This article from the US on Technolawyer grabbed our attention as the messages here are sound – SaaS and hosted IT solutions have become much more attractive options although you need to understand what you are doing and where it makes sense to compromise.
Warning — a rant is headed your way. A well-reasoned and situationally warranted one I believe, but definitely a rant. If I hear one more debate about whether lawyers should use software as a service (SaaS) (aka cloud computing systems), my head might explode. This debate is perpetually mired in concerns about accessibility, ethics, and security. It’s time to move past these non-issues and focus on more relevant issues that will enable SaaS products to mature into mainstream small firm products.
The Two Most Hotly Debated SaaS Issues Are Nonissues
Like many others, I’ve consistently sounded the dual alarms of SaaS: caution about newer technology, and of professional responsibility. These cautionary points do not revolve around functionality, necessarily, because there is much to be said about the “less is more” design approach embodied by SaaS products (especially practice management systems).
Rather, reasonable prudence from a best practices perspective focuses in part on continuity — availability of practice-critical data such as docketing and deadline information, documents, and core matter information. Small firms still need to reckon with access issues such as a data outage or slowdown anywhere in the digital pipeline, or vendor insolvency complicated by a predictably recalcitrant bankruptcy trustee.
It is relatively easy to address potential continuity issues. Eventually, legal SaaS system providers will build the local system mirroring/syncing/replication tools to ensure the same offline accessibility that enterprise corporate products have had for years. Why haven’t the small-firm oriented legal SaaS providers built workable, immediately usable offline capability yet? Beats me — they know it’s an issue and they must be tired of the constant pundit criticism.
The reality, however, is that continuity issues need to be balanced against the possibility of internally-maintained software becoming inaccessible because of a panoply of technology troubles. Digital bad days blacken all doorsteps — both externally and internally hosted applications fall prey to disrupted access.
Other concerns continue to swirl, especially vague ethical rules regarding surrender of control of confidential client information to third parties. The confidentiality issue ties into data transmission and encryption issues as well as the disposition of confidential information in the event of vendor insolvency and dissolution.
The reality, in the absence of inevitable ethical opinions and updated rules of professional responsibility, is that the ethics issues are largely a red herring. There is a long tradition of permitting third party data access and control to confidential client information. The obvious example is using third parties to retrieve and maintain archived client files, or to process electronic discovery files. Even online data backup, with multiple state bar associations having vetted and endorsed various services, has become informally accepted.
So let’s just all get over it — SaaS makes sense. The above issues will be resolved, likely sooner rather than later. If the world’s largest corporations can place their trust in wildly successful and field-proven SaaS products such as Salesforce.com, legal SaaS systems will become just as trustworthy. Outside of the small firm sphere, we already see very successful examples of SaaS legal applications, including mission critical systems such as financial management products. Rippe & Kingston’s LMS+ is a sound example.