In January I predicted that we would see a greater take up amongst lawyers of cloud computing in 2011. Perhaps this was a self fulfilling prophecy because my own law firm, Inksters Solicitors, has just moved all of our IT systems into the cloud (Law in the Cloud). This includes our e-mail, Word Processing, Client Record Management, Case Management and all Cashroom functions. We have done so via Denovo Business Intelligence using their Intelligent Cloud Software as a Service (SaaS) solution.
This post is a look at my initial thoughts on cloud computing for law firms now that I am experiencing it first hand.
I had always thought that the fuss around cloud computing was a bit hyped. In my mind it really just meant that your server was no longer located in your own office but located elsewhere in a secure data centre with access to it being taken over the internet rather than fixed wires within your own office. However that ‘cloud’ could in effect be within your own office and often already was. With a correct set up you could have external access to your data via a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Indeed that is what I have been used to for the past 12 years. Whilst at home or in Shetland or elsewhere I could connect into my office in Glasgow via the internet and access my office Desktop PC and all data thereon and the data within the office server just as if I was sitting in my office. So I (no doubt along with many other lawyers) was perhaps already benefitting from cloud computing albeit that the cloud in question was within rather than outwith my office.
So what difference does having the external rather than internal cloud make? Here are my initial thoughts on the pros and cons.
The Pros of cloud computing for Law Firms
When outwith the office the connectivity to the cloud is much better and more reliant than the old VPN. On occasion the VPN connection would break with me having to go through the reconnection process. This does not happen with the cloud. Furthermore, the cloud connection is much faster and better able to handle large files. On one occasion whilst I was away from the office someone (probably thinking they were doing a good deed) switched my PC off. This meant that I could not access my VPN. That will not be a problem with the cloud and indeed now we can safely switch off all PCs in the office before shutting the door for the night.
2. Ability to use the internet whilst connected to the cloud
With the old VPN you could not fire up an Internet Browser on the computer you were working on whilst connected. The connection effectively switched off your internet connection other than that to the VPN. I could still connect to the internet via the VPN (i.e. the browser on my office desktop) but this internet via the internet connection was very slow. In the cloud I can do both. However, unlike the VPN the internet connection within the cloud is just as effective as the internet connection which can be used simultaneously with the cloud from whatever computer I am working on.
3. Latest software
The cloud gives me and my staff at Inksters the latest version of Microsoft Office and when it is updated so will we be. Whilst a law office can always update the software on their hardware to the latest version they will inevitably continue with the existing version until they really have to upgrade. The result will often perhaps be various different versions of Microsoft running on different machines within a law office.
4. Speed and Reliability
The cloud is actually faster and, so far, more reliable than our old system. This might be because our old server was on its last legs (it was reaching full capacity) and the PCs running off it were a good few years old. At the same time as moving to the cloud we upgraded all our hardware to brand new PCs and, of course, no longer need a server. Had we done this and installed a new server (rather than moving to the cloud) we may well have seen the same result. We from time to time had problems with PCs crashing and issues with some not printing as they should. These problems have vanished.
5. No manual backups
We no longer have to make manual backups each night and take those backups off site. The system does all that for us in the cloud.
Some lawyers may debate this point but I reckon the data is probably more secure in the cloud than in my office. I think it would be easier for someone to break into my office and carry away the server than do the same in the secure data centre. If someone was determined to hack into the server via the internet they could still do so with it sitting in my office (given that we had a VPN) as well, if not easier, as they could with it sitting in a data centre.
7. Multiple access and scalability
The cloud makes it a bit easier to allow staff access than a VPN does and will make adding in extra users a breeze even if those users are located outwith our Glasgow office. Indeed the fact that Inksters recently opened an office in Inverness helped drive the move to the cloud.
8. E-mail and AOL
For some reason AOL did not like e-mail from inksters.com and would not let it through. Thus we were able to receive but not send e-mail to anyone with an AOL account. Our move to the cloud includes using outlook via Office365 and suddenly we can communicate in both directions with AOL. I am told that this is because the Office365 system now details to other emailing systems what’s called an SPF Record (Sender Policy Framework) proving you are emailing from where you say you are emailing, and is used as an anti-spoofing/anti-spam checker. AOL’s systems were probably not happy with either a missing or mis-matched SPF, and are now.
There are no doubt other pros that I have not come across yet and I will update this section if I see other advantages as the weeks pass by.
The Cons of cloud computing for Law Firms
I honestly cannot see any real cons. At a seminar recently on electronic missives a delegate asked the presenter what happened if the broadband connection went down. He replied that the phone line would be down and so you would not be able to communicate by phone or fax anyway. That, of course, is not correct as a broadband connection can be lost but the phone/fax line can remain intact. The main fear of cloud computing is therefore the loss of your internet connection. However, we rely so heavily on the internet these days for so many things (e.g. e-mail, banking, Land Register, Stamp Duty Land Tax, Social Media, Blogs, Web content, digital dictation) that if the internet connection went down we would be virtually powerless anyway. With the cloud, if that was a local internet problem affecting our office, we could decamp to a local internet café or return home and still have access to our data via the cloud and a working internet connection.
Law firms already use a great deal of cloud computing services via third parties (I listed some of these in the last paragraph) and therefore it is not really that big a step to move completely to the cloud.
What do you think?
Is the cloud the way forward for law firms or is there good reason for them to remain on terra firma?