COVID-19: “There is no time like now to migrate to the cloud”

“There are two strengths that a law firm needs to build in this crisis. The technology strength and the technology foundations to work in a distributed way in embracing the cloud, but also in the way you run a firm. Your daily cadence needs to get reinvented in a distributed world. We’re trying to educate the industry that these two things go hand in hand in this crisis. Even firms that are running in the cloud have a significant amount of change and evolution to go through to be more distributed.”

So says Jack Newton, Clio’s chief executive, who spoke to me as Clio announced that it is to donate $1m to a disaster relief fund to help law firms that are struggling thanks to COVID-19: in many cases by providing free Clio licenses. But what we’re really here to talk about is whether now is really the time for law firms to engage in tech projects if they find their current arrangements are unsuitable for remote working.

Speaking to a number of CIOs of UK top 50 firms in the run up to the COVID-19 lockdown, the feedback was that if you don’t have the right tech infrastructure in place, now is not the time to make any big changes.

Newton is dogmatic. “That mindset is dangerous will lead many firms to disaster. There is no time like now to undertake migration to the cloud.”

He adds: “Migrating to the cloud is simpler than many firms realise. It’s not nearly as the implementation cycle around on premises systems of the past. Very large law firms deploying this system can be done in hours not weeks or months.

“If the Covid-19 crisis was something we’re going to be in for a week then you could manage but it’s clear that we’re going to be in crisis mode for months, so the time for law firms to adapt and embrace new technology is now if they want to survive.

“Like any in any major economic downturn there are winners and losers – a set of players that will emerge stronger from the crisis and losers that emerge weaker and maybe having failed entirely. I believe the differentiation will be the extent to which they are able to leverage cloud-based technology and to facilitate distributed working. Law firm that embrace new way of working will have an advantage on the other side of this crisis.”

As both firms and vendors find their way working en masse from home, the ones that are largely on premises typically rely on virtual private networks and/or virtual desktop infrastructure such as Citrix to connect to the firm’s network.

It’s still early days and so difficult to assess the varying degrees of success but Newton says: “Citrix can be part of the solution but what we need to appreciate is that it addresses a fairly narrow slice of what is needed for a fully distributed law firm in this event. It may solve the problem of how you access your case data, but how are you collaborating with your colleague? How are you communicating with clients? How are you accepting payment? It all needs to be considered by firms in this new reality.”

Firms are in many cases creating a mishmash of solutions that layer on premises core systems with newer cloud collaboration tools. Newton says: “Maybe Surface Pros and Citrix and Zoom may be enough of a hybrid to get through and there are a variety of way of solving the problem but what about when your premises is not accessible.” He adds: “It might seem like a solution now will but you will see how brittle that solution is if there is a full lock down and the server in the office crashes – who is going to flick the switch?

“Many offices will realise that they have a single point of failure in their on-premises technology and no law firm can make it as strong and resistant as cloud technology.”

One challenge that this crisis fairly uniquely presents is that the office is up and running, but that staff ought not go there. Newton says: “On premises systems now pose two types of liability where the failure stakes are not anticipated. Many disaster recovery or business continuity plans do not contemplate the office being fine, but you can’t staff it. And from a security point of view that opens up a second dimension of liability: the physical security of on premises systems are at an all-time low.”

You can find out more about the relief fund here: