How the Cloud Can Transform a Law Practice
by David S. Weber
Over 50 years ago when my father first started his law practice the primary mode of communication was a rotary phone and case documents were filed in metal file cabinets. No copiers, no email, no cell phones and no computers. While the rapid pace of technology has streamlined the mass of paper that was choking the court system, it has also proved to be a great differentiator between those who can afford the technology and those who cannot.
Law firms with big budgets can invest in the advanced technology that brings a case to life in a fraction of the time and a fraction of the cost that it takes those firms without the same resources. The ability to collect, cull, review and manage massive amounts of data and to uncover latent digital evidence is a significant advantage heading to the courthouse. Consequently, larger firms have thrived by embracing technology as a key to building bigger, more profitable practices while smaller firms have been left on the outside looking in. Help, however, has appeared over the horizon in the form of a cloud.
The “cloud” is a technological advancement that can level the legal playing field for those willing to accept the challenge. Cloud computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than as a product. It is the ability to plug into infrastructure, software and stored data without the need for onsite infrastructure. Rather than being stored locally, data is located on secure, remote servers maintained by third parties.
Clouds allow end users to have access to applications that were once available only to those who could afford the hardware needed to store and run the applications. Furthermore, the cloud allows access anywhere there is a Wi-Fi connection. It is the ability to have a high-tech law practice outside the four walls of the office—secure access to documents, email, data repositories, time and case management applications while sitting in a remote location. The most visible illustration of cloud technology today is email. Gmail, Yahoo! and AT&T all provide cloud-like services. They facilitate and store email without the need to own the hardware or software.
Law libraries have long been in a cloud thus reaping significant savings on library space, books, subscription costs and updates. Heading into 2012 most providers of office management applications like Microsoft, Google and LexisNexis have already placed their biggest product offerings in the cloud. That means applications like Microsoft Office, QuickBooks and Google Docs can all be accessed through the cloud. Providers of review engines, data storage and time/case management tools are already well on their way to perfecting cloud solutions for their legal clients.
What does this mean to the practicing attorney? It means they are no longer tethered to their software. They are empowered to go to the office even when the office is 1,000 miles away. Deposition preparation, data culling and privilege review can be conducted wherever and whenever the need arises.
Besides the logistical benefits, cloud computing can offer significant financial savings. As a result, smaller firms can enjoy access to the same tools as the big firms without the staggering up-front infrastructure costs. Further, the pay-as-you-go fee structure of the cloud enhances the value for the small firm owner. It means the firm is not paying for storage space it will never use or seat licenses it will never need, but rather, is paying only for the space and licenses it needs and can use. Thus, tightly managed costs can be passed on to the client.
The benefits also will be seen for larger firms. Pre-cloud technology required racks of servers and manpower to maintain and stay current on updates and new technology. By enabling the cloud, big practices can gradually off-load the heavy lifting. The large volume of electronic evidence stored on servers can be moved to a secure, remote location. Costs related to purchasing hardware, server maintenance and IT manpower can be significantly slashed. Increased flexibility, easier access to advanced analytical tools, and slashed overhead means a more productive workforce, which translates into higher overall value for clients.
In short, the continued emergence of the cloud is a significant paradigm shift in how all law firms can do business. The cloud takes technology away from the constraints of the server room and drops it in the attorney’s lap. Tightly measured costs are in and expensive software, hardware, patches, and upgrades go the way of rotary phones and metal file cabinets. Old Guard firms and burgeoning law offices can stand toe-to-toe battling for courthouse superiority on a level playing field.
David Weber is General Counsel at Digital Discovery and a member of the DBA Computer Law and Corporate Counsel sections. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.