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Law Firms and Cloud Computing in 2014

Nicole BlackIn July, the American Bar Association released the 2014 Legal Technology Survey Report. Included in the results was an interesting break down of lawyers’ and law firms’ use of cloud computing in 2014. The survey results showed that while the use of cloud computing had essentially stabilized since 2013, overall familiarity with the concept of cloud computing increased as did the willingness of lawyers and firms already using it to continue to do so.

Let’s start with the overall use of cloud computing. According to the report, the overall use of cloud computing didn’t change much from last year, with 33.3% of lawyers reporting that they used cloud computing for law-related purposes.

Solo and small firm lawyers reported a higher use than large firm attorneys (35%), with lawyers at firms of 100-499 reporting in at 16.9% and lawyers at firms of 500 or more ringing in at 22.2%. These results mirror prior year’s results which show that larger firms are less likely to use cloud computing services. This lower usage occurs for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that larger firms have already invested substantially in in-house IT resources, most of which are server-based. As a result, the cost-saving benefits aren’t nearly as appealing in light of the firms’ larger size and onsite IT staff.

Surprisingly, for all lawyers who reported having used cloud computing services in the past, regardless of firm size, Dropbox was reported to be the most-used cloud service, with 58.5% of lawyers overall reporting use of Dropbox at work. Interestingly, lawyers at firms of 100-499 reported the highest use of Dropbox at 66.7% and lawyers at firms of 500 or more came in at 44.4%. One wonders if their IT departments are aware of the high numbers of their lawyers using Dropbox—a product most often used by consumers and which many argue is less secure than legal cloud computing options—for work-related tasks.

Next, let’s move on to the reasons that lawyers cite for using cloud computing. The most popular benefits reported by lawyers already using cloud computing technology were easy access from anywhere (73.1%) and 24/7 access (68%). For lawyers in firms of 100-499, these conveniences were fairly important (75% and 66.7% respectively), but for those in larger firms they weren’t as much of a selling point (66.7% and 44.4% respectively).

Lawyers’ use of cloud computing varied by practice area and in many cases, the results were surprising, with more transactional practice areas at the top of the list. Corporate law was the highest (37.3%), then commercial (37.2%), real estate (36%), family law (35.7%), intellectual property (33%), litigation (28.5%), employment/labor (25.9%) and general civil practice (22.7%).

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According to the survey results, the core functionalities law firms expected from their cloud computing software ran the gamut. But for lawyers in larger firms, case management and document management were the most important features. For lawyers in firms of 100-499, case/matter management was important to 50% while document management came in at 30%. For lawyers in firms of 500 or more, case/matter management rang in at 28.6%, as did document management.

Finally, the survey results show that lawyers currently using cloud computing services plan to continue using them in the future, with the percentage of lawyers planning to do so increasing from 70% in 2013 to 77.5% in 2014. Likewise those who didn’t plan to continue using could technologies decreased from 7% to 4.5%.

In closing, although lawyers’ cloud computing use didn’t change substantially from last year, I expect that will change in 2015. Specifically, lawyers’ use of cloud computing will begin to slowly increase in 2015—with solos and small firms leading the way—as lawyers being to realize that what matters most is the security measures in place that protect files, not the location of the servers that house the data. Larger firms will follow, but their use of cloud computing tools will increase more slowly and will trail about 1.5 years behind smaller firms implementation of cloud computing tools. Tune in next year to see if I’m correct!

Nicole Black is the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, a cloud-based law practice management platform. She is an attorney in Rochester, New York, and is a GigaOM Pro analyst. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
 

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