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Considerations for legal firms when migrating to the cloud

March 3, 2014 • Opinion

The adoption of cloud solutions within many organisations is gaining momentum. This is allowing for the upgrading of application capabilities and increased agility of IT infrastructure without the need for large capital outlay around on-premise data centres.

Gareth Tudor, CEO of Altonet. (Image source: Altonet)

Gareth Tudor, CEO of Altonet. (Image source: Altonet)

Law firms and corporate legal departments are also examining the benefits that the cloud offers, including increased productivity, improved client service delivery as well as improved business flexibility – all while reducing expenses. However, security concerns around adopting the cloud still remain, leaving these organisations unsure as to whether they should move to the cloud or not.

Businesses of all sizes require access to high-end IT capabilities in order to remain competitive and the cloud model is particularly attractive as it allows for this technology to be implemented without significant overheads.  Aside from data centre and storage capabilities, a number of applications can also be hosted and delivered via the cloud, including Customer Relationship Management (CRM), accounting software, email management, archiving and more. These applications can be delivered ‘on demand’ on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis, making them highly cost effective and delivering the latest technology at a fraction of the cost of an outright purchase.

For the legal fraternity, reduced risk is another benefit compelling the drive towards the cloud.  Disaster Recovery (DR) and business continuity solutions, which reduce risk by ensuring that mission-critical data is safeguarded, are essential for any data-driven environment. Thanks to cloud solutions, these can now be more easily implemented, which is particularly appealing to law firms and legal departments where IT resources and budget are limited. Effective collaboration, enabled by cloud solutions that allow for sharing and co-authoring of files, can also improve attorney productivity and client service. In fact, according to research conducted at the 2013 LegalIT Leadership Summit in Miami sponsored by HP Autonomy, CIO respondents from 28 large law firms indicated an even more dramatic shift in specific application areas acknowledged to have cloud advantages. These application areas include email spam, email DR, email archive and file sync.

Despite the many benefits and a seemingly inevitable shift towards the cloud, many law firms and legal departments remain reluctant to adopt these solutions. The reasons for this include concerns around the security of client data, the availability and reliability of mission critical applications, and the legal liabilities they may be exposed to. Before moving to the cloud, it is essential to take into account these concerns and evaluate the risks.

Connectivity is the first critical point, since the availability of the cloud depends on your connection to the cloud data centre. It is therefore imperative to build in some form of redundancy to ensure the company is always connected to the Internet, even if the redundant link is a very inexpensive connection such as Business ADSL.  This will ensure the availability of cloud applications and data in the event that the main connectivity link goes down. Latency and bandwidth performance are other related areas, since the quality and speed of bandwidth can affect the performance of cloud applications.

It is therefore important to ensure the use of a reliable Internet service provider and that you are buying sufficient bandwidth. Using the services of a cloud provider with replicated data centres in different geographical areas can help to mitigate this risk, since the distance between an organisation’s gateway and the cloud provider can affect bandwidth latency. In addition, cloud providers that offer incremental service updates and data backup can help to reduce the amount of data that needs to be synchronised with the cloud. Within internal connectivity, it is also critical to ensure Quality of Service (QoS) on the connection, so that mission critical data around cloud services does not compete for network resources with other connected applications such as VoIP, email and so on.

Security must also be considered, as inadequate security from the cloud provider can result in leaked information, which can be catastrophic in the legal environment where client confidentiality is essential. Cloud providers need to meet enterprise security and control standards, and public cloud services should not be utilised for the storage of sensitive corporate information. Cloud solutions for the legal industry need to integrate business process, workflow and security to mitigate this risk and safeguard access, data security and integrity.   In this regard, it is important for companies’ to obtain the details of the company that provides the cloud solution provider with backup and security and to benchmark their security against international best practice.

Data privacy regulations and the implications of the legal domains in which cloud content is stored also need to be considered. For example, many countries do not permit certain types of data, such as personal information, to be stored outside of the country.  Even support functions such as system administrator access to data may not be permitted outside the country. This can complicate the cloud environment as many cloud data centres reside in the United States and Europe. Cloud providers need to offer mitigation strategies to address these concerns, and both the provider and the client need to be responsible for ensuring that data is properly safeguarded and processed.   Furthermore, the storage of any credit card information needs to be protected with even higher levels of security, and Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DDS) compliance is essential.

If these measures are addressed, and a service provider selected that can ensure a well-architected cloud solution that is at least as secure as an on-premise application, the cloud computing model can be especially appropriate and cost effective for law firms and corporate legal departments. As long as all concerns around the risks and benefits of the cloud for the legal environment are addressed, and if the correct provider is selected, the benefits can be realised without exposure to unnecessary risk. Adopting cloud services and solutions enables law firms and legal departments to focus on their core competency of practising law, while benefiting from reduced costs, enhanced agility and improved productivity and collaboration delivered through best of breed technology.

Gareth Tudor, CEO of Altonet

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