Cloud computing has spawned a rise in companies encouraging employees to bring your own device (BYOD) to work, and its a trend on the rise at law firms. According to a 2012 American Bar Association survey, 29% of solo practitioners have already adopted cloud computing. Small firms with two to nine lawyers came in close behind, at 26%. So what exactly is it?
BYOD is an offshoot of cloud computing and the use of remote desktops. If company data is in the cloud and the device used to access it is secure, then it makes little difference what device employees use. A recent Gartner research report suggests that by 2017, half of all employers may impose a mandatory BYOD policy җ requiring staffs to bring their own laptop, tablet and smartphone to work. Despite the legal industrys notoriety for late adoption of new workplace trends and technological innovations, law- years should welcome cloud computing and embrace BYOD with open arms. Switching to the cloud will not only simplify firm IT maintenance, it will enable attorneys to work more efficiently, develop more intimate client relationships and significantly reduces IT and office space costs.
MAKING IT SIMPLE
Perhaps the biggest draw to cloud computing and BYOD is its simplification of IT operations. Logging into a private cloud platform is little different from logging into a web browser such as Yahoo! or Google. The cloud is also device agnostic.
This means any device (desktop computer, tablet, smartphone, etc.) and any operating system (Mac, Windows, etc.) can access the cloud seamlessly. Attorneys and firm employees can choose to work on a device they are most accustomed to working with, and without facing incompatibility issues. Software up- dates are installed automatically in the cloud so everyone will always work with the safest, latest versions of software applications such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Reader. And my personal favorite benefit of working on the cloud: No more backing up. Ever. Chances are youҒre probably not backing everything up as often as you should (you know who you are), but now you dont have to feel guilty about it.
Not only is a private cloud plat- form simple to access and use, itҒs also much more secure than saving information onto a desktop, third- party device or flash drive (especially when saving confidential client documents). Automatic software updates allow the cloud to keep pace with malicious computer viruses, malware and scamming software. Due to the fact that all firm data is automatically saved in a remote location accessed online, attorneys wont lose information in case of a computer crash, power outage, or lost or stolen device.
WHAT ABOUT DATA LOSS?
A recent Omnibus survey reported that 40% of desktop owners and 31% of laptop owners have experienced data loss, most often because their devices crashed. Forty-one percent of adults lost photographs due to a device crash or stolen hard drive, and one in six adults (16%) have lost information that was embarrassing and potentially some- thing they wouldnҒt want others seeing when their device crashed, was stolen or was lost. Centralized company data in one location is also easier to protect from harm. Password protection, data encryption and even a two-step verification all hedge against unauthorized access to classified company information. If an attorney accidentally loses his laptop in an airport, he or she no longer needs to worry about losing and exposing confidential information. Without the password and verification code to a private cloud, all law firm documents and files remain out of reach.
Cloud computing and BYOD doesnt make lawyers better lawyers, but it can help them provide better legal services to ever-demanding clients. It enables attorneys to work more efficiently and to be more responsive to client concerns. Attorneys are connected to the office 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can access client information from the office to the airport to the courthouse. And they no longer need to go to the office every day. With cloud computing, they can do most of their legal work in cyberspace from home or just about anywhere else they choose. In fact, a growing number of civil attorneys no longer work from a physical office. They are ғvirtual lawyers and law firms, and represent a booming sector of the legal industry. This technology driven evolution is not unlike that seen in online banking and insurance. The conversion to BYOD and cloud computing is a by- product of evolving expectations of information easily accessed at any time by both lawyer and client. As society gravitates toward mobile technology, lawyers must continue finding new channels to work and communicate on the move.
Cloud computing brings the lawyer and the client closer together in a more immediate way. Lawyers and clients can view the same documents in cyberspace at the same time. That information also can be accessed any time by client and lawyer, no longer just from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. More attorneys are also using FaceTime, Skype, cell phones and iPads to interact with clients. All of these devices can access client information and connect to case work stored in a cloud, thus, client communication immediately becomes more productive and efficient.
Storing all law firm data on a private cloud platform isnԒt just safer and more efficient than traditional data storage, its also more economically sound. A BYOD employee work policy further lowers the costs involved with IT maintenance. Because all information is stored online, firms no longer need to own, operate and maintain IT infra- structure such as servers, software, switches and routers (no more high- powered laptops or PCs, and no more bulky outdated servers in the closet sucking up A/C and potential workspace). BYOD policies mean law firms no longer need to purchase state-of-the-art desktop PCs, laptops and smart phones for each new employee. As a result, employees can enjoy more flexibility in determining workstations at the office.
Some employees enjoy working at a traditional desk, while others might prefer a couch or coffee bar. Online data storage also enables law firms to take advantage of the infinite size of the Internet. Cloud computing provides virtually unlimited storage space. A private cloud platform is customized to the size of the data. Law firms donҒt need to pay for storage space they dont need, but they also donҒt need to worry about running out of storage space for new client in- formation and project work. Cost savings in IT infrastructure maintenance can be returned to clients in more competitive legal fees or reinvested in the firm. This more cost-effective data solution again reflects todays client expectations. Clients want to pay for the benefit of legal experience, but not necessarily for ғbricks and mortar. Now, those seeking lawyers can pay for the specific expertise of an attorney and not for large buildings, support staff and other expenses.
Cloud computing, and ultimately BYOD workplace environments, will undoubtedly comprise an instrumental role in the future land- scape of the typical law firm. There is a societal expectation of 24/7 access to information. All of us are looking for quicker access to information. This must include legal services. Many expect the technology evolution will increase as younger lawyers, many of whom grew up with technology, enter the profession. How fast the entire legal industry adopts cloud computing is the real question.