It seems like everything’s on the cloud these days—from your vacation photos to your most-important documents—but is your law firm taking full advantage of cloud computing solutions?
In this post, you’ll learn how to spot a cloud-based provider amongst “cloud washing” imposters—and how to use true cloud solutions to help your law firm run more efficiently and effectively.
What is cloud computing?
Even with 88% of U.K. businesses using the cloud as of 2017, the term “cloud computing” can be nebulous—and it’s often misunderstood. So: what does it really mean for a service to be considered fully cloud-based?
At its core, a true cloud-based provider gives access to digital tools securely through the internet in the form of software as a service (SaaS). Cloud services are versatile, scalable, and cost effective, and they allow lawyers to go mobile—making them particularly useful to law firms. You use cloud-based software wherever and however is most convenient for you, while servers and infrastructure are kept off site at data centres with top-notch security.
What is “cloud washing”?
Not all supposed cloud-based providers are what they seem. While fully cloud-based services can be incredibly beneficial to law firms, it’s important to be aware of cloud imposters and companies guilty of “cloud washing”—or trying to sell their partial-cloud (or non-cloud) products and services as fully cloud-based when they are not.
The term “cloud washing” emerged along with the rise of the cloud. Wanting to benefit from the positive associations that many customers have with cloud-based technology, some companies remarket existing products—presenting them as fully cloud-based—even though they don’t offer the features, like automatic upgrades, geographical redundancy, and exceptional vendor support, that make a service truly part of the cloud.
Why do lawyers need to be aware of cloud washing?
While more and more businesses are becoming aware of cloud-washed software, it’s particularly important for lawyers to watch out for not-true-cloud software in disguise. GDPR, for example, places increased responsibility for customer data in the hands of businesses, including lawyers.
Fully cloud-based services can go a long way to help lighten the load and ensure GDPR compliance in ways that cloud-washed products can not. Here are three ways:
- Safeguarding client data: With on-premise data solutions, if something happens—like a fire, an earthquake, or a robbery—your firm’s data is in jeopardy. Cloud-based providers keep data off-premise in multiple geographical locations, so you can rest assured knowing your data is safe in the event of an incident. Under GDPR, firms can be subject to significant fines for lost personal data that can’t be recovered, so you need to know whether your provider is fully cloud-based and keeping your data safely backed up—or whether you need to take on this responsibility yourself.
- Updating security automatically: Under GDPR, it’s the responsibility of lawyers to encrypt client data where appropriate and to regularly test and review security—with on-premise, cloud-washed, or server-based solutions, this can be a complicated and time-consuming task within the firm. With most cloud-based services, automatic security updates take this problem off of your firm’s plate. At the same time, cloud providers can leverage economies of scale to offer a strong safeguard. This is particularly valuable for small-to-medium-sized firms, where investing in this scale of data protection is likely too costly. Finally, cloud providers often offer options to require strong passwords and two-factor authentication within your firm, providing even more protection.
- Providing external support: Ensuring your firm complies with rules to protect your clients’ data under GDPR can be an incredible responsibility. With cloud-based service providers, you can benefit from added support and technical expertise to keep you on track, especially with providers that explicitly acknowledge their role as a data processor under GDPR. With server-based and cloud-washed solutions, more of that responsibility stays squarely on your law firm’s shoulders.
Questions to ask potential cloud vendors
While there are many options for law firm software and services, true cloud-based options bring valuable benefits to modern law firms. Here are a few of those benefits, along with questions to ask to ensure your potential provider is truly cloud-based.
When it comes to your clients’ data, security is a top priority. Before signing on with a provider that claims to offer a cloud-based system, vet the provider’s security measures with questions like:
- Is the data encrypted? Data encryption is imperative to keeping confidential firm and client information secure. It’s a must to confirm your provider offers data encryption.
- Is your security verified by a third party? Check that the provider’s security has been verified by third parties. Clio, for example, is audited daily by McAfee.
- Is all data stored in the cloud? With cloud providers, all your firm and client data is safely stored in the cloud, so if anything happens to your laptop or mobile device, you can know your data is safe. If some or all of your data will be stored on a local server within your firm, you may not be looking at a fully cloud-based solution.
