practice management or billing system or whatever system houses the data requested to pull the report. Depending on the complexity of the case, client or information requested, it can take hours or even days to render the necessary report.

That just doesn’t happen with cloud-based technology. The simplicity means answering such client inquiries requires just a few clicks. More importantly, lawyers can do this for themselves the moment a client calls them.

In our observation, cloud tools really shine when they can demonstrate the synergies between case management and financial information. The cloud allows firms to do this quickly and configure it to the unique needs of the person running the report, be that an administrator or a managing partner.

* * *

Cybersecurity will always be a concern for modern law firms, regardless of whether the firm is running on cloud, on-premise or a hybrid environment. It’s certainly worthy of examination in any procurement process. However, for those that have moved beyond just that question, we hope this gives you something to think about you consider ideas for law firm innovation. Keep an eye out for Part 2, which we’ll feature in a few weeks.

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