Cloud-based eDiscovery Solutions: Good or Bad?
By Andy Adkins – When I started my legal technology consulting practice in 1989, DOS was still the king, the Internet was still a gleam in Al Gore’s eye, e-mail didn’t exist, and there was nothing really electronic to discover. Discovery was still paper-based (and not nearly as much paper as there is today). Wow, technology has come a long way and along with it, the Discovery practice has changed dramatically from paper to more paper (yes, lawyers still print out thousands of e-mail messages to review), even though there are some really slick applications that help legal professionals comb through these thousands of electronic documents and e-mails.
Over the years, I’ve conducted and published several nationwide studies on the use of the Internet, Case Management Systems, and SaaS (Subscription as a Service) applications, all for the legal profession. Make no mistake, the legal technology industry has changed dramatically over the past couple of decades and with it, there are tools and platforms that make a lawyer’s or paralegal’s job easier, once s/he understands some of the basic technology principles.
eDiscovery has probably changed the most, since more people are using more applications on more computers & devices and much of that is due to the growth of e-mail, documents, and of course, the Internet. We won’t get much into social media (like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) here – but that’s the next big thing.
“Back in the day,” Summation and Concordance led the way for litigation support systems. In the early 2000s, I started seeing a significant increase in eDiscovery vendors at the LegalTech and ABA TECHSHOW conferences. I think Bob Ambrogi and I counted 75% of the exhibitors at a LegalTech Conference one year. That number stayed level for a number of years, but over the past few years, we’ve seen a slight drop in the actual numbers.
Back in the day, desktop applications were the primary platform, but we’re seeing more and more applications (not just eDiscovery companies) take to the Cloud, whether they take their existing desktop application and host it in the Cloud, or they build their application from the ground up to take advantage of Cloud-based platform technologies. Either way, we’re seeing a shift in these platforms and that is good news for the attorney consumer.
Before we get into the pros and cons, let me provide a very simple definition of “the Cloud.” The “Cloud” is simply a data center (servers & supporting infrastructure), or a group of servers that may actually be located anywhere in the world. That is, NOT in your office.
Not to split hairs, but you should know the difference between a “hosted” application and a true “SaaS” application. A hosted application is simply the same desktop or networked application you use in your office, but it is hosted on a server (or servers) in the Cloud. A true SaaS application is built from the ground up, using the development platform’s built-in technologies, including security and scalability features.
There are usually two questions attorneys ask about the Cloud: Is it safe and secure? And, what is the cost? The legal answer is “It depends.” One question that lawyers often fail to ask is, how safe is their current system? I can tell you that the answer to that question is also, “It depends.” I’m not trying to be coy. Believe me, as a former IT Director, a former large firm CIO, and now a software company CIO, there is no standard stock answer for everything in technology. It’s the same as when a non-attorney asks you “who’s the best lawyer in your firm?” or “will I win my case?” Same answer, “It depends” on what you compare to or measure.
Let’s talk about the first question: Is it safe and secure? Many lawyers and law firms don’t realize they probably already use the Cloud for some things and don’t realize it – Dropbox, Box, Mimecast, and Office 365 are common applications used in the legal profession; they are all Cloud-based.
There are, at a minimum, three questions you need to ask about Cloud-based systems. First, is the data encrypted? Break that down into two terms: encrypted in transit (that is, sending/receiving data) and encrypted at rest (that is, while it’s in storage in the Cloud). There are lots of reasons for using encryption, but the primary one that should be of interest to attorneys is that encryption ensures compliance with HIPAA, HITEC, and other regulations designed to protect personal identifiable information (PII). Note that while most law firms encrypt data in transit, the cost for encrypting data at rest is expensive and complex, so not many law firms encrypt data at rest. However, a Cloud-based platform spreads that cost over lots of customers.
What is the cost of using the Cloud? When you use a Cloud-based application, you share that same application with many other customers. Don’t worry – the other customers cannot see your data and you cannot see theirs. Cloud-based systems are designed with that in mind and have multiple protections built in to prevent that from happening. By sharing the same application over multiple servers with multiple customers, the overall per customer cost is kept much lower than what the cost of the same software would be in your own data center. In most cases, overall it is less expensive to use a Cloud-based application than the same desktop or network application in your own office.
In addition, most Cloud-based systems have built-in scalability, meaning that if the application needs more computing horsepower, the application automatically requests more computing power which means that you, as the customer, always get the best performance, not matter how many people in your firm are using the same application at the same time. You won’t find that on a desktop or networked application, since it is limited to the computing power of the desktop or network server.
Probably the most important argument for Cloud-based applications is that the software developer always keeps the application updated, so you, the consumer, always have the latest and greatest updates. No more downloading and upgrading software, which almost always requires some downtime.
In the 2015 AmLaw-LTN Tech Survey, 62% of the 79 surveyed law firms (all of which are in the Am Law 200) reported investing in SaaS-based services for eDiscovery or litigation support—a trend driven primarily by corporate clients looking for greater flexibility and cost savings.
With the continued onslaught of eDiscovery data and information (that is, more e-mails, more documents, and now social media information), eDiscovery solutions are not just on the wish list, they are becoming a must-do. Cloud-based eDiscovery applications should also be on your radar.
Andy Adkins is the Chief Information Officer of Social Evidence, LLC, a leading cloud-based social media discovery, organization, and analysis application. He has been an independent legal technology consultant for more than 25 years, a past chair of the ABA TECHSHOW (2000, 2001) and past co-chair of LegalTech Conferences (2000-2007). He is the author of “The Lawyer’s Guide to Practice Management Systems,” published in April 2009 by the ABA Law Practice Management Section. He can be reached at 352.538.5346, firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.social-evidence.com.
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