legal tech

The argument for innovation: Cloud-based services disrupt the legal industry, creating greater efficiencies

Chris Brown is part startup attorney and part entrepreneur.

His firm, Venture Legal, works with various small businesses and startup companies in the Kansas City metro area. To say that Brown values the technology would be an understatement—rather, he sees it as a lifeline in which his firm operates.

“When I started my law firm, I made a very intentional decision to make it more of a business and less of a law firm,” he said. “Most of my clients are startups and freelance businesses, and so I just kind of learned from them, and I use the same tools they use.”

While the practice is still taboo to many attorneys, Brown uses Dropbox for the purpose of sharing client files or contracts, as well as for document storage.

“Why not use it?” he asked. “That’s kind of my first instinct, is ‘why not use it?’ So some of the reasons might be security or whatever, but as long as you’re smart about … it’s really not that dangerous.”

From Dropbox to Evernote, SalesForce to Slack, these are just a sample of the cloud-based platforms and softwares that are disrupting the legal industry.

 Securing documents

In 2016, the American Bar Association said only 38 percent of lawyers used cloud computing. In just a year, that share rose to 52 percent in 2017, making Brown ahead of the curve.

Venture Legal is a one-man firm, suggesting that Brown’s use of Dropbox is a creative solution to a lack of manpower, but Brown would argue the contrary — it simplifies things and, in his opinion, is safe, if not safer than storage of paper documents.

cloud documents“A lot of lawyers are really afraid of this because they think putting all their client data in the cloud is risky. But the funny thing is a lot of lawyers say they don’t use the cloud, but if they’re using Gmail, they’re using the cloud,” Brown said.

“A lot of lawyers will have paper libraries in their office, but I would ask them, ‘What do you do to protect your office? Somebody could break in and take all your files.’ That’s a lot easier to do than hacking Dropbox … I would challenge a lot of lawyers on that premise.”

A 2017 Legal Technology Survey Report by the American Bar Association (ABA) saw a slight decline, 72 to 69 percent, of attorneys that reported confidentiality/security concerns; meanwhile, 69 percent of those not using the cloud reported confidentiality/security concerns as the No. 1 reason they have not adopted such technologies.

The perception of risk attached to cloud computing remains the leading reason for legal professionals to shy away from such efficiencies. A 2017 Deloitte report, “Objections overruled: The case for disruptive technology in the legal profession” confirms that attorneys are risk-averse and reiterates Brown’s argument on whether tangible records are more secure.

According to the Deloitte report, “paper records are not encrypted and are vulnerable to theft and loss. Virtually every significant case of corporate data loss on record has been either due to loss or theft of physical storage media. (Inadvertent compromise of passwords through phishing attacks is much rarer and can be traced to inadequate awareness and training.) Cloud-based computing is arguably now the best-protected data storage and sharing solution available.”

Despite the concerns among the industry, startup platforms forge ahead with advanced security framework such as blockchain and encryption.

Collaboration platform

Vector Legal Method addresses the need for efficiency and security within the legal industry through its cloud litigation management platform. Deploying centralized control in the form of a dashboard, a firm or attorney can manage documents, deadlines, tasks and case history in one place by using a Vector’s litigation-specific framework designed for federal and state rules of civil procedure.

“Vector was designed and built by veteran litigation partners who saw a need for a litigation-specific platform where all stakeholders could collaborate from the beginning of a case through case resolution,” said Thadd Hale, Vector Legal Method CEO.

The platform ensures all uploaded content is encrypted at rest and in transit.

“We are a Box Platform company, so we have the same document security as the leading enterprise cloud-based solution,” added Hale. Box Platform is a security system used in applications for cloud content management.

Vector is intended to help attorneys differentiate their services and show clients that they can manage the litigation process better than their competitors. Of course, given the slow adoption of cloud computing among attorneys, Hale and his team are taking a different approach to illustrating Vector’s value.

“The biggest challenge is getting attorneys and law firms to adopt new technology and change processes,” said Hale. “We are working to combat this by bringing the law firm’s client into the conversation and showing both parties how the process can be improved by working collaboratively in a single system.”

Firm management

In a similar approach to Vector Legal Method, Intelligent RMS is a new cloud-based business management platform geared toward the legal industry for the purpose of internal efficiency. Unlike Vector, however, Intelligent RMS does not manage cases; rather, it combines a firm’s business data into a single, real-time view for the purpose of firm management.

“All organizations face similar core challenges — they have invested in multiple core technologies that don’t integrate causing increasing complexity to gather meaningful information. Notwithstanding, the outlying manual processes and spreadsheets that have to be aggregated,” said Elizabeth DeZeeuw, president and CEO of EDZ Systems, developer of Intelligent RMS.

DeZeeuw explained that by combining internal and external tools into one interface, firms can realize a greater level of efficiency and transparency.

“This includes productivity in matter management as it aligns with financial forecast to actuals; assignment of resources to matters based on prior history and skills; providing clients a greater level of transparency into firm’s management of their matters,” she said.

Client-driven trend

While adoption of cloud technologies is slow, the 2017 ABA Survey actually indicates that consumer cloud platforms are in higher use among attorneys compared with platforms dedicated to legal services.

According to the report, “Legal-specific cloud services have not reached the same levels of popularity as the consumer services. … These results might reflect both the difficulties lawyers and others have with determining what exactly is a ‘cloud’ service and the increased number of legal cloud service providers, especially in the case management category.”

Intelligent RMS counters this sentiment by addressing time and resources.

“Current trends are also impacted by existing solution’s cost and time to implement that are often expensive and take many months for deployments,”  DeZeeuw said. “Our tool does this at a lower cost and with an implementation timeline of weeks — not months or more — supported by the flexibility of the tools configuration management and common interfaces.”

While the time it will take attorneys and law firms to grow in their acceptance of cloud computing is unknown, it is suggested that an accelerated acceptance among clients will likely move the needle.

Valuing time and increasing communication with clients, matched with cost savings, will prove to be critical advantages to a legal industry operating in the cloud.

Brian Kearns, CEO of HipHire and Venture Legal client, values Brown’s use of technology for his business.

“We found the two main benefits are cost and speed of delivery,” said Kearns. “Blending cloud-based legal services with Chris Brown’s face-to-face conversations enables our business a cost-effective way to balance legal obligations with financial constraints.”

Brown said the bottom line will continue to drive law firms to new technologies.

“I think a lot of clients, especially small business owners, want a law firm that is efficient and that uses the proper technology,” Brown said. “They don’t want to print something and sign it by hand and scan it back — they just want to sign something in DocuSign. It’s just so much faster.”