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2014: The Year Cloud Computing Became the Norm in the Legal Industry?

Nicole BlackAt long last, cloud computing is finally coming of age for the legal profession. Although it's been used in many other sectors for years now, up until recently, most lawyers have been hesitant to adopt cloud technologies and utilize them to their full potential. 

Last year, however, that trend began to change as lawyers increasingly became more comfortable with the concept of cloud computing and familiarized themselves with various web-based platforms.

Although not all lawyers adopted cloud technologies into their practices, many began to view them with more of an open mind. In other words, last year was the tipping point for the mind set of attorneys. It was the year that cloud computing gained the collective acceptance of much of the legal profession. 

So if 2013 was the year that lawyers began to trust cloud security, then 2014 will be the year that lawyers begin to embrace web-based platforms in full force. I predict this is the year that the cloud market will open up and an increasing number of lawyers will begin to move their practices to the cloud.

I base this conclusion on both anecdotal evidence and the results of recent legal technology surveys.

First, the anecdotal evidence. To begin with, there's the conversation I had with my long-time mentor, an Upstate New York criminal defense attorney. My mentor is an older attorney, is near retirement and has always practiced law the “old school” way, with minimal assistance from technology. Even so, he advised me during our recent discussion that although he used to be concerned about security when lawyers stored client information in the cloud, after learning more about it and speaking with other lawyers, he was now “convinced that cloud computing is just as secure as any other type of computer storage of data.”

Then there's Federal Second Circuit Judge Richard Wesley. I heard him speak at a legal seminar in November, where he explained that he constantly uses his iPad to access all cases and case-related documents stored in the cloud, including briefs and exhibits. He also advised that last year, while at a judicial retreat, he convinced all of the Second Circuit judges to use iPads for that same purpose-even the 80-year old judges. When 80-year old judges are using cloud computing, you know you've reached a tipping point!

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And finally, the acceptance of web-based software is increasingly evident in online forums and listservs. Instead of asking-as they have in the past-whether lawyers should use cloud computing platforms in their law practices, lawyers are now  asking fellow forum members for advice as to which platforms to use. So there has been a marked shift from lawyers questioning the security of these systems to instead vetting the systems and seeking peer advice regarding the “best” cloud platforms for their needs.

Further evidence that cloud computing is here to stay can be found in the results of recent legal technology surveys. For starters, there are the results of the ABA's 2013 Legal Technology Survey, which indicate that the number of lawyers using cloud computing products increased dramatically in 2013. In 2011, only 16 percent of lawyers reported using cloud computing in their law practices, with that number increasing  to 21 percent in 2012. 

But this year, 31 percent - nearly one third of all lawyers - reported using cloud computing software to manage their law firms. Not surprisingly, innovative solo practitioners lead the way, with 40 percent reporting use of cloud computing in their law practices. And, of those who reported using cloud computing tools for law-related tasks, 70 percent said they would continue using them in the future.

The results of the 2013 International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) and Inside Legal Technology Purchasing Survey results were also telling. This survey included responses from more than 1,200 ILTA member firms and indicated that 34 percent of responding firms had used cloud computing products in the past year, while 36 percent reported that they were actively researching cloud computing products or that cloud computing tools were on their IT roadmap.

The survey results also indicated that the top five ways that responding firms were using cloud computing were: 1) storage/backup, cited by 55 percent, 2) disaster recovery, cited by 50 percent, 3) email, cited by 35 percent, 4) document management, cited by 29 percent, and 5) case management, cited by 18 percent.

So, the surveys and anecdotal evidence are in. But, is cloud computing really here to stay? Will lawyers and law firms embrace and take full advantage of web-based platforms in the coming year?  Will 2014 be the year that the flood gates open and the legal profession rushes to enter the cloud? 

All signs point to “yes” but then again, it's never easy to predict the future.  Only time will tell. So tune in tomorrow to find out!

Nicole Black is a Director 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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