A few short years ago, reporters were marveling that many attorneys were not aware that the programs and applications they relied on to conduct their daily business were based in the cloud. In the brief period since the outbreak of COVID-19, however, even the most resistant legal professionals have been forced to adopt cloud-based technologies to effectively serve their clients during uncertain and mostly unplanned-for conditions.
As is always the case, smaller law firms and independent legal professionals today struggle to keep up with the technology budgets of their larger peers. That nonetheless puts them at a unique advantage, as they have a smaller investment to jettison when it comes time to change than most of their larger counterparts.
Stepping into the Cloud
The introduction of Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) allowed many law firms to step into a cloud environment. As firms start replacement of older applications, preferences for cloud-based solutions for billing, document management, litigation support and time management have increased the breadth and depth of cloud offerings. Increasingly, this means firms no longer need the infrastructure to support such services on-premises. As less of your sensitive data is held on your local systems and more of your processing power is provided by cloud-based machines, the necessary on-premises infrastructure likewise decreases.
For instance, firms no longer need to manage an on-premises mail server for routing messages. It can all be handled in the cloud. In other words, services and infrastructure that previously required capital expenditures and physical real estate in your office are increasingly becoming cloud-based subscription services. Does this mean that all your information is in the cloud? No, not necessarily. It means the operational piece – the mail server – is going to be hosted, and you now have the right to utilize the ancillary software such as word processing, data processing and other productivity software suites, like Microsoft 365, either on your desktop with a local install or on the cloud platform – meaning it can be accessed from anywhere.
Security and Infrastructure in the Cloud
For some small firms, it is easy to simply choose all cloud-based applications and never have an on-premises infrastructure. This may seem to be a simple choice, but you still need to be careful of your security infrastructure, as well as management of the individual desktop devices. For this, consider designing a network infrastructure that enables best security practices and ease of management of the firm’s applications.
Without an infrastructure, you are left to individual management of desktops and devices, which, at a certain point in the firm’s growth, can become unwieldy and cause problems with patching and application updates. Therefore, if you are going at this on your own, you should at some point consult with an IT professional or managed service provider to assist you with risk mitigation of your environment.
Just having cloud applications alone does not protect your firm’s data. Firms also need to consider best endpoint protection practices that not only safeguard you from viruses but ransomware as well. This should also include email hygiene software. In addition, every firm application should have multifactor authentication enabled to prevent password hacking. In order to accomplish many of these tasks, you will need a network infrastructure, but it, too, can be placed in the cloud rather than on-premises.
Putting infrastructure in the cloud means no more maintenance of any equipment, even your desktops. Yes, even desktops and laptops can be replaced as they age with “zero clients,” small computing devices which have no operating system and, thus, have nominal security risk and patching maintenance to keep up with. Desktops in the cloud allow a firm’s employees to access their technology infrastructure from anywhere on any device, including iOS devices.
The Rise of Zero Clients
Zero clients provide firms with a budget-friendly way to replace aging desktop equipment and obviate local operating system worries. These are ideal for nonmobile staff who do not require laptops. All can be managed on your cloud desktop along with any needed cloud servers. Even firms with only five to 10 users must have a domain controller, which responds to user authentication requests to access the network. Your domain controller can also be hosted and managed in the cloud. Many managed service providers today are proficient at placing a firm’s entire infrastructure in a cloud environment such as Amazon Web Services. This allows the firm to have a provider manage everything remotely, and on-site visits are typically nonexistent. With this infrastructure, you can truly have your workforce and your service provider work from anywhere.
Cybersecurity Remains Key
Cloud infrastructure typically provides you with more enhanced security than your local on-premises security architecture, particularly for smaller firms struggling to secure local network hardware. Most cloud providers already meet regulatory compliance requirements, and your managed service provider should also give you an additional layer of protection, including things like firewalls, endpoint protection and two-factor authentication.
Cloud infrastructure also handles different types of storage requirements. Your firm will no longer need to spend money on local network access storage devices that are larger than what you project for expansion. Pay for storage and the type of storage as you need it in the cloud. Storage types range from elastic to near term to archival. You don’t need maintenance contracts on hardware locally – let the cloud vendor manage it all for you. And, more important, you won’t be looking at expensive upgrades to your infrastructure every five years.
Moving Your Firm Completely to the Cloud
Transitioning to a full cloud model for hardware and software allows for your firm to manage IT budgeting on a month-to-month operational basis rather than annually planning for large capital outlays. This makes managing firm finances a bit easier. In short, you can have software applications in the cloud such as Microsoft, time and billing and document management, but that is only one piece of the cloud puzzle. Learning all the different models and best security practices available in the cloud can make a secure network a more affordable option for a smaller firm and allow it to be better prepared for the client security audits that are on the rise. Partnering with an IT managed service provider with a long history and deep knowledge in the legal industry can help you determine the most secure, cost-effective and easily maintained infrastructure to improve your firm’s accessibility from anywhere – whether that be in the cloud, on-premises or somewhere in-between.