The American Bar Association focuses heavily on technology, with its Legal Technology Resource Center (LTRC) releasing the ABA TechReport every year.

Technology author Dennis Kennedy wrote a report on cloud computing for the 2014 edition, revealing incredible growth in the legal cloud over the next 6-12 months:  35% of non-cloud firms expect to use web-based apps or deploy the ultra-reliable, supercomputer-trumping virtual machines themselves for the first time.

  • Survey Nuggets
  • Application to Legal Work
  • Security Mechanisms Overlooked
  • Strengths of the Legal Cloud
  • The Future

Survey Nuggets

Although the forecast into 2015 was incredibly promising, Kennedy noted that the 12 months leading up to the report did not indicate additional adoption. It was essentially a plateau year (or holding-pattern year, to maintain the cloud analogy), with 3 out of 10 law firms stating that they use the cloud, matching the 2013 number.

Attorneys are mainly sold on software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions such as Dropbox, used by 6 out of 10 attorneys.

Understandably, Law firms are concerned with the security and privacy of their data. However, “the employment of precautionary measures is quite low, with no more than 40% of respondents taking any one of the standard cautionary measures listed in the Survey” (which included security best practices such as SSL encryption).

Disturbingly, respondents were doing less to protect data than in 2013, with 1 in 5 attorneys not taking any of the data-safeguarding steps presented in the survey.

Attorneys continue to enjoy the ability to retrieve and manipulate their files whenever and wherever they want. They also like the affordability.

Security has become a more prominent consideration, with attorneys listing vendor reputation as the key differentiator.

Attorneys currently working with cloud trusted it more than previously, with 78% saying they would keep using the technology, versus 70% in 2013.

Application to Legal Work

As stated above, the proportion of 2014 respondents who said they used cloud applications stayed at the same level, 30%. This holding pattern followed a year in which cloud ascended remarkably, from 20% to 30% adoption.

Those relatively new to the field (with under 20 years practicing law) have proven to be the early adopters, but the veteran attorneys are now using the services to just as great a degree.

The legal cloud is a little more prominent in the Midwest and West Coast, but usage is pretty balanced throughout the country.

The primary branches of law that utilize cloud are:

  • Corporate – 37%
  • Commercial – 37%
  • Real estate – 36%
  • Family law – 36%

Two unexpectedly low practice areas were intellectual property, down to 33% from 42% the previous year, and litigation. Kenny found the latter figure particularly shocking: “Given the significance of electronic discovery and the availability of cloud-based electronic discovery services,” he said, “ it is somewhat surprising that there is only a 28.5% usage in litigation practices.”

As indicated above, this year, the disparity between older and younger attorneys exhibited in 2013 evaporated: those up to 49 years old were no likelier to use cloud than attorneys in their 50s, with both measuring 32%.

Security Mechanisms Overlooked

While attorneys reported they are skeptical of cloud data protection, most aren’t taking reasonable proactive steps themselves – perhaps due to a lack of technical knowledge. Precautionary usage was as follows:

  • Check provider service level agreement (SLA) – 32%
  • Survey privacy policy – 37%
  • Backups on own PC or server – 39%
  • SSL or other encryption – 29%

As a side-note, specialized professionals such as doctors and lawyers are often unaware of how critical data encryption is to maintain their confidentiality. That’s clear in the high number of HIPAA violations medical practices experience each year due to unencrypted laptops and mobile devices. There are also tools with which you can encrypt cloud data, such as Boxcryptor, which was recently recommended in TechRepublic.

Kennedy seemed baffled by the perceived lack of effort to protect data from cybercriminals or even theft by the cloud provider itself: “Particularly striking,” Kennedy observed, “is the ‘cobbler’s children’s shoes’ element of lawyers not reviewing cloud services agreements for their own usage.”

Strengths of the Legal Cloud

Attorneys were also asked to describe why they were using the cloud, what advantages they thought it offered. The top reason listed was the technology’s around-the-clock, real-time convenience, allowing attorneys to accomplish work on their terms. Cost-effectiveness was also prominently mentioned as a strong suit. Additional pluses cited by lawyers, to a lesser extent, were:

  • The financial upside of foregoing in-house IT
  • The convenience and security advantage of outsourcing patches and upgrades
  • The immediacy of cloud servers and applications

The Future

Undoubtedly, many attorneys will follow the path taken by the general business world to the Cloud Server model. This model combines a public cloud with a private cloud, designating services to each server as appropriate. Others will integrate a cloud server with a custom dedicated solution. Either way, as the security mechanisms section above suggests, you can use VPS hosting solutions without being at its mercy. Take control today!

By Kent Roberts


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