Cost – Let’s say it’s just you and your receptionist and you’re running two licenses of Amicus Attorney and Amicus Accounting. Now, let’s say a band of wild raccoons infiltrate your server closet looking for Raman-noodles and ketchup. In this pursuit, they mistake your server for a refrigerator and destroy it. Looks like you need to come up with $5,000-$8,000 quick. Or do you? Maybe not. You could switch to, say, Credenza or a practice management software that someone else hosts and access it via Internet Explorer. $5,000 turned into $20 a month. Plus, since you don’t own the software, you’ll never pay to have it upgraded and you can rid yourself of the darned annual maintenance fees.
The January issue of Bar Journal of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association had a well written article penned by Gregory P. Stein titled, “Flying Into the Cloud: Understanding Cloud Computing”. Stein explains some things attorneys should be aware of when considering cloud computing. I’m going to provide a few examples to help clarify his point.
Benefits of Cloud Computing for Law Firms
Accessibility – Life’s good. You enjoy being able to access all of your information from anywhere in the world. All you need is an internet connection and a web browser. Your significant other doesn’t enjoy it but you do. And who said Paris isn’t a great place to conduct business anyway? You also enjoy the fact that due to the only requirements being a web browser and internet you can now get real-time information on your iPhone or Droid.
Considerations Regarding Cloud Computing for Law Firms
Yours or Mine – Now, let’s say you’ve been using this cloud practice management system for some time now. Well, business has been growing and suddenly you find that it’s not just you and the secretary anymore – it’s you and ten others. More desks, more employees, more computers, more clients – it’s time for a more robust practice management software. You decide it’s time your monthly fees went towards equity in a system you owned and hosted yourself. Great, sounds like a plan. You call your practice management provider and ask for all your data so that you can transfer it into a new system. Problem. They tell you that the data isn’t yours – they own it. So either stay with them or they destroy it (or worse mine it). Uh, that’s a bit of a problem. Someone else has all your intellectual property in their pocket and may legally own it.
The Unknown – Well, one day you go to log into your SaaS (Software as a Service) and instead of getting your information you get a notice that Company ABC is bankrupt. The website has been shut down. What are you going to do? Sue them? Or, let’s say instead of getting a notice of bankruptcy you get a phone call from someone apologizing that a hacker stole all of your clients’ social security numbers. Sure enough your clients suffer a theft of identity and you’re in court pointing the finger at a hundred million dollar corporation. And all ten of their attorneys are pointing their fingers at you.
Cloud computing as a concept has a very real appeal to it – it just makes sense. If a large corporation can leverage extremely expensive infrastructure costs by distributing them over a large pool of clients, then everyone gets reduced costs. The SaaS wins, you win and your neighbors win. But it’s early. And we’re cautioning our clients telling them to let others be the guinea pigs. There’s little legal standing for disputes over who owns the data, who is at fault if the data is lost or stolen and how a firm can expect to transfer data to another system in the future. Accordingly, we’re optimistic but still recommend you should proceed with caution.