Thinking out Cloud Translating Tech to Business

Going to the Cloud … Are We There Yet?

We have spent a fair amount of time over the past two years of this column analyzing law firms’ attitudes and buying behaviors related to cloud computing. Why are firms moving to the cloud? Why not? How fast? And how deep? And so on.

Jobst Elster

Everything in our economy points to the cloud as thee platform of the present and foreseeable future — just look at recent earnings for the likes of Amazon (Amazon Web Services), Microsoft (Azure cloud), Google’s Cloud Platform and Salesforce (an early SaaS/cloud-first innovator).

While the legal market is not exempt from this go-cloud thrust, the pace of adoption and acceptance is still a talking point in 2018. In this column, we’ll take a look recent cloud computing-related survey results published as part of the 2017 ILTA Technology Survey. The International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) survey includes insights from more than 570-member law firms representing more than 123,000 attorneys and 250,000 total users.


For as long as we’ve been talking about the cloud in legal, by far the biggest concern for firms moving to the cloud was centered on security. However, within the last two to three years, legal IT leaders are increasingly recognizing the security value reputable native cloud providers can bring to the table. Based on how they operate and secure their own systems, cloud providers are in the best position to provide firms with heightened cloud security measures largely unmatched by firms’ internal processes and protocols.

This trend is reflected in the ILTA’s 2017 Technology Survey results with 39 percent of respondents citing cost as the top barrier to moving their firm’s technology to the cloud. Meanwhile, 38 percent cited security, down 6 percent from 2017 and 2016. Cloud reliability concerns (32 percent) round out the top three. Also worth noting — firms are now less concerned with integration and expandability issues when it comes to the transition to a cloud platform.

For as long as we’ve been talking about the cloud in legal, by far the biggest concern for firms moving to the cloud was centered on security.

But getting back to security …

As part of the 2017 survey, firms were also asked to rank the top three — not specific to the cloud — law firm security challenges. “Cloud apps/data security” ranked 27th (2 percent). By far, modern law firms are a lot more concerned with “balancing security with usability” (32 percent), “user acceptance and behavior” (27 percent), and “user education and awareness” (23 percent).

When predicting future adoption of cloud-based solutions, 63 percent of survey respondents indicated cloud adoption would increase, up only one percent from 2016, but still 12 percent higher than in 2015.

However, I find that more intriguing than the broader percentages for the results cited above is how firm size affects certain answers. The survey charts that typically accompany each set of graphs can be valuable in seeing how firms of varying sizes compare in technology and processes.

For example, 57 percent of “under 50 attorneys” firms predicted increased cloud adoption, while 77 percent of “700 or more attorneys” firms indicated increased cloud technology adoption in 2018. In terms of barriers to cloud adoption, smaller firms (“under 50 attorneys”) are a lot more concerned about cost and cloud reliability and management acceptance of cloud technology compared to their BigLaw counterparts. On the other hand, regulation compliance and client restrictions are of minor concern to small firms.


So where are the biggest shifts to the cloud coming from? Some technologies are well on their way to being fully in the cloud. Again, according to the ILTA’s 2017 Technology Survey, 40 percent of firms use cloud-based solutions for email with another 12 percent using a hybrid on-site/cloud solution. Additionally, 14 percent of firms are using cloud-based solutions for document management — 11 percent have moved to Office 365 within the past year.

These trends reflect not only the sign of the times, but also IT common sense. As firms move more technology to the cloud, legal IT can (re)focus on supporting the practice of law and less on keeping things running.

Cloud technology adoption, especially in legal, will never be an all or nothing proposition, but rather will be a need-by-need, cases-by-use-case decision with the prevalence of cloud/on-premise hybrid models staying strong. And let’s face it — the ultimate decision to go cloud is becoming less and less a pure internal IT decision, but more so being determined by external forces. These include client expectations and requirements, workforce mobility, and the push to build business applications that mirror the consumer technologies we use at home every day.