The Top-Five Questions to Ask when Evaluating Cloud-Based Technology for your Practice

The notion of cloud computing isn't as abstract as it may seem. Simply put, cloud computing is the use of computing resources in a remote location to save files, instead of saving them on your office PC. With your files sitting in "the cloud" and stored on remote servers, you can practice law and manage your law firm from anywhere. Cloud computing frees you from your office so you can respond to clients anywhere - from the local coffee shop to the beaches of Maui.

As cloud computing has gained momentum in the legal industry, both the American Bar Association and state ethics committees have recognized it as a "new normal," and stress due diligence to protect client data. 

An attorney thinking about moving their files to the cloud is likely to have a lot of questions about the process. Below are the top five questions to consider (and ask potential cloud providers).

1. Is The Cloud Safe For Law Firms?

As both a cloud user and lawyer, you have higher standards to abide by and ethical decisions to consider. After all, you're not just concerned about your information, but you are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of your clients' information as well.

Cloud providers take this concern seriously as well. The security measures on a law firm cloud server are more effective than the lock to your file cabinet, the key to your office and buckle on your briefcase.

In many cases, cloud-based platforms encrypt communications and provide reliable data backups. Encryption protects your data while being transmitted and stored for the sole purpose of preventing unauthorized viewers. There are different levels of encryption, from simple password encryption to military-grade cryptography. Most major cloud platforms use encryption protocols (either TLS or SSL) that are reliable and proven industry standards. Data backup can also be done in various ways, depending on your cloud provider.

2. Will I Have Control Over My Information?

If you go the paperless route and verify that security measures can be met, some would say you've gained control because you know exactly who has access to your data. However, if you live and breathe by hard copies, relinquishing control to the cloud can be difficult to do.

Fortunately, you have options. When deciding to leave the paper trail behind, your IT provider will likely talk to you about self-hosted storage, co-location storage, and cloud-based storage.

Self-Hosted Storage

Self-hosted storage still follows the principles of cloud computing in that you can essentially work from anywhere, but the servers remain in-house. Therefore, you control the storage. For some, this provides a sense of security while still leveraging the benefits of the cloud. However, just because you can self-store doesn't always mean you should. When you take on this responsibility, you take on the risk of something going wrong - from a break-in to a natural disaster.

Co-Location Storage

It is usually not practical for businesses to implement biometric controls to limit access to their equipment, deploy multiple Internet connections for redundancy and keep generators around for power outages. Co-location is a middle ground between keeping servers on-site and putting everything out in the public cloud.

Co-location stores the information on servers you own that reside in someone else's data center. The benefit here is that you own and control the servers, while the hardware resides in a data center with robust physical security, excellent connectivity, and backup power.

Cloud-Based Storage

Cloud-based storage is often the least expensive and can be the most secure. The economics are simple. Your data resides in a shared environment and service providers can leverage economies of scale and pass along the savings.

The reason these multi-tenant environments are often the most secure is twofold. First, market demands require that cloud providers manage security closely. Security failures are usually highly publicized and providers lose customers when it happens. Secondly, because cloud providers are focused on providing a specific service, they can have dedicated personnel who manage security.

3. Is Moving My Data to the Cloud Expensive?

One of the reasons cloud computing continues to increase in popularity is its low cost. When you think about the money and time you've spent purchasing and updating software, funding hardware, on-boarding new associates, and troubleshooting, the impact on your bottom line is alarming. When you move your law firm to the cloud, on-boarding new hires happens with a click of a button. There are no new software licenses or hardware to buy to accommodate new employees. These efficiencies make your people more productive and reduce overhead - putting more dollars back in your practice.

Additionally, cloud computing costs are often subscription-based or pay-as-you-go, so there's no surprise in what you're paying. You pay per user and those costs can also vary by role (e.g. paralegal vs. lawyer vs. legal secretary).

4. Is the Cloud Just a Trend?

The cloud is as much a trend as the Internet. It's not leaving anytime soon. Beginning with AOL in the early '90s to the recent explosion of mobile devices, cloud computing is only gaining more momentum. In the legal industry, cloud-based law firms have seen increased productivity, new efficiencies, and an increased bottom line. With the ability to access client contacts, case details, timekeeping, billing, calendars and email from anywhere in the world, there's little reason to question how the cloud can help your firm.

5. Should Every Firm Move to the Cloud?

Not necessarily. While many legal organizations are moving to the cloud, it doesn't necessarily mean it is right for your firm- at least not right now. There are real benefits to cloud computing. However, regulatory requirements such as HIPAA or state privacy laws may influence how sensitive data should be stored in the cloud. If this applies to your firm, that doesn't mean you can't reap cloud computing benefits. Storing your calendars, contacts, and email in the cloud is one way to boost productivity while still complying with regulatory requirements.

Cloud computing offers numerous benefits to forward-thinking attorneys and law firms. To ensure you find the option best for your firm, find a technology partner experienced in cloud storage for lawyers to help you identify risks and make sense of the complexities.