What’s the most disruptive legal technology today? The cloud. That’s according to a new report by ILTA, the International Legal Technology Association, whose 2019 Technology Survey illustrates the continued impact cloud computing is having on the legal industry.
Seventy-two percent of respondents, for example, said their adoption of cloud-based technology is increasing. In the near future, almost half of the surveyed firms will be using cloud-based eDiscovery software, up from the one third that do so today, according to the survey. But perhaps more tellingly, respondents rank the cloud number one as the technology most likely to “create significant change or be a major factor in the legal technology profession.”
ILTA’s annual Legal Technology Survey is one of the leading insights into law firm technology benchmarks. For well over a decade, the survey has chronicled law firms’ technological evolution, from fax machines to machine learning. This year’s survey featured responses from 537 law firms, representing 116,000 attorneys and 240,000 end users.
The survey’s executive summary—the entire report won’t be released until later this month—identifies several major themes that have emerged from the responses. Perhaps chief among them is, in the words of executive summary author Jim McCue, Director of Information Systems at the Rodney Law Firm, “firms’ increased trust in the cloud as more firms move certain portions of their IT infrastructure into the cloud.”
The embrace of the cloud, though a long time coming, is a testament to the benefits of cloud computing, namely its affordability and scalability. As opposed to high calorie, on-premise solutions, the cloud allows law firms to acquire and deploy cutting-edge technology without having to build out expensive infrastructure, staff large IT teams, or shut down systems for maintenance and updates.
And because the capabilities of the cloud, such technology is almost infinitely scalable. Law firms can access the resources they need—be they processing power, storage, or what have you—when usage is high and reduce those seamlessly when demand ebbs, allowing for a far more efficient distribution of resources than with traditional software.
The cloud’s disruptive impact on law firms hasn’t gone unrecognized by ILTA’s survey respondents, either. When asked what technology they believed will “create significant change or be a major factor in the legal technology profession” over the next five years, the cloud ranked number one, cited by 39 percent of respondents.
Artificial intelligence trailed close behind, mentioned by 37 percent of respondents. These two, the cloud and AI, were the only technologies to pass the 10 percent mark.
But while these rankings show a clear consensus about the impact of cloud technology and artificial intelligence, actual AI adoption by law firms lags far behind the cloud. Only ten percent of firms reported using AI firms, though another 11 percent were testing tools or running pilot programs. Fifty-four percent of respondents said their firm was not pursuing any AI options, down just three percent from last year, showing that while the promise of AI remains compelling, actual implementation hasn’t caught up.
So what functions have law firms moved to the cloud? Here are the top ten, according to the survey:
The survey also shows significant momentum towards the cloud in several areas. Thirty-nine percent of law firms are currently migrating their email systems to the cloud, joining the one third already there, while an additional 15 percent of firms are migrating to the cloud for eDiscovery.
Once those firms are migrated, 48 percent of respondent firms, or nearly half, will be using the cloud for eDiscovery in the near future.
This movement towards cloud-based discovery shouldn’t come as a surprise. The benefits of the cloud, particularly when it comes to eDiscovery, are numerous—stretching from ease of use to efficiency and scalability. Consider, for example, something like data processing. In the past, law firms needing to process data for review would need to collect raw data from their clients, engage an outside vendor for processing, ship that data to the vendor, and weight several days for it to be processed and made accessible for review. It was a process characterized by friction and delay—not to mention significant expense, often passed directly on to the client.
Today, thankfully, things are a bit smoother. Attorneys seeking to begin a document review can simply sign up for a review platform online, drag and drop their data, which then undergoes automated processing, without human intervention, and can be ready for review in a matter of minutes or hours.
Because these platforms run on the cloud, traditional limits on processing power, data storage, user seats, etc., simply don’t apply. And the best platforms will have support available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year—no more being shut out when traditional business hours end.
Of course, not everyone is convinced that the cloud is the perfect solution for them. There are the 50 percent of law firms who aren’t currently on the cloud or migrating there. And here ILTA’s 2019 Technology Survey gives us some insight as to why.
When asked what the top barriers to moving firm technology to the cloud were, respondents ranked cost (50 percent) and security (33 percent) as the leading obstacles. Interestingly, costs concerns have risen 15 percent from 2016, when they were identified as a barrier by just 37 percent of respondents.
Why? The cloud shouldn’t be getting more expensive—indeed, the exact opposite is happening, as companies leverage the efficiencies of the cloud to drastically reduce the cost of technology. (It is just those efficiencies that allow, for example, Logikcull to offer powerful eDiscovery software without any monthly hosting fees—an approach that has been described as “the most disruptive ever” by Above the Law.)
Perhaps, as lawyers’ wariness about other factors, such as security concerns or client restrictions, the impact of cost is simply growing in relation to those declines. Or, perhaps the commoditization of cloud services has led to the realization that many cloud fees law firms are facing are increasingly unjustified. Too many legal tech pricing models have simply failed to reflect the dramatic declines in cloud costs—which is great for revenue, but terribly for customers.
Unlike cost concerns, cloud security concerns have declined year over year for the past four years of the survey. Cited as a blocker to cloud migration by 44 percent of respondents in 2016, security is seen as a barrier by only 33 percent of respondents today. Yet remains the second biggest barrier to cloud adoption.
Data security, of course, should be a primary concern of all law firms. After all, law firms handle incredibly valuable and sensitive information, often acting as a “one stop shop” for hackers. In the realm of discovery, where that sensitive information is even further distilled, a data breach can be devastating—and experts believe that hackers are already targeting eDiscovery repositories.
But consider this: who is most equipped to secure your data? Massive cloud purveyors, like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure who can dedicate incredible resources to data security and threat detection—or an attorney storing sensitive documents on their desktop and local drives? Compare the resources that Amazon Web Services, a company that brought in more revenue than McDonald’s last year and which lists cloud security as it’s number one priority, can devote to security, versus the fact that one quarter of law firms have reported having experienced a data breach, with third party experts estimating that 80 percent of the 100 largest U.S. law firms have been hacked—and that it can take over 200 days on average for those breaches to be detected.
Or consider this: Would you rather store your firm’s funds in a rickety safe in your basement, or a bank? The cloud is the bank.
The cloud is the driving force of the 21st-century digital revolution. And the commoditization of cloud resources is reshaping not just law firms, but the entire economy, allowing more and more organizations to eliminate cost centers, automate complex tasks, increase control over their data and ultimate transform the way they do business.
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