Cloud first for the legal sector, unless…


Cloud first for the legal sector, unless…

Earlier this month at a three day gathering of the most influential legal IT sector decision makers from the UK and international firms, in the rarefied setting of Gleneagles Hotel for GlenLegal 2019, attendees shared their insights and predictions for cloud adoption.

The headline? Law firms are looking to fully embrace cloud, and its popularity continues to increase in the sector. As one of a number of examples of this increasing appetite, below is a graphic created by Andrew Powell, CIO of Macfarlanes, using the results of a detailed survey of 60+ law firm CIOs, representing the deployment of email among firms last year, this year and next year across the available platforms:

Figure 1. Cloud adoption: Email

This demonstrates a striking increase in cloud platform adoption in a relatively short time frame, and this finding is reflected across a number of other technologies posited in the survey.

Hearteningly, historical concerns over security are no longer a barrier: the consensus now, especially among larger firms, is that today’s public cloud has more robust security in comparison to on-premise hardware, and major cloud providers have the resources to stay ahead in the security race in a way that the firms themselves do not.

The primary blocker, and source of delay, in the uptake of cloud, according to a second survey undertaken by Powell, is the difficulty and expense they perceive in migrating their existing systems into a cloud environment (Figure 2). This legacy inertia will likely reduce over time as hardware refresh costs loom and migration tools increase in sophistication – there is also a role here for cloud specialists to evangelise and educate: the difficulty and expense are likely to be less than imagined once an experienced partner is brought in to assess and break down the required effort, and make valid commercial comparisons with the cost of remaining on-premise.

Figure 2. CIO Barriers to Cloud Adoption

48%   Existing Systems – too difficult
26%   Existing Systems – too expensive
22%   Don’t trust vendors with data
Clients won’t allow it
Licensing prevents it

At present, firms tend to use a number of disparate SaaS-based point solutions for many line of business applications, which effectively means that the legal sector is already embedded in the cloud. Overall, there is some use of hybrid and public cloud, and momentum is building for an eventual complete migration to cloud services.

That said, there is still a reluctance to engage with cloud in some circumstances, particularly where data regulation in a few jurisdictions prescribes certain limits on data management; similarly, in cases where clients don’t feel comfortable with their information being located in the cloud, firms will find their hands tied. This limitation is easing, as clients’ wish for reassurance concerning the exact geographic location of their data is matched by new data domicile guarantees from the major public cloud providers. It was described by one thought leader as the ‘Cloud First, Unless’ model, wherein CIOs are happy to adopt a Cloud First presumption for new applications and operating systems, as long as one of these blockers does not make it impractical.

The physical location of client data is particularly important because, for example, if a UK law firm’s client data is stored in data centres owned by a US entity, a category that obviously includes all three hyperscalers, it can be subpoenaed under US law. The CLOUD (Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data) Act, passed 12 months ago, states that US law enforcement agencies have the right to issue and enforce warrants relating to data held by American companies abroad, although there is also recourse to object if the order is in conflict with foreign laws, or relates to data owned by a non-US citizen. This area of law is still developing, so in some circumstances the advantages of using public cloud may be outweighed by the risk presented by legal uncertainty, but that is where a hybrid cloud architecture can present a solution

Overall, we see an encouraging picture emerging of a sector ready to embrace cloud as a fundamental fact of life, and it is incumbent on leaders in the cloud industry to take that readiness and form it into action.

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