Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Migrating to the Cloud (But Didn’t Know Who to Ask)
We’ve got helpful answers to your most pressing cloud questions.
With cloud technology, firm members can create, review and share files from virtually any location with a Wi-Fi connection — their living room, for example. A conference center. A plane.
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Documents and voicemails that, years ago, would have been stored on computers and answering machines can now be more safely backed up in the cloud. Employees in new, remote offices can get access to firm materials in a matter of minutes.
Cloud computing offers a mobile, efficient way to manage data; yet the concept can seem overwhelming, according to Jay Patel, Product Portfolio Vice President at cloud communications provider Vonage.
More than half — 53 percent — of attorneys said they hadn’t used web-based software or solutions when surveyed for the American Bar Association’s 2016 Legal Technology Survey Report.
“For some people, it’s scary,” Patel says. “But once companies realize, from an application use standpoint, it can be used on a day-to-day basis to improve overall productivity, they start seeing the benefits of the cloud.”
In the two and a half years since Associate Attorney Steven Ayr joined Fort Point Legal, powered by Casner & Edwards, after working as a cloud-focused solo practitioner, he’s helped the three-attorney Boston firm increase its cloud-based systems use.
“Part of what made me attractive to the firm was I had a certain amount of this figured out,” Ayr says. “A small firm doesn't have the budget to hire someone to do IT. I had an ability to come in and create efficiencies without it costing more money.”
Fort Point, which had previously used some cloud-centric Google applications, vetted a number of companies to find the providers it now uses to handle operations ranging from document storage to case and task management.
For many firms, determining the ideal cloud scenario often isn’t an easy, or immediate, decision — particularly if they don’t have anyone on staff with significant cloud experience to oversee the process.
If your firm is considering implementing cloud technology or increasing its use — but isn’t sure where to start — we’ve got answers to some of the most common cloud questions below:
Should my firm store everything in the cloud?
Some firms opt to host all applications and information in the cloud. Others feel more comfortable housing some things locally.
Storing extremely sensitive intellectual property documents, for example, on a firm’s in-house server doesn't guarantee they’ll be safe. However, giving the information to a third-party can pose an additional risk, according to Andres Hernandez, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of IT consulting company Wingman Legal Tech.
“If it’s stored digitally, nothing is 100 percent secure — in-house, in the cloud or anywhere,” Hernandez says. “[But] certain firms, if something gets out, can be in really deep trouble; they may want to be especially cautious about where they put things.”
A number of firms choose a cloud model comprised of multiple solutions and some storage managed in-house, according to Adam Citron, Senior Cloud Computing Strategist at IT provider Adar Inc.
“If you have a private cloud, with the advent of Microsoft 365 or Google, basically, your email would be off-premise, apart from everything else,” he says.
HOW CAN WE ESNURE THE SYSTEM IS SECURE?
Citron suggests using a platform that allows access to most items through a portal users log in to, and potentially providing employees with a device that only stores files in the cloud, such as a Chromebook.
“If it’s a secure portal, there shouldn't be an issue,” he says “However, having anything local is a concern.”
If an attorney pulls any data up on his home computer, that data could be stored locally once he disconnects — and might be at risk of being accessed by a hacker.
Hernandez advises looking for a cloud provider that encrypts data when it’s in transit, such as when it’s being emailed, and at rest, when it’s stored on a disc, hard drive or server.
Finding out which of the company’s employees will have access to the firm’s stored data, is also a good idea — generally, the fewer, the better.
“You want to make sure the company has security controls in place and not just anyone can look at data whenever they want to,” Hernandez says.
How much downtime will we experience migrating to the cloud?
Ideally, essentially none. Providers should be able to move data before turning off the old system and completely switching over to the cloud, according to Citron.
“The company should say there’ll be a minimum impact to production, even if that means them working overnight or on the weekend to move data,” he says. “If they aren’t willing to, that’s a major red flag.”
What happens if the cloud service and my firm part ways?
“The truth is, when you go to the cloud, you’re marrying that provider,” Citron says. “And a prenup makes a divorce easier. You want to emphasize that you don't think the contact should be just contractual; you’ll let me go if I want to leave.”
Ask, if you decided to stop using the provider, how you’d export application-related content.
“It’s really about data: How can I get out and where can I take it?” Citron says. “Will I be able to move into another system and make sure it’s usable? That’s important to find out.”
Are there any other questions I should ask potential service cloud providers?
Find out if the company is hosting its own servers in its office or using an external data center.
“A lot of companies, even though they don't own the infrastructure, own the software [they're offering],” he says. “It’s just hosted on something like Amazon Web Services, or Microsoft.”
A company that uses hosting services from a large supplier may be able to provide more reliable, secure access if an earthquake, flood or other major event strikes, according to Hernandez.
A company with one office could be knocked offline; one with multiple locations, however, might offer safety in numbers.
“If there’s a disaster in California, the East Coast data center will pick up where the West Coast left off,” Hernandez says.
In addition, ask what type of support the company offers on a regular basis.
“Some companies don't offer 24/7 support, and you have lawyers consistently working until midnight,” Citron says. “You want someone to call when you have an issue.”
DOING DUE DILIGENCE
Before deciding on a service provider, Ayr recommends testing out a number of products.
“Sit down for those 20-minute webinars with salespeople,” he says. “The vendor should also allow you to use it for a bit of time prior to signing contracts to make sure you understand how it works. Talk to other clients and see how their experience is.”
Clarify exactly how each service provider operates.
“Is it someone who’s been selling hardware, software and labor for a long time?” Citron says. “There are some start-ups doing incredible work; however, to put your whole business in some sort of portal, is that company experienced enough? Those are good questions to ask.”
Cloud-based offerings can potentially increase efficiency by making files easily accessible. They can also decrease costs by reducing IT staffing needs and, by offering mobile access to let employees work remotely when they need to, help encourage work-life balance and provide a more positive employee experience.
Some firms may have shied away from the technology because they feel they don’t fully understand how it works. The concept, however, may be less complicated — and, given the potential benefits — more helpful to implement than they think.
“Any firm that doesn't have a cloud strategy today, even if that strategy is to not move to the cloud for three years, is doing itself a big disservice,” Citron says. “It’s becoming a bigger and bigger part of companies’ infrastructure — cloud technology is here to stay.”
Join Adam Citron, Senior Cloud Computing Strategist at IT provider Adar Inc., at our Annual Conference & Expo in Denver as he tells you what you need to know to prepare for a successful cloud migration. You’ll gain practical, helpful information in this interactive session. Learn more.
About the Author
Erin Brereton is a freelance writer, editor and content strategist who has written about the legal industry, business, technology and other topics for 20 years.