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The role of the Cloud & BYOD in law firms & ediscovery

In recent years, Cloud-based business applications have started to become mainstream for enterprises across many sectors with in 2012 an average of 31% of all IT applications and services being delivered via the Cloud, up from just 7% cent in 2011.

by Sam Maccherola, General Manager EMEA, Guidance Software

In recent years, Cloud-based business applications have started to become mainstream for enterprises across many sectors thanks to the benefits they provide in efficiency and cost savings. In 2012, Cisco’s research revealed a significant increase in Cloud adoption, with an average of 31% of all IT applications and services being delivered via the Cloud, up from just 7% cent in 2011.

One of the key drivers behind this trend is the need for businesses to generate operational savings within IT, and the legal sector is no exception. Law firms have been searching for better ways to work and it is no secret that, in many cases, IT systems are in need of some modernisation. However, the benefits of Cloud computing are yet to be discovered by many in the legal industry, with only 20% of law firms using Cloud computing and only 30% of lawyers familiar with the concept.* Here we will demonstrate how modern law firms can gain a competitive edge in an ever-changing industry, and offer better, more efficient services by adopting Cloud Computing.

Public -v- Private

Cloud-based business applications, those that are managed and hosted by a third party provider, are an appealing option for businesses as they eliminate the frequent headaches of on-premise solutions such as installation costs, hardware and maintenance, and can go some way to eliminating data storage and management difficulties. Organisations can use the Cloud to store digital information or host applications, such as email systems, client data or financial records, and allow employees to access them on the move, from numerous devices, making it an ideal platform for collaboration and information sharing.

For the legal sector, a Private Cloud solution can provide greater security and simplicity than a Public Cloud service, where providers makes resources like software or data storage available over the internet often free of charge, but with far less security in place. With a private Cloud solution, confidential and sensitive data is uploaded only once to a secure, centralised legal repository. Once there, access to the data may be granted to outside counsel and other participants in legal, regulatory and investigation matters. Unlike a public Cloud, a private Cloud provides greater control over where your data is stored geographically, and over document retention and destruction. It uses software, hardware and applications only available to subscribers, to provide complete security and privacy.

The Private Cloud also affords greater security for collaboration and information sharing, which is particularly important in the legal sector due to the highly sensitive nature of data. Upholding the integrity of digital evidence and data which is to be used in a court of law is of paramount importance and compromising this data can lead to reputational damage, a huge loss of money and, of course, time and effort spent building a case.

Therefore, whilst the Cloud is the only practical, truly collaborative platform when there are multiple parties, resources and locations involved, any application that is used to store and share data must be secure.

Adapt to thrive

Cloud computing is a phenomenon that is not only set to change the way that large legal enterprises work, but will allow smaller practices access to resources that they wouldn’t otherwise have, at a lower cost. Whilst, in this digital age, legal professionals require up to date IT systems that are reliable and flexible in order to be more productive, smaller firms may not have the ability to invest in prohibitively expensive software or on-premise solutions that come with all of the associated installation and maintenance costs. Firms with smaller IT teams can look to the Cloud and third party providers so that the IT department can completely focus on their core competency rather than on building and supporting IT infrastructure and managing on site equipment.

The advantages of Cloud computing do not lie exclusively in its ease of use, potential security benefits and cost savings; it can also provide a real competitive edge for forward-thinking law firms who increasingly have to adapt to suit the needs of a changing industry.

The Cloud and E-Discovery

For many organisations, E-Discovery is one of the primary culprits behind spiralling litigation costs and can be a heavy burden for any company embroiled in a digital investigation. According to a 2011 report from Gartner, in the US the average spend on E-Discovery for a single case could be as much as $100,000. It is these high costs, coupled with the fact that they are so unpredictable, that make most organisations struggle with E-Discovery.

Typically, E-Discovery isn’t the core competency of a law firm; therefore it is not surprising that 62% of firms anticipate outsourcing a significant amount of E-Discovery to third-party providers this year. ** However, many of these providers use traditional, out of date methods for data collection and analysis, charging per gigabit of data and using the old ‘bag and tag’ methods. In order to get a firmer grasp on the procedure, law firms can bring E-Discovery in-house, and in order to provide the most competitively priced and efficient service, a Cloud-based E-Discovery platform is the most attractive option.

What makes cloud-based platforms so appealing is that they help to standardise E-Discovery processes so they become repeatable, and they can provide highly predictable costs, which is of paramount importance for organisations looking to save money and gain better visibility and control over their financial forecasts. A Cloud-based platform is much more practical and can help to bypass the headache and unnecessary expense of bringing all of the software, hardware and human capital required for an on-premise solution in-house.

Providing an E-Discovery solution which is practical, efficient and reasonably priced will become a key competitive driver for the law firm of the future, and as big players such as Google start to enter the E-Discovery market, it will become absolutely essential for survival.

Keeping up with the Joneses

Without a doubt, the topic that’s been gripping the industry over the past year has been the Bring your own device (BYOD) trend. Organisations from all sectors are allowing employees to bring their own devices into the workplace, a trend that has been driven and enabled by the Cloud, allowing employees to access software and applications on multiple devices in multiple locations. Whilst there are major concerns across the board about the security threat that this trend poses, organisations are moving to the realisation that there are many benefits on offer. One of the key issues associated with BYOD, is that inevitably, sensitive corporate information will find its way to that device, and for law firms that is a huge concern, due to the highly sensitive nature of the data employees carry. However, by embracing BYOD, organisations can start to take control of it, write their own rule book and reap the benefits that this can offer their company.

The BYOD movement is set to take the legal industry by storm, providing lawyers with quick access to important documents whilst on the move. Forward thinking firms have already put BYOD policies in place, and have managed to drastically lower IT spend by allowing lawyers to use their own iPads, using secure Cloud storage applications to manage the ever-expanding amount of data that they require access to. One such firm reported that it was able to reduce IT help desk calls by 75% by providing support systems which could be accessed remotely via the Cloud on employee’s personal devices.

If a firm takes control of BYOD, sets policies and ensures that only designated, secure Cloud-based applications are used and devices are protected, risk can be minimised. The BYOD trend is inevitable, so ignore it at your peril.

The times they are a-changing

It is evident that when it comes to Cloud computing, the benefits have not yet been fully realised by legal IT professionals. However, in an industry that is undergoing great change, firms will have to find ways to become more efficient in order to survive. Earlier this year, the deregulation of the legal market sent a clear wake up call for law firms across the UK. The Legal Services Act, aptly nicknamed the Tesco Law, means that buying legal services will be made as easy as nipping down to the shops to pick up a pint of milk, and services that have traditionally been lengthy, complex and prohibitively expensive, will become more accessible and practical for customers.

As these changes come into place competition will become fiercer, and law firms that can offer services such as E-Discovery at a reasonable, fixed rate, and can reduce operational costs by embracing Cloud computing and trends such as BYOD, will be those that thrive. For law firms intent on survival, there has been no better time to modernise, and IT is as good a place as any to start.

* Study: 20% law firms use cloud computing. 27% to add IT outsourcing

** – Survey Shows Surge in E-Discovery Work at Law Firms and Corporations