The practice of law can feel like a chess game. What do you expect your opponent to do? What do they expect you to do? What move could you make that would protect your argument—while undercutting theirs in a way that they didn’t see coming? Managing a law firm can feel like a strategic game too. Where should you invest? Where should you pull back? What move should you make next to stand out from the crowd of options without sacrificing excellent client service?
If your law firm still manages eDiscovery using an on-premises application that’s hosted on a few servers in a locked closet, we’ve got a move for you: the move to cloud-based eDiscovery.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at what cloud-based eDiscovery is and why law firms often resist the move to the cloud. We’ll then lay out three reasons why moving your law firm’s eDiscovery to the cloud could be the big move your firm needs to make for 2021 and beyond.
What is cloud-based eDiscovery?
Why law firms often resist using the cloud for eDiscovery
Three reasons to manage eDiscovery in the cloud
1. It’s accessible from anywhere—without sacrificing security
2. It’s affordable to set up and operate
3. It’s available without interruptions
The forecast is bright for eDiscovery in the cloud
To understand cloud-based eDiscovery, we first have to understand what the “cloud" is. The cloud is essentially the same as the internet. When data or an application resides in the cloud, it isn’t stored on the hard drive of your computer or on the server your law firm keeps in a closet. It still lives on a server, but that server could be in the next building or on the other side of the world. Cloud-based data and applications are accessible not by plugging in a USB drive or connecting to a local intranet but by using a web browser or a mobile app to access the internet.
When a law firm uses cloud-based eDiscovery, then, that means that it accesses its eDiscovery service, software, and data through a web browser or a mobile app on an internet-connected device. The software isn’t installed on a single machine that the law firm owns; it’s anywhere the internet is. Likewise, the data collected, processed, and reviewed through a cloud-based eDiscovery system resides on the internet rather than on local hard drives or servers.
Cloud applications are also sometimes referred to as software-as-a-service or SaaS programs. With SaaS applications, you don’t use a CD to locally install a program that will thereafter take up space on your hard drive and require updates that you have to schedule and manage; instead, you pay a subscription to have ongoing access to SaaS applications within the cloud.
Businesses have widely embraced the cloud, but many lawyers and law firms remain suspicious of migrating their eDiscovery processes to the cloud. Let’s look at the sources of that resistance.
The American Bar Association’s 2020 TechReport survey indicated that “lawyers [are] still using the cloud much less than the rest of the business world,” with only 59 percent using the cloud for any part of their operations. However, it’s important to note that those survey responses were collected before the COVID-19 pandemic, which all but forced law firms to increase their adoption of cloud-based services.
Yet those numbers over-represent lawyers’ trust in the cloud for eDiscovery. Another report found that only 35 percent of law firms use cloud-based eDiscovery systems. Shockingly, 11 percent of AmLaw 100 respondents stated that they don’t expect cloud-based eDiscovery to ever become the norm.
Why are lawyers so reluctant to entrust their eDiscovery processes to the cloud? Lawyers often voice concerns about the security, privacy, and accessibility of their data in the cloud. Those concerns likely reflect a deeper anxiety about the lack of control over cloud-based data and software. While it’s true that law firms cede a certain amount of control with cloud-based eDiscovery, the other side of that coin is that they also cede most of the responsibilities for managing the associated data and software as well as the infrastructure needed to run that software. With cloud-based eDiscovery, the law firm doesn’t have to invest in anything. The vendor provides the hardware (data processing and storage servers), security measures, and the IT staff needed to maintain and update the software, while the user typically only pays for services as needed.
Let’s look at three reasons law firms should consider managing their eDiscovery in the cloud.
The 2020 shift to remote work drove home the importance of cloud-based computing for law firms everywhere. On-premises applications and data storage are often only accessible to lawyers who are in the firm’s physical office. Off-site access, where available, may require the use of a complex remote access portal. By contrast, cloud-based services and data storage are accessible from any location with an internet connection. In many cases, they’re also accessible from any device, be it a computer, tablet, or even a smartphone. Cloud-based apps also look and function the same everywhere, without requiring challenging logins for off-site access or different workflows depending on the user’s location.
What about security? This brings us to an important point about the cloud: it isn’t one monolithic space. There’s no single “cloud,” so you can’t say that the cloud is generally secure any more than you could say that a house is necessarily secure against intruders. Rather, the security of a cloud-based application depends on the measures the provider takes to protect it. Cloud security is, quite simply, up to the individual vendor, just as home security is up to the individual resident.
That said, cloud vendors tend to have outstanding security—better than anything that individual law firms could afford. They’re typically hosted by a third party such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure. Chances are your law firm doesn’t have the resources that Amazon and Microsoft have to devote to security!
As we alluded to earlier, the total cost to manage eDiscovery in the cloud is typically lower and more predictable than the cost of an on-premise deployment. Why? First, cloud-based eDiscovery has minimal startup costs compared with the large up-front capital investment demanded by on-premise eDiscovery solutions. Law firms don’t have to buy servers or backup drives or dedicate physical space in their offices. Nor do they have to hire and pay more IT staff to monitor and manage their investments.
Best of all, cloud-based eDiscovery is fully scalable. There’s no need to worry about over-buying to ensure that the firm has sufficient processing and storage capacity or paying for that excess unused capacity. The capacity is there in the cloud when you need it, and it’s not part of your bill when you don’t.
When we say cloud-based eDiscovery systems are always available, we’re referring to two different aspects of their design. First, there’s no need for the law firm or its IT staff to maintain a cloud-based program. Because the vendor manages bug fixes, patches, and updates with new features—continuously, without any action required from the user—there’s little or no disruption in service.
Second, the law firm doesn’t have to create a disaster preparedness plan for its eDiscovery data and systems, because cloud-based providers use multiple backup controls to protect their systems from natural disasters. Cloud-based eDiscovery is not generally susceptible to chance events like floods, fires, or earthquakes, and redundancies in cloud providers’ power grids ensure that they don’t suffer from unscheduled downtime due to power loss. Can your law firm say that about the servers in its closet?
There’s tremendous promise for law firms that move their eDiscovery to the cloud, but let’s reiterate an important point: there is no one cloud. It’s critical that your law firm independently assess both the functionality of a cloud-based eDiscovery system and its security protections.