For decades, the world has known that computers would be a central feature of businesses of the future. However, businesses around the world have recently started to see a new type of computing: desktop-based business solutions are giving away to cloud-based solutions. There is plenty of confusion about exactly what cloud computing is and what it is not. Essentially, cloud computing can be thought of any software that happens to be delivering over an Internet connection rather than software directly installed to your law office’s own servers.
By such a definition, attorneys actually are no strangers to cloud computing: everything from basic email applications like Gmail and Hotmail to online legal research databases like LexisNexis and Westlaw involves cloud computing. Nowadays, law firms have the opportunity to bring cloud-based solutions to a more prominent role in their offices: cloud computing has the potential to allow every member of a law office to access and collaborate on the firms’ document at any time and from any place. In the past, legal services professionals would have trouble accessing firm data from courthouses or while on vacation – cloud computing fundamentally changes that. Here’s the least you should know.
The Freedom of Cloud Computing
Cloud computing allows members of a law firm to work in ways that were previously impossible: they now have unprecedented access to legal research and client data that used to be trapped on local firm servers. Attorneys and paralegals can now work collaboratively on legal documents from the ease of any Internet browser. Law practice management systems like Advologix PM, Clio, DirectLaw, LawRd, and LexisNexis Firm Manager allow law firms to better manage their data from the cloud. Unlike previous solutions, cloud computing is easily deployed and requires little to no training – the software is now all in the cloud and does not require law firms buy specialized hardware. Unlike desktop-based solutions, cloud computing is usually fully compatible with mobile devices. When it comes to user experience, the cloud is the clear winner for law firms.
The Cost of Cloud Computing
Most people who are unfamiliar with cloud computing are surprised to learn that cloud computing is actually less costly than traditional computing. Desktop-based computing, by definition, has higher upfront investment costs including hardware costs, software license costs, installation costs, and training costs. Additionally, firms usually have to pay maintenance and security costs for desktop-based solutions. When a successful attorney’s data and storage needs grow, the law firm faces new hardware, software, and other scaling costs. On the other hand, cloud computing allows law firms to outsource pretty much every cost and guarantees easier scalability. Cloud computing providers work on a monthly subscription-based model, meaning their users are at a financial advantage. Total cost analysis (TCO) research comparing cloud and traditional solutions show that the cloud is significantly more cost effective over time.
The Ethics of Cloud Computing
If you have any legal training, you may be considering the benefits of cloud computing but wondering if it is ethical to store confidential client data with third parties. As a matter of fact, as cloud computing has become more ubiquitous, more and more state bar associations have issued ethics opinions on the topic. Alabama, Arizona, California, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Vermont all agree that there is a compelling case for law firms to use cloud computing and that it is generally permissible as long as the attorneys exercise “reasonable care” in choosing the service provider. Opinion summaries on the ethics of cloud computing are available on the ABA’s website.