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Legal organisations accelerate knowledge initiatives in the cloud – and the momentum is growing

Shawn MisquittaIn the legal sector as in others, new technologies drive efficiencies and business growth. The legal profession is embracing a new reality of hybrid working, where the personnel working on any one project may be office or home based, and located in different cities or even on different continents. All team members need access to documents, the opportunity for virtual meetings and collaboration in real time wherever they are. 

Cloud computing facilitates all of this, giving organizations access to state of the art document management and collaboration tools which are always on and accessible wherever the people who need them happen to be located. Organizations that are not yet taking advantage lag behind, and they realize this in increasing numbers. 

Many organizations have already made the move to cloud. Through 2021 iManage Cloud gained almost 400 new customers, and we are by far and away the most popular cloud provider in the industry, by a margin to our nearest rival of more than three to one. 

The momentum continues to build. The latest annual report of the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) notes a significant shift in the mindset of legal firms. Those who have not yet made the move to cloud are much more likely to be thinking about when to make the move than considering if to do so. It is an important distinction, and evidence that the cloud first ideology is more firmly established than ever. 

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Security matters 

Business efficiency is a key driver in this shift from if to when, but it is not the only material consideration. Data security is also a major factor. As the threat of attack from bad actors, including those using ransomware, continues to grow, every organization in the legal sector from large multinationals through to the mid-sized and very smallest of SMBs, needs to pay consistent attention to protecting their clients’ data. 

This is not scaremongering. The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre issued a joint advisory in February along with The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and National Security Agency (NSA), and Australia’s The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) highlighting the growth of ransomware and stressing that organizations should protect themselves. 

Many data security providers highlight the continued growth of security breaches. The 2022 SonicWall Cyber Threat Report states that ransomware volume increased 105% year over year and is up 232% since 2019, while the Sophos 2022 Threat Report highlights the rise of Ransomware as a Service (RaaS) which allows bad actors to be more innovative in their attacks. The report says “We’ve already seen these RaaS threat actors innovate new ways to break into progressively more well-defended networks, and we expect to see them continue to push in this direction in the year to come .”

An ongoing shortage of skilled technical staff does not help organizations in their quest to thwart bad actors, and this is not likely to be alleviated any time soon. The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport  has found that 45% of all businesses have just one employee responsible for cybersecurity, and 33% have a technical skills gap in areas such as penetration testing, forensic analysis, security architecture or engineering, threat intelligence, interpreting malicious code and user monitoring.

For the legal sector, the threat to data security is the threat that your client’s data may become compromised. Cloud brings big advantages here. Cloud providers’ reputations depend in no small part on having excellent data security measures in place as part of their service. Leading cloud providers have the economy of scale to prioritize and invest heavily in security, and the skilled personnel necessary to ensure they can stay ahead of bad actors. A lone organization managing its own systems can face challenges of skills availability and cost, and may struggle to maintain the same level of protection. The American Bar Association has found that 27%  of lawyers see “better security than I can provide in-office” as a benefit of cloud computing.

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Protection comes from taking a zero trust approach in which every user and every device is considered a potential threat. Leading cloud providers take this approach, for example implementing strong user authentication and a high level of data encryption as a matter of course. They also deliver real time threat detection, taking the headache of keeping one step ahead of bad actors away from firms. 

Support for modern, hybrid, collaborative working

The same economies of scale that allow cloud providers to lead on security come into play where collaborative working is concerned. As people started to work from home during the early stages of the pandemic, resorting to third party services for file sharing, even on an ad-hoc basis, was one way professionals kept productive. But this is not a long term solution. 

Cloud services with sophisticated tools to enable collaboration and connectivity and a focus on data encryption both in transit and at rest, are the key to streamlined, secure data management, file sharing and collaborative working. At iManage we are acutely aware of this, and iManage Cloud provides secure storage and collaboration to more than a million professionals across many thousands of organizations including Fortune 500 companies. 

We are also deeply aware that any move to cloud needs to be very carefully considered, as part of curating a modern technology stack. An organization will be making a choice for the long term, and will need to be certain that the offer is right for them. Selecting a provider involves weighing up both the data security and Software as a Service (SaaS) offer. 

We’ve been through this ourselves very recently, and earlier this year announced our partnership with Microsoft Azure so that our customers now have access to the sophisticated data management, collaboration, and storage features of Azure and Microsoft 365 alongside our own offer. As a managed services provider we can now develop new services faster, and take advantage of all the software and security features Azure offers so that our customers can in their turn leverage these benefits for themselves. 

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The earlier you start, the faster you see the rewards

Bearing in mind that ILTA finding that the mindset in the sector is around when to move to cloud rather than if to do so, it is interesting to see that research from Macfarlanes carried out in the UK, Europe and US found a great deal of movement to cloud in our sector, either “now” or “next year” for a wide range of services including Document Management Systems (DMS), email, mobile device management, telephony, video conferencing, intranet and service desk functions. 

We know that for some organizations the move to cloud is likely to take a little longer than the Macfarlanes research suggests, but there is no doubt that this is the planned direction of travel for many. As with other business improvement strategies, planning and preparation are vital, and the most important factor for those organizations not yet cloud native will be working towards becoming become cloud ready for when the move happens. 

One key aspect of this is ensuring your Document Management Systems are cloud ready. Whether an organization plans to make the move this year, next year or beyond next year, there is no time like the present to start thinking about this, and talking to your provider to ensure the steps are taken as early as possible. 

Once an organization has made the move to cloud, the benefits on both the productivity and data security side will be available for the long term. For iManage customers, thanks to our partnership with Microsoft Azure, these include: streamlined workflows using familiar applications like Teams, Word, Excel and PowerPoint; the ability to take a project centric view with client focused workflows; sophisticated intelligent search; easy file sharing between applications and among different workgroups; support for home working and cross-national collaboration; leading collaboration and document editing tools with audit trailing and governance requirements being met; and leading document and data security.

Bringing all of these features together in one package gives an organization peace of mind that current and future productivity and data security requirements are met without the need to manage and maintain on-premise systems. If the decision to move to cloud has already been taken, then the next question should be “how soon can we get there, and start reaping the rewards of making knowledge work?” 

 

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