Andy Tipton, Product Developer at Appurity Connect, considers the implications of cloud technology within the legal profession. How can law firms maintain compliance and productivity when they’re working in the cloud?

Glance round almost any office these days and you'll see plenty of people with more than one smartphone, plus a tablet and a laptop – maybe even a desktop PC.

At least one of those devices will be personally owned and connected to the company network, usually via a secure guest connection, rather than the main infrastructure.

Many other organisations are using COPE (corporate owned, personally enabled) policies, where people can use their business devices for personal purposes. Again, strong security is usually in place, including the ability to wipe the device if it is lost or stolen.

This is the mobility revolution, unfolding before our very eyes. It's happened with incredible speed and it's brought with it a key issue for the legal profession in particular. If people want to work away from their desks, how do you connect them securely to the corporate infrastructure and, critically, where do you store the data they need?

Compliance and confidentiality have to be balanced against the productivity and client service benefits that arise from the freedom to work anywhere.

Many law firms are debating the relative benefits of moving data to the cloud, or keeping it securely on-premise. In the cloud, there is the issue of exactly where the data resides, with the risk that it may actually be held outside the jurisdiction of national data protection standards.

But on-premise storage is far less versatile and not as readily accessible as the cloud. Remote connections to the corporate network also carry their own risks, especially over public WiFi.

At the heart of the question are the issues of trust and control. Every document relating to a matter may be highly significant and a lawyer in charge of a team needs to know that the trail of relevant correspondence is complete and in good order.

Now that email and even text messages can be used as evidence in many cases, the storage of digital communication trails has become a critical concern. Conventional mail clients such as Outlook provide some level of ‘send-and-file' functionality, but they cannot accommodate the full breadth of channels used by busy lawyers on the move these days.

This is why the cloud has become a serious option for law firms seeking to provide orderly and easily accessible storage for their teams. New device and application management technologies, such as MobileIron, Samsung KNOX and BlackBerry BES12, provide cloud security standards that comply with stringent regulatory requirements, such as CESG in the UK, and the European Commission's General Data Protection Regulations.

But while the debate over cloud and on-premise wrangles on, users are coping with a more immediate problem. Whether the connection is to the cloud or to the corporate core, what happens when the signal disappears?

It matters because the mobility revolution has already been a great liberation for knowledge workers such as lawyers. They often operate at intense levels of activity, putting in long hours.

Mobile technology has allowed legal professionals to work at times and in places that were previously unproductive – on trains, waiting for appointments, in departure lounges – which means they do not need to give up so much personal time. Of course, it may mean that they simply take on more work, but at least they have more choice over when to work, and when to take a break.

However, even today’s mobile networks and guest WiFi services are not 100% reliable. There are still many dead zones, even in major metropolitan centres, and on train or coach services that offer WiFi.

Connectivity in itself is not the real problem. The issue is any break in rhythm that interrupts the stream of thought and productivity. A moment's lost connection can be irritating at best, disastrous at its worst.

Appurity Connect is working with a growing number of law firms who are adopting apps such as Rubus to bridge the gap between the online and offline world.

Rubus resides on the mobile device – BlackBerry, Android, iOS – and conducts a mini sync of a user's headline data. In other words, rather than syncing the entire desktop, it recognises the files and folders in use and keeps a virtual snapshot of them available locally on the device.

Thus when coverage disappears, the user can continue working without interruption. When coverage is restored, the headline data is re-synced and the cycle of productivity continues as if nothing had happened.

It is technologies like these that will bring the cloud fully into the mainstream of business operations, and not only in the legal profession. All knowledge workers can benefit from solutions that can bridge the gap between the ideal of ‘always-on’ and the reality of ‘sometimes off’.

In its Four Pillar Research, IDC says that the term ‘cloud' will no longer be used by 2020. We'll all just assume that everything just runs that way.

In fact, most people are already happily working their way through various clouds from their smartphones, tablets and computers. Whether they use Dropbox, Flickr, Spotify, or any other hosting or streaming service, they're cloud natives.

The issue is that by restricting use of the cloud, firms will force users to go their own way to get the freedom and productivity it enables, with serious risks to compliance and data security. But with solutions such as Samsung KNOX, MobileIron and Rubus, firms have the protection, visibility and accountability they need to make the cloud a viable, practical way forward.

Here's the Appurity + Taylor Vinters/Blackberry case study video…