January 20, 2015
No, I’m not talking about THAT ‘the internet of things’. I guess I’m really here to address ‘the things behind the internet’. The tangible things. Like the things that fall behind your headboard, that you never pick up, and that you end up forgetting are even there, as time goes on. The electronic devices we use might just as well run off of magic, given how little we have to think about the infrastructure arrayed behind such things. The public consciousness does sometimes take on the ring of Gnostic ritual. I still talk to lawyers who describe ‘the cloud’ as some sort of ethereal thing.
Of course, ‘the cloud’, which is about as inaptly-named as a thing can be, is not ethereal at all, aside from poets’ dreams. It runs on electricity, through modems, connected by cables, all leading up to somebody else’s server. And, that’s really all ‘the cloud’ is: somebody else’s server.
The trust factor is what bugs most lawyers. The fact that you have to trust someone else to host your data, and to interact with it at a superficial level. Highly publicized security breaches (pick one: Sony, iCloud, etc.) only aggravate the nature and level of that peculiar concern. Even if breaches are often a combination of vendor and user error. And, even if compromising data about celebrities is . . . oh, about a billion times more valuable to the general public than the typical solo or small firm’s information collection. Sorry, but you’re small potatoes compared to Jennifer Lawrence, which means you’re unlikely to be targeted nearly as aggressively, to begin with . . . so long as you don’t anger the North Koreans. Not to mention the fact that hosting your information with an internet service provider is not dissimilar from working closely with an accountant, something attorneys have been doing for hundreds of years. In fact, storing data in the cloud is probably even less intrusive, since most major providers are not examining your data and reporting on it; they’re most likely to scan it, to serve ads, a la Gmail.
This is not to say that securing your data is not important; of course it is. Naturally, you should examine security audits, terms of service and service level agreements. In an environment in which competence in law practice technology is liable to become an ethical standard in a jurisdiction near you, and when every state that has answered the question indicates that cloud technologies can be used — assuming reasonable vetting and controls — there has never been a better time to take the leap, especially considering that there are a multitude of ways via which you can protect yourself and the information you place online.
Many solo and small firm attorneys fear ‘the cloud’ at a level that is basically irrational; but, much of that is the product of their being misinformed. From a security standpoint, the average solo attorney or small law firm will not be able to replicate the level of security maintained by most large vendors, including: redundant data centers, under armed guard. Compare that setup with your typical home office.
But, in addition to superior security that can be effectively supplemented by diligent users, cloud products offer significant advantages to law firm managers who are willing to vet providers and establish effective protocols for in-firm access. Many cloud-based products represent pre-built, automatically-updated relational databases, the likes of which solo attorneys and small law firms could not effectively replicate and maintain. Integration among various web-based platforms is more easily achieved than by using local versions of various products, especially respecting platforms folding in APIs — not to mention the ease of use across devices; cloud-based platforms make the Windows versus Mac argument moot: you can use either or both, as is your preference. Accessing your law firm information via the cloud means that you can increase your mobility, since you can get what you need so long as you have an internet connection. Cloud products automate a layer of redundancy in your backup schemata. Monthly subscriptions means buying in is not so daunting a proposition.
Then there’s that other kind of buy-in, the one based in belief, and trust. Stage one services stage two; and, for lawyers and law firms willing to convert to the cloud, and to manage the new responsibilities attached to that transition, there is much to be gained in terms of efficiency and productivity.
(Editor’s note: For more from Jared on this topic. Download the free whitepaper:Mobile in Practice: The Benefits of a Virtual Law Firm)