Making the Switch to Cloud Computing: It’s a Balancing Act

The following is an excerpt from Cloud Computing for Lawyers, Chapter 6: Implementing Cloud Computing Into Your Law Practice.

If You Plan to Store Confidential Data the Cloud

If you plan to use cloud-computing services to process and house confidential client data, one option is to use the services of a company that provides legal practice management in the cloud. These cloud-based practice management systems offer lawyers a one-stop shop for managing a law office, providing an assortment of tools that help to streamline the day-to-day business of running a law firm.

As I discuss more fully in Chapter 7, these SaaS products are cloud-based law practice management suites, and most systems generally provide case and matter management, time tracking, billing and reporting, and client contact management. Different products may also provide task scheduling, trust accounting, performance metrics, and very rudimentary document management.

However, these software programs do not do everything. You still must determine which e-mail and word processing tools to use, and you may want to supplement your law practice management software with other cloud-based products, such as a more comprehensive document manage- ment system, metadata removal software, or an online collaborative workspace.

Of course, you do not have to use a cloud-based law practice management suite. You can certainly piecemeal the different functions offered by law practice management suites and use cloud-computing services for certain tasks while relying on traditional desktop or server-based software for others. For example, cloud-based applications could be used for only off-site back up, document management, e-mail, and billing.

Many lawyers go this route, foregoing SaaS-based law practice management systems, but still using the cloud to simplify certain aspects of their practice. Using cloud-based law practice management suites for only certain functions offers lawyers peace of mind by providing off-site data back up that is easily accessible from anywhere, at anytime.

If You Would Rather Not Store Confidential Data in the Cloud

The strategy of using cloud-computing software for certain functions can likewise be employed by newly established law firms that choose to avoid storing confidential data in the cloud altogether, or would prefer to test the waters by using the cloud for tasks that do not require the input of confidential information. This can be accomplished by using desktop or server-based software to handle confidential documents and data while offloading nonconfidential tasks to the cloud.

Law firms that choose this route will continue to manage their law practice using traditional, server-based software, but will benefit from the flexibility and convenience of utilizing cloud-computing platforms for specified functions. There are a variety of tasks that can be accomplished in the cloud that do not involve the disclosure of highly sensitive or confidential data. For example, you can take advantage of cloud-based applications for timekeeping or billing purposes, or you can store forms and other nonconfidential documents online for easy access while on the road. Another option is to use cloud-based calendaring systems or manage your productivity in the cloud using online to-do list applications.

When starting from scratch, you must think about the big picture and envision where your firm will be in five or ten years. Implement software systems and procedures that you expect will stand the test of time…

As a lawyer at the helm of a newly established law firm, you must carefully balance these considerations before choosing legal software programs that will meet your needs and expand with your firm. It is not an easy decision, nor is there a foolproof methodology that will help you make the “right” choice. But learning about the options available, including cloud-based platforms, is the first step toward making a decision that will benefit your law firm in the long run.

Excerpted from Cloud Computing for Lawyers by Nicole Black. Published by the American Bar Association, 2012.

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