http://www.flickr.com/photos/carenmack/3312194911/

Guest post by Danny Johnson.

A few weeks ago, roughly around the time around the time that oil started leaking in the gulf, being an incumbent became a major political liability, and Sam Glover was having an epic debate about cloud computing and blog ethics on the Lawyerist, I had an epiphany. I suddenly realized that the legal Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) market is about to tip.

The legal SaaS and cloud computing market has been around since at least 2001, longer than most people realize (even outdating the terms “SaaS” and “cloud computing“), but its initial growth rate was very slow. Although there were a number of forward thinking law firms that were early adopters and quickly caught the SaaS vision, it wasn’t until around 2007 or 2008 when legal SaaS grew up and the technology became an important strategic decision for all law firms.

5 Reasons for SaaS Acceptance

Most of the reasons for the surge in SaaS popularity have to do with the inherent benefits of its delivery model such as anywhere access, real-time collaboration, zero upfront costs and lower total cost of ownership, but there were also a number of external factors that boosted its acceptance.

1. SaaSonomics

Web hosted applications like Facebook and Google have become a way of life. In today’s society, it is much easier for the average person to know what their junior high school sweetheart is doing and communicate with him or her, than to communicate and collaborate with their co-workers on business critical tasks. Over the last decade, web sharing, collaboration and instant communication became a way of life for most of us in our personal lives, and people began to want the same freedom in their work life. Just as it has in the past, consumer demands were a key driving force behind business innovation and the demand for legal tools accessible from anywhere with the power to collaborate with clients, opposing parties, etc., forced businesses and technology vendors to innovate and create those tools for law firms.

2. Economics

With the economic downturn, cost cutting became trendy and law firms of all sizes were looking for ways to reduce costs while remaining competitive. Many firms saw SaaS as the way to do that. Legal Software-as-a-Service tools not only gave law firms a competitive advantage by providing innovative technology, but the lower cost of ownership and pay as you go pricing model enabled firms to lower technology expenses as well.

3. Mobile

The rise of SaaS technology perfectly coincided with the proliferation of internet ready mobile devices. It gave lawyers the ability to access the same technology they used at the office, or from their laptop, directly from their mobile devices through the browser or an app without any extra cost or IT headache.

4. Innovation

It would be easy to look back and wonder why the old guard in legal technology did not recognize this changing business climate and figure out a way to deliver their own legacy products over the web, but then again, the old model was lucrative and the vendor had total control of the customer, and has history has demonstrated, control and power are hard to give up. It took a new breed of legal technology companies, especially in the practice management area, to build quality products that provided lawyers with the tools they were accustomed to, coupled with the tools of the new web for Software-as-a-Service to gain universal acceptance. Over the past three years, numerous companies such as Advologix, Clio, and RocketMatter have done a lot to promote awareness and adoption of SaaS for law firms.

5. SaaS Evangelists

Along with the growth new legal SaaS companies, there were a whole slew of lawyers who didn’t just enjoy the benefits of the technologies in their own practice, but took it upon themselves to promote it to others. People like Steph Kimbro, Seth Rowland and Niki Black didn’t just make terms like “Cloud Computing,” “multi-tenancy” and “SaaS” household terminology, but made sure we understood their meanings and ethical implications.

Current State of Legal SaaS

The proliferation of cloud/SaaS tools and adoption has made it so it lawyers working at small firms, or solo practitioners running a virtual office can have access to the exact same powerful technologies that were once available only too large firms with dedicated IT servers and staff. The multi-tenancy architecture of the Software-as-a-Service model provides everyone the power to throw out their IT hat and pay only for what they use.

Will the lawyer who would rather be locked in by legacy software products continue to exist? Maybe for a little while, but a radical paradigm shift in technology and in the way lawyers work has begun.

Danny Johnson works for the NetDocuments marketing department.