The Cloud: A Better IT Choice for Law Firms… or Not?

January 21st, 2015 by admin

Three mobile computing devices with blue arrows pointing up towards a blue-outlined cloud

Several years since you probably first heard about it, "the Cloud" remains among the trendiest buzzwords in the tech world—particularly here around Silicon Valley. Several of our Bay Area law firm clients have approached us asking if migrating their IT into the Cloud is the right choice for them, especially after reading a handful of articles in the legal trade media urging them not to be left behind in the Cloud Revolution.

Much of this Cloud-or-bust evangelism is actually driven by PR hype from folks with "a dog in the hunt"—vendors of Cloud-related products or services targeted to the legal market. While there's no doubt the Cloud is transforming how business is done across various industries, is it actually a good fit for a small to mid-size law firm? Actually, it depends. Let's examine just a few of the important points to investigate before "ascending" into the Cloud:

Timing. If your firm's onsite servers are over three years old, they've probably outlived their manufacturer's warranties and have achieved a reasonable service life. Instead of replacing those servers, you might want to consider Cloud services. If moving to the Cloud will achieve a good ROI for your firm, the ROI is going to be better at “upgrade time” than at other times.

Cost. A Cloud-based platform doesn't necessarily guarantee more "bang for the buck" than a traditional data center. While shifting to the Cloud may or may not increase attorneys' productivity, the overall costs to your firm may actually turn out to be higher, especially in the long run. We recommend a thorough evaluation of your firm's particular IT needs, matched with a favorable service contract from a managed service provider (MSP). Then compare that to what you’ve been spending.

The Cloud is not a one-size-fits-all cost solution. Research is recommended.

HINT: It may be a royal pain to reverse course if you don’t like the Cloud(s) you chose—so choose carefully.

How Much of What? A law firm's initial foray into the Cloud doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. It involves choosing the right proportions of IT operations to host in a private Cloud datacenter, or possibly installing a few specific software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps to handle essential tasks such as docketing or billing. The firm can also opt for a desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) platform, which would enable any Mac aficionados in the office to freely use your firm’s PC apps at their desktop, at home, or in a condo at Lake Tahoe.

Security. Cloud security is a real concern. On one hand, many Cloud providers, especially private Cloud providers who mimic what a private, corporate data center looks like, say that their security is better than what most small or medium-sized businesses have in place today.  This is somewhat true. On the other hand, there is the problem we have christened the “Willie Sutton Effect.” Willie was the most prolific US bank robber. When a reporter asked why he robbed banks, he was said to have replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” The same goes for cyber criminals. If you were a hacker in a criminal gang, who would you rather spend your valuable time hacking? A small law firm, or a Cloud provider where the data for dozens or even hundreds of small law firms is stored in one place?

One way to combat this problem of Cloud security is to use the Cloud only for workloads that involve encrypted data, which hackers generally cannot open. This includes some systems labeled “Hybrid Cloud.”  For example, there are business continuity systems  (a.k.a. “backup”) that store the backups from your on-premises servers in an encrypted form in your offices, and then mirror that data into Cloud data centers. That way, your data stored in the Cloud is far safer.

Another Hybrid Cloud option is to store apps and other "auxiliary" files externally in the Cloud, but store sensitive data on your firm's onsite server—particularly confidential client information or data protected by government regulations like HIPAA.

Is Cloud computing the right solution for your law firm? For a complimentary assessment, click here.

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