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Cloud computing for law firms: what are the real benefits?

Cloud computing for law firms

Cloud computing for law firms still remains a hotly debated subject. For a practice management software provider like LawWare, the issue determines our product offerings. Sales of cloud-based solutions dominate but we also offer an “own server” version.

That’s just our response to the demands of the market. However, how do you know which is the right solution for you? It’s all about understanding the technology and that means looking at the real benefits of cloud.

This article is part of a series that will look at several areas of consideration. Initially we’ll take a look at the benefits and the key questions to ask. The second article will cover what to look for in a cloud supplier and what your contract should contain. The final one will tackle data and other issues that you need to address.

Let’s get the ball rolling by looking at the pros and cons.

Benefits.

Going cloud essentially means using computing resources that are not on your premises. That’s the first key point to understand. In many respects it’s a key shift in both thinking and control of your resources. The benefits that accrue from making the shift include:

  • Cost savings – a reduced initial investment in infrastructure such as servers, storage devices and expensive virus protection applications.
  • Overhead savings – cloud reduces the amount of money you will have to spend on maintenance and upgrading of your hardware.
  • Accessibility – you are not confined to the office. You can access the cloud from home, court, client premises or anywhere with a decent internet connection.
  • Efficiency – modern practice management software is geared to collaboration, automation and workflow management.
  • Flexibility – most cloud software is purchased by subscription. That means you can buy as many or as few licences as your business needs demand.

It all sound great doesn’t it? In fact, it sounds exactly like the patter you’d expect to hear from someone who markets cloud practice management software for a living! Surely there must be a few drawbacks?

Concerns.

Maybe there are, but in my experience, these are simply concerns rather than real risks or challenges. When people ask me about cloud computing for law firms, one key concern raises its ugly head: security. It’s a two-horned beast – physical security and cyber security.

Cyber security.

This is always a major concern. It comes from the idea that your data is safer on your own premises, under your control and with you responsible for protecting it.

Cyber attacks come in many forms. However, the most frequent source emanates from exploiting software that is not regularly updated or no longer supported. To keep ahead in this game, you have to continually invest in updating all your software applications to the latest versions. One moment of laxity can be very costly. Be honest, do you do this at the moment?

Naturally, if you keep on top of your updates all should be fine – apart from the downtime during office hours when updates are being applied. Cloud software providers continually update all the software they run, and they do it out of hours to minimise downtime.

How good is your nuclear bunker?

So, what about physical threats to your data?  With data stored on your own premises, you may feel secure in the knowledge that it is free from physical damage and theft if not from unanticipated power outages. You are probably keeping an off-site backup of the data in a fire-proof container too – or are you?

The bottom line is this: how secure is your office environment? If you are based in the local High Street, your data (servers) are open to theft. If your backups are stored there, so are they. Should you happen to be located next door to a take-away with a dodgy fire and safety record, you could be looking at catastrophic failure when you return to work the next day. How long will it take you to recover?

Let’s nail this one. LawWare’s data centres are as secure as a nuclear bunker. In fact, one of them is an ex Cold War nuclear bunker under the fields of Lincolnshire! It has state of the art fire and safety protection together with climate control and its own, secondary power generation system as a fail-safe. It also backs up your data in triplicate and, in the event of all that going wrong, it will move data to another data centre, and you will be able to carry on working.

Which do you think is the most secure system?

Where to start.

So, if cloud computing is looking more appealing, what’s the best way to proceed? My advice would be to take three things into consideration: your business needs, your clients’ needs and what kind of cloud supplier is suitable to address both.

Your business needs.

Think strategically about your business before you rush in headlong. Cloud computing will probably not provide all your IT needs. Integrated practice management and accounts software is, however, a big part of the picture. So, perhaps this is as good a place as any to start. Remember, whichever system you choose, it should be more efficient than the one you have and provide functionality you did not have previously. Otherwise, the only determining factor is cost.

Your clients’ needs.

Clients are paramount and it is their data that you will be storing in the cloud. They will expect their data to be held securely and safely in a GDPR compliant manner. Secondly, the onus is upon you as the controller of their data. That means that if the data is going to be held outside the European Economic Area, you need to ascertain that the security arrangements comply with GDPR arrangements relating to international transfers of said data.

That all sounds complicated. Cut to the chase. Choose a cloud supplier that stores your clients’ and your own data in the UK. Keep it simple.

What to look for in a cloud supplier.

For practice management and accounts software, choose a specialist rather than a generalist. The Solicitor’s Accounts Rules require specialist software to ensure your compliance. That done, look for a practice management supplier that specialises in the English or Scottish legal systems. Then, with a much smaller shortlist, ask each candidate a series of questions:

  1. What commitments to availability and performance of the services do you provide?
  2. Where will my data be held?
  3. How easily can I get data back, both during and at the end of the service?
  4. What backup arrangements do you provide if the service goes down?
  5. What security arrangements are in place?
  6. If using a shared rack in a shared data centre, what would happen to my data if another customer’s server on my shared rack was seized, perhaps by a regulator for investigatory purposes?

That last one will show you know your onions and will make suppliers stand to attention!

Cloud computing for law firms is all about ensuring you and your clients get tangible benefits from the move. It’s also about being careful in your choice of supplier. However, there are other due diligence factors to consider.

I’ll take a look at these in the next article in this series. By then, you should have had time to draw up your shortlist of suppliers. 🙂

Mike O’Donnell, October 2019.

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