The legal profession in England and Wales has been a late adopter of cloud services. This situation is changing quickly as the advantages of these services become clearer.
In comparison with North America, the legal profession in England and Wales has been a late adopter of cloud services. This situation is changing quickly as the advantages of cloud services become clearer and the need for legal practices to improve their efficiency grows.
A variety of practice management applications and solutions are now available for legal professionals. Some of these are available ‘in the cloud’. While there are several definitions of cloud computing, most agree that all aspects of your computing solution, from the infrastructure, applications and business processes are delivered as a service, or utility.
Commonly used ‘cloud’ applications include industry pioneer Salesforce.com, email services such as Hotmail and Google Mail, online word processors such as Google Docs and storage facility Dropbox; where there’s no need for software to be installed on a firm’s own servers and expensive bespoke hardware is not required.
A key aspect for many modern cloud computing services is that they are multi-tenant. This differs from a single-tenant hosted solution, where the application is housed on third-party infrastructure. Some people use the analogy of an apartment unit versus a separate house, or make reference to the shared utility these homes have in common: plumbing and sewage, electricity and heating. Another way to imagine this is having your own personal security guard versus the services of an army. A personal guard is expensive, and only has so many resources at his or her disposal whilst an army serves the public, but benefits from its scale in a way that personal security guards simply cannot match.
Multi-tenancy results in economies of scale by avoiding unnecessary duplication of resources. It means providers can cost effectively pass these savings onto end users offering significant cost savings compared with the traditional way of buying IT services. Over a three-year product life cycle, the cost of cloud-based IT systems can be as much 50% cheaper.
Data privacy and security
Above all, providers must be able to demonstrate that they can securely hold your clients’ data in the cloud and demonstrably comply with regulatory requirements and data protection rules. External data auditing schemes such as TRUSTe (www.truste.com) can provide considerable comfort in this regard. The ability to choose the jurisdictions your firm’s data is stored in is also important given the different data protection and privacy rules around the world.
The financial stability and track record of the provider is important as are the measures in place to retrieve your data (such as regular back-ups to a data escrow server and the use of standard file formats) should you wish to change provider or the provider should fail.
The ability to rapidly update and roll out changes to cloud-based systems means that these practice management tools can more easily keep up with regulatory changes. The benefits for disaster recovery are also clear if data no longer needs to be stored on a firm’s own servers. Many of these points are discussed in greater detail in the advice note on cloud computing issued recently by the Law Society of Scotland and the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The cloud is transforming businesses across the globe and the legal sector is no exception. Indeed, as many parts of the profession are under unprecedented financial pressure, the additional innovation, flexibility and cost savings provided by cloud computing could make the difference between thriving and surviving in a tough legal marketplace. It also underpins the wave of ‘virtual’ law firms we are now seeing being set up - a great example of the full potential of the cloud.
Nagib Tharani, international director at Clio, a cloud-based practice management platform for SME legal practices