Recently there has been a buzz word going around legal circles, everyone is talking about "The Cloud". What exactly is the "The Cloud" and is it something that legal professionals should be concerning themselves with at the moment? Is it something that has tangible benefits for practicing solicitors in the present or just another promising technology?
Well let's get something straight to begin with - "cloud" computing isn't a new technology, it's just been re-branded. Anyone who routinely accesses information via an on-line platform is already using it. If you have a hotmail account, use social media sites to share information or regularly tweet you are already familiar with the principle. Basically it means that the information you are accessing is held somewhere out there in the digital universe rather than on your own storage facility or hard-drive. All it really means is that some people more familiar with the internet and software have worked out how this principle might be used to save companies time and money and (more importantly), charge them for the pleasure.
What this means in practice is that rather than hosting large amounts of data on your firm's server you can now rent storage space within a cloud facility, which can also include access to practice/case management software. For the mobile lawyer this means no more logging into your internal network in order to access files. You can work in exactly the same way whether you are in the office, at home or anywhere else that has an internet connection. It also means reduced outlay in terms of hardware and expensive servers as well as having an environmental advantage. You only pay for the storage you are using rather than paying for banks of expensive, hot servers and an IT professional to look after them.
With a new technology such as this there are of course worries. The main concern for law firms regarding "The Cloud" is information security. At least when you hold information on your own servers you can have a firewall and encryption in place to help keep the sensitive client information you hold secure. When you beam a file off into the ether how can you be sure where it will end up? The DPA requires that certain information needs to be kept within the borders and this intrinsically goes against the very nature of cloud computing. In fact it may be that data protection legislation needs to be revised before the full potential of "The Cloud" can be realised. These are genuine areas of concern and it is clear that these issues will need to be properly addressed by those offering cloud computing to law firms. Most lawyers will probably hold back a bit from adopting this "new" technology until they have seen it tried and tested and these potential security issues have been dealt with by others. I feel, however, that, (once the risks have been properly assessed), the potential cost advantages of cloud computing are too great for any firm to ignore. Imagine the advantages for those who wish to start new, solicitor's "chambers" style firms, where lawyers have a space where they can hot-desk and hold meetings but will spend most of their time at home or on the move. In our highly competitive legal environment, where every potential area of saving is scrutinised in the name of profit and loss, can I really see cloud computing taking off?