- Where are your servers located? In order to ensure your firm’s data is backed up at all times, the cloud provider should have geographical redundancy—i.e., there should be servers located in multiple geographic locations. For example, Clio stores your firm’s data in more than one server—all located within the EU—so that your data will remain safe in the event of a natural disaster or other major catastrophe.
Because cloud computing solutions can be accessed via the internet, your firm doesn’t need its own expensive on-premise equipment and servers. Cloud-based providers leverage economies of scale to keep your costs lower, but if a service is only partially in the cloud, you may still carry some of this cost. Ask your potential provider:
- What are the installation costs? Fully cloud-based solutions come with no installations, so setup cost should be slim to none.
- What’s the process for adding or removing users? Many cloud-based providers offer a simple per-user fee that’s easy to adjust when on monthly contracts. Look out for providers that require you to lock you into a multi-year contract for a certain number of users.
When your data is in the cloud, you can access it via the internet from almost anywhere—which means you don’t have to worry about being tied to your office when it comes to work. Check with your provider:
- What devices can I use to access your service? Fully cloud-based solutions are available from anywhere, on any device, so limited options could be a sign that you’re looking at a cloud-washed provider.
- What steps do I need to take to access your service remotely? You should be able to securely access a fully cloud-based platform from anywhere via a mobile app or web browser. If a virtual private network (VPN) is required, your solution likely isn’t fully cloud-based.
- Do you offer a mobile app? With forward-thinking fully cloud-based services, you’ll be able to access your practice via an app specifically defined for mobile devices, making it easy to complete tasks on-the-go.
Simplified GDPR compliance
With the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in effect, lawyers must adhere to rules and regulations for privacy and data security—which means that your cloud service vendors must be GDPR-compliant, too. Ask your potential provider:
- How do your terms of service address GDPR? Any fully cloud-based provider should be able to quickly and clearly confirm that their product and business operations comply with GDPR guidelines.
- Do you provide automatic security updates? Any cloud provider will offer automatic security updates so you can know client data is protected. If updates aren’t automatic, or need to be managed by your firm, you may be looking at a cloud-washed solution.
Manual upgrades can be costly, time consuming, and a major headache. With software based in the cloud, automatic software upgrades keep your firm’s tech up-to-date—but without the hassle and expense. Ask:
- How are upgrades handled? With a fully cloud-based solution, updates to your chosen solution should happen automatically, so you always have the latest and greatest version of what you’ve purchased. If upgrades necessitate a visit from your potential provider—or worse, an extra cost—know that the provider may not be fully cloud-based.
Increased speed and reliability
Fully cloud-based providers don’t depend on rooms full of wires and servers in your office to stay afloat: They’ll load quickly and easily whether you’re in the office, meeting a client, or at court. And if your laptop battery dies or your computer malfunctions? Your data remains safe in the cloud. Ask your potential provider:
- Do I need to download software? Fully cloud-based software as a service solutions are accessible via your web browser, so there’s nothing to download. If you need to download something to access a potential provider’s software, that’s a sign their “cloud” solution may in fact be cloud-washed.
Seeing your firm succeed in the cloud
Incorporating fully cloud-based services empower your firm to be more adaptable, offering greater opportunities for efficiency, flexibility, and cost savings by streamlining tasks like administration, time tracking, billing, and more.
Before you sign your firm up for every cloud service out there, keep in mind that not all cloud services hold up to the same standards—and some cloud services you find might not be truly in the cloud at all. If you’re unaware that a solution isn’t fully cloud-based, this could put you at risk of security or non-compliance with the SRA and UK regulations. At the very least, you’ll need to invest additional time, effort, and funds into ensuring your software is secure and up to date and that your data is safely backed up.
It’s important to evaluate each potential vendor when deciding on a cloud-based service provider—and to be aware of cloud-washed imposters that don’t offer the same security and solutions that can be found in the cloud.
However, finding the right cloud-based services are well worth it, especially for lawyers—there are many areas in which law firms can benefit from cloud-based solutions. Examples include cloud providers like Box for document storage solutions, Klyant for accounting software, and Clio for case management software. With true cloud services, you can run your firm more efficiently and provide a better experience for your team and your clients.
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