For early adopters, it may seem ridiculous that moving to the cloud is still a topic of conversation and hesitation for some industries. According to IDC, cloud computing is poised to be a $798M industry in 2014, but there are business sectors that are only now picking up speed in utilizing the technology. The combination of security concerns and faith in traditional systems has resulted in the legal industry being as one of the slower sectors to adopt the cloud.
But at long last, it looks like that is changing: A recent report by LexisNexis revealed that 40 percent of attorneys used cloud-based tools in 2013, a 10 percent increase over the previous year. Read on for why the legal professionals are finally coming around to the cloud – and how that shift is helping clients.
From a Paper-Based World to a Virtual One
If you picture a traditional law firm, that image likely contains rows and rows of file cabinets. Customarily, legal documents have been housed in physical locations. The thought of taking these sensitive records to a virtual environment has been a major reason law firms resist taking the plunge to the cloud. But there is a level of risk in any storage format, as even physical documents could be stolen or damaged. As practice management software systems are proving, the cloud can be a highly secure place for the most important of documents to live.
Beyond the hurdle of security concerns, legal practitioners are often nervous about how cloud adoption will change the structure of the entire business. Where clients once had to pick up the phone and speak to their attorneys in order to get answers about their case, the cloud offers a way for them to be in more frequent contact – and have more transparency into day to day legal affairs. And where a law firm may have needed multiple personnel to handle administration tasks in the past, a cloud-based business requires far fewer general office staff. While these are all positive changes, it can take a while for an industry to make significant overhauls to procedures that have been relied upon for decades.
Despite treading with caution, however, the legal industry is picking up speed in its cloud adoption. In fact, the same report previously cited also found that there was a 10 percent increase in cloud use by attorneys in 2013 – and this number is likely to grow even more substantially in the coming year.
Changing the Legal Industry, One Attorney at a Time
Despite the hesitations of lifelong attorneys who are reluctant to change their tried and true practices or new attorneys hung up on certain anxieties around new technology, it’s undisputed that the industry at large is moving steadily toward widespread utilization of Web-based systems. One reason for this movement is a response to client needs. Even the most technologically skeptical of lawyers can see the advantages of giving clients options that help them better manage and understand their legal experiences.
So why do clients appreciate law firms with cloud capability? The answers are many. For starters, consumers now expect constant access to information and communication. They expect to be able to gather details on their cases when they want them, and to be able to get a response from their attorney within a reasonable – if not instant – frame of time. Clients want to be more deeply informed, and being able to access case alerts, documents, and attorney communication through a portal they can access at any time grants them this. This expectation gives attorneys who offer a cloud-based portal a competitive advantage.
Beyond the simple factor of accessibility, additional features that cloud computing offers are a big draw for both clients and law firms. Take billing, for example. Before these innovations, client invoices would be sent through the mail, and both parties were often not clear on the status of payments. By way of a Web-based billing lifecycle, law firms can now enter billable time as it occurs, clients can pay bills through an online portal from anywhere they choose and both sides of the equation don’t have to guess about what’s been paid and what’s still due.
Other features like secure document uploads, secure message portals and alerts about important dates serve to better apprise the client of important information. This eliminates the need for attorneys to spend time on administrative tasks and allows them to get back to practicing law. It’s no wonder the LexisNexis report cited previously found that 40 percent of attorneys feel that cloud-based tools will completely surpass premise-based solutions within the next three years.
Next up to Bat: More Mobility
With all these up-and-coming features available within Web-based systems, what’s next for the legal cloud? Well, as with most industries in 2014, mobile usage will continue to skyrocket. Customers and attorneys alike can expect to see more mobile apps become available, and more software accessibility through smartphones and tablets. The convenience of mobile devices is not lost on the legal crowd, and busy lawyers whose days are chock-full of meetings and court appearances will keep demanding faster and easier access to the system functions they consider most crucial. Clients who are concerned about the outcome of cases that could bear a significant impact on their lives will continue to call for more frequent case updates, more in-depth communications and more transparent insight into case status.
In other industries, the service and mobility advantages of the cloud are so obvious it’s hard to believe there is anyone out there still resisting. Finally the legal field is starting to embrace its power as well. It will be exciting to see where the cloud goes in the next few years, but one thing is for sure – among attorneys, it’s here to stay.
By Matt Spiegel
Matt is the founder, vice president and general manager of My Case, a cloud-based legal practice management software. A lawyer himself, Spiegel founded the business in 2010 to address the number one complaint across all state bar associations: insufficient attorney/client communication. Prior to its acquisition by AppFolio in 2012, Matt was CEO of MyCase. He maintains a leadership role with the company and continues to advocate for better, more efficient legal services through the use of Web-based tools.