Bringing Cloud Decisions Down to Earth

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Printed in ScanSnap on June 15, 2011

In most states, lawyers have the right to sell all or a part of their practice. Those lawyers who can demonstrate that their firm uses current practice management software tools and database technology can assure a prospective buyer that the firm has made an adequate investment in technology. This is important because if a lawyer contemplating a practice has not kept the practice’s technology current, the value of the practice is going to be diminished, especially once a potential purchaser realizes that a substantial IT investment will be necessary.

However, many small firm lawyers resist buying or updating technology because they are overwhelmed by the high up-front expense. Unlike larger firms that may follow a two or three year technology replacement cycle, these firms often are on a four, five or even six year upgrade cycle. And expense is not the only negative they cite. Other concerns include time needed to learn and implement new technologies, and questions about the ability to adapt to new technology without interrupting business.

For such firms, cloud computing may be the answer. The number of Internet-based document assembly, document management, practice management, time and billing programs for the legal industry is growing, and the residence of programs in an offsite server means that the firm doesn’t have the upfront expense of purchasing them. However, as the recent multi-day outage of Amazon’s Web Services showed, cloud-based programs can suddenly be unavailable. A given application may not have its own servers, and services may not be replicated across different data centers (particularly for special legal software) if there is an outage.

So what should small firms do: spend money to upgrade all hardware and desktop programs and keep all data onsite and under control, or switch to a web-based application knowing it may have connection or reliability problems but involves less upfront expense? Every firm’s answer will be different, but one important element that any firm should consider, whatever its data storage choice, is the use of scanning as an important supplement. Scanned electronic files do not degrade and cannot be altered, and they can be kept onsite and in several other locations – including cloud-based databases – as an added layer of security. They also form a database that is easily searchable, no matter what office-based or cloud-base software is used. Whether or not a firm uses software in the cloud, scanning is a down-to-earth strategy that is practical in terms of both cost and ease of use.

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