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Cloud computing for lawyers – chipping away at risk

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Cloud computing for lawyers – chipping away at risk."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Cloud computing for lawyers – chipping away at risk

Cloud computing, where your data and software are stored on servers owned and maintained by a third party, has been around for years now and offers solo and small firm practitioners many benefits, including affordability, flexibility and agility.

Even so, there continues to be a lot of confusion about it. In fact, according to the results of a survey commissioned by Citrix in August 2012, nearly one third of the 1,000 American adults surveyed believed that cloud computing was a “thing of the future,” even though 97 percent of respondents, apparently unknowingly, used cloud computing to shop online, bank online, and to interact on social networks, such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.

Lawyers are in the same boat. For example, most lawyers have emailed with clients who use Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo mail. And yet the majority of lawyers still don’t realize that when they do so, they are using email services provided via cloud computing to communicate with their clients. And, if their clients choose to save their emails in their email account, rather than delete them, the confidential client information contained in their emails is being stored in the cloud.

So, even though most lawyers have undoubtedly used cloud computing services at one time or another to communicate with their clients, some continue to be hesitant about using cloud computing platforms in their law practice and remain unconvinced that the benefits of cloud computing outweigh the risks.

However, over time, the cost/benefits balance has shifted in favor of cloud computing as it becomes a more familiar technology and as cloud computing providers have responded to consumer worries by implementing procedures and mechanisms to reduce perceived risks.

For example, one major area of concern has been the potential loss or inaccessibility of data in the event of an isolated geographic disaster, such as Hurricane Sandy. In order to alleviate that risk, many cloud computing providers, especially those that cater to businesses such as law firms, have put in place redundant back up procedures. Oftentimes data is backed up multiple times a day to at least 2 servers located in different geographic regions, a concept called geo-redundancy, in order to ensure that data is never lost and is always accessible.

Another area of concern expressed by lawyers is the perceived financial instability of legal cloud computing providers, many of which are small start ups. The fear is that if their cloud computing provider becomes insolvent, the law firm’s data may be lost or otherwise become inaccessible. However, this too is becoming a non-issue as cloud computing becomes more commonplace and as a result, providing cloud computing services becomes a more profitable business endeavor.

For example, the cloud computing company for which I work, MyCaseInc.com, which provides a complete law practice management suite for lawyers, was recently acquired by the California-based AppFolio, a company backed by $30 million in venture capital funding and founded by the same people who created GoToMeeting and GoToMyPC. If there was ever any doubt about the stability and sustainability of MyCase, it was all but eradicated by news of this acquisition.

Similarly, Clio, another company that also offers a cloud-based law practice management system, announced earlier this year that it had raised $6 million in financing, the news of which was viewed as proof that legal cloud computing had come of age.

So, as is the case with most new technologies, the legal profession was slow to embrace the benefits of cloud computing and was understandably cautious about its perceived risks when it first emerged. However, cloud computing technology and its providers have grown and matured, thus alleviating many of the original concerns about the feasibility of its use by law firms.

As a result, it is now perceived by many businesses, both legal and non-legal alike, as a viable and appealing alternative to traditional server-based computing. In other words, the scales are slowly tipping, as the risks are outweighed by the many benefits offered by this 21st century technology.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and Director of Business Development and Community Relations at MyCase, an intuitive cloud-based law practice management platform for the modern law firm. She is also a GigaOM Pro Analyst and is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at nblack@nicoleblackesq.com.

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