What’s new in the law cloud is nothing. At least from a technical perspective. “We’ve fallen into a groove much like back when we had servers,” says Lee Rosen, a divorce lawyer and self-described aspiring digital nomad. “Cloud technology is stable and reliable. Our costs are predictable.”
That there’s nothing new in the cloud, however, doesn’t mean nothing has changed. There has been change — dramatic change — but it’s a change in thinking, adoption and acceptance: Lawyers have awakened to the fact the cloud exists and is incredibly useful.
A Race to Second Place
Lawyers are by nature risk averse — we wait to see how others fare before we take the plunge ourselves. It’s a herd mentality, where the legal industry approaches technology like the great migration on a route of travel that crosses a crocodile-infested river. No one wants to be first.
Lawyers may well be perpetually in a “race to be second,” as Timothy Corcoran wrote in a blog post that examines technology implementations among law firms:
“There’s a familiar arc to the adoption of any new innovation, including new technology. Sociologist Everett Rogers demonstrated over 50 years ago that social systems embrace new ideas in a predictable fashion, with a small minority of early adopters paving the way for the many late adopters.”
Indeed, it seems with the adoption of cloud tools, we’ve hit that tipping point and we’re closing the gap between the early adopters and the early majority. The public is increasingly demanding that the broader category of corporate America provide services in the cloud — and the legal industry is being forced to follow in kind.
Cloud Adoption in Law Firms: Four Drivers
Certainly, early adopters have wielded incredible influence in promoting change throughout the legal profession, but other factors have also served to overcome the objections. From where I sit, I see four key things have propelled cloud technology to the forefront.
- Bandwidth speeds. Today we barely notice bandwidth because we take it for granted. High-speed data access, however, has been pivotal for the cloud concept to work effectively in practice. Having high speeds available without a wire has also added to the momentum for cloud adoption.
- The advent of mobile devices. Clearly, devices such as the iPad deserve credit for driving widespread adoption of cloud technology and storage services. Writing in Law Technology News, Doug Caddell said, “Technology has quickly become pervasive in our personal lives — a game changer. This technology invasion has changed expectations of technology at the office.”
- Security concerns alleviated. Yes, some of the naysayers are rightfully concerned about security. It is true, someone with James Bond’s abilities might be able to gain access to confidential information stored in the cloud. However, the reality is that the cloud, with staff dedicated to its protection, is more often than not a safer place to host data than that server in a back-office closet. Few of the attorneys I know can walk out to their reception area with confidence they won’t find a computer covered with ink-stained sticky notes showing passwords and access instruction details.
- Bar association endorsements. Several state bar associations have validated the ethics of cloud computing. In many ways, they’ve caused an industrywide stutter-step to cloud computing adoption. Initially they advised caution, but months later, in its simplest form, their advice is to disclose your use of the cloud to clients and to do your due diligence on vendors to ensure they are treating the data with care.
For the past several years, the market conversation has centered on calls that the cloud is coming to the legal industry. At this point, halfway through 2013, I think we’ve collectively realized it’s no longer coming, but it’s actually here. What’s left is only how to use it well.