Legal IT Professionals’ online survey of its readership presented a split decision on about a move to the cloud. “The online news publication covering international legal information technology asked readers: ‘If your law firm’s management asked for your advice regarding moving key applications to the cloud, would you be in favor of this strategy?’ The 438 responses from legal information technology staff, lawyers and paralegals was nearly split down the middle, with 46% opposing and 45% in favor, while 9% had no opinion.”
The participants of this 2013 survey might be a bit more cloud-oriented these days, as more law firms find a new home for IT in the cloud. However, overall, law firms continue to balk at the idea of moving toward the cloud since they do not know how to take the first steps. Moreover, as stated by the law firms’ IT staff who responded to the survey, their firms would require new skills to transition, manage and support the new cloud service services.
The cloud migration path for law firms is not unlike that of other small business, with a few more issues to deal with around privacy, compliance, and governance. Here is a quick process that most law firms should consider:
First, access the mission of the core legal practice. What are the specialty areas? International, family, tax, criminal, patent? In many cases, the practice covers several areas. Understand the patterns of security and the patterns of governance that are required, such as rules and regulations around how client data should be handled, and even ethical requirements. Can data be stored in other states or even other countries? Cloud providers have servers everywhere, but many will isolate data geographically, if necessary. What level of security is a legal requirement? With the cloud, available security and legal security requirements continue to evolve. Even those skilled with the law often don’t understand the current state of these regulations. Create a security and governance plan from this effort.
Second, access the existing practice management systems, and get a good understanding of the ongoing operational costs. In many instances, systems that run in the legal office’s data center carry a huge cost that most of those who manage the practice don’t really understand. You need to figure out that cost to see if the cloud will be an improvement. This information will allow you to pick the data and applications that are good candidates to relocate to the cloud. Create business cases, and systems migration prioritization from this work.
Third, create a migration plan that includes applications and data sets that will be more cost effective when run from a public cloud. Once you understand the specific applications and the data, figure out how those applications and data will migrate.
In some cases, the applications are packaged and you simply want a SaaS version of the same software systems, or an alternative product that provides a SaaS version. In the case of data, you need to find analogs in the public cloud, including the same versions of the database that run in a public cloud (e.g., Oracle), or opportunities to leverage more purpose-built databases that may provide higher performance and lower costs, such as NoSQL databases.
Finally, execute the plan and include a stepwise path to migrate some of the applications and some of the data. Start slowly. Consider security and governance at each step, and make sure that the migration efforts align with the needs of the users in the practice.
Cloud computing is still a little scary to those who work in law offices, but the more innovative and fastest growing practices are moving to the cloud. The move is certainly for cost reasons, but, more and more, it’s around the practice’s need to grow quickly, without limitations from IT.