Why do small and midsize firms keep their DMs on premises?

Many small and midsize law firms continue to run their document management systems (DMS) on premises. That was standard practice for decades, yet larger law firms and the business world have recently been moving to cloud-based services.

Moving a firm's DMS to the cloud offers significant advantages and allows firms of any size to compete on the same playing field; still, many small and midsize firms remain reluctant to make the move.

Research done by Deep Analysis has uncovered three key objections that are usually cited during cloud migration discussions. We explore and answer these objections below.



Objection #1: Moving to the cloud is a risky proposition.

Over the years, your law firm has built a solid and trustworthy reputation with clients. You may be concerned about the ethical and legal implications of moving to the cloud, and you may have concerns regarding privacy and retaining attorney-client privilege. You also need to feel confident that your work product will be both safe and accessible in the cloud.

It is important to recognize that tens of thousands of businesses, large and small, have moved sensitive data to the cloud and kept it secure. Indeed, many have moved to the cloud to reduce their risk exposure. Much of the concern about cloud security arises from a fundamental misunderstanding of cloud computing: simply put, there is a world of difference between enterprise and consumer clouds. You would – and should – be rightly cautious about sharing any information with, for example, cloud-based consumer-focused phone apps, because they do not always use adequate security measures.

But enterprise clouds are a different beast and much more secure; they are like Fort Knox compared to the consumer cloud, which is more like a piggy bank. Enterprise-class cloud computing is highly secure, reliable, and compliant because it is extremely well-engineered and managed. Standard in enterprise cloud services are dedicated 24/7 expert security staff, bestof-breed network and security tools, and sophisticated algorithms that continuously monitor and protect data at every layer. No legal firm has that on premises. Nor is there a risk that your client data can be shared and accessible to third parties in the cloud. As your information is tightly sectioned, encrypted, and separated from all other data, only you can access it; not even the cloud service provider can read or access it.

It is essential to vet any potential cloud service provider to ensure they meet these high standards and have the requisite understanding of your requirements, good references, and extensive experience working with legal firms.

Moving to the cloud can reduce, rather than increase, your firm’s exposure to risk.

Objection #2: We will have less control of our client data, and the cloud will be expensive.

Your law firm has been using a DMS without any significant problems for decades, you have complete control over your client data, and you have budgeted for what these services will cost your firm each year. You may be concerned about losing control over client data and costs.

In reality, though, you can have the same control over your client data in the cloud as on premises. If you want to move the data, restructure it, add new users, or, for that matter, delete files or users, nothing will change. The level and granularity of your controls will be identical in the cloud and on premises. Furthermore, as cloud-based legal applications are modern and regularly updated with simpler-to-use controls over client data, they are typically easier for your IT and legal staff to use than dated on-premises systems.

Controlling costs is always a critical factor in any business decision, whether hiring a new staff member or deciding where to run your DMS. And many still believe that a move to cloud computing will be expensive and complex and result in a lock-in, meaning that if you move to the cloud, you can’t move back out and will be held hostage on pricing. This does not have to be the case, for two reasons: 1) moving to the cloud should not cost more than on-premises computing, and 2) your computing costs will become more predictable and manageable.

Rather than paying irregular upfront costs (CapEx) for software and hardware renewals, you’ll pay a predictable and adjustable annual fee (OpEx) based on your needs. So if your firm grows, it can expand its use, and if for some reason your needs decline, you can similarly reduce your payments.

Your cost structure may shift, but cloud options should not be more expensive and should provide modern capabilities unavailable to you on premises.

Objection #3: Our clients won’t like it or trust us if we move to the cloud.

Your law firm rightly prides itself on the deep and trusted relationships it has built with clients over the years. You don’t want to test or compromise those relationships by adopting new approaches that clients won’t like, such as (you believe) cloud data storage. Clients might worry that their confidential data will be less secure.

In reality, most of your clients, be they individuals or corporations, are already running without problem or concern in the cloud. Moreover, your clients increasingly expect secure access to their data anytime and on any device. The pandemic accelerated this expectation because nearly everyone was forced to adapt to remote and hybrid working. Easy yet secure access, anytime, anywhere, to both staff and clients is not something that an on-premises system can provide securely or efficiently, or without a great deal of work, cost, and added complexity.

Rather than object to your use of the cloud, many of your clients will welcome your move to a more modern, easy-to- use, and accessible computing environment. Larger law firms that have already moved to the cloud report seeing significant benefits and increased business over those still on premises.

Rather than object to your firm adopting cloud applications, your clients increasingly expect and demand the 24/7 easy-to-use service that only the cloud can provide.

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Overcoming stakeholder objections to cloud migration

This paper by Deep Analysis explores some of the most common internal barriers that small and midsize law firms face in moving to the cloud and provides practical advice on how to make the shift.