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Law firms warming to social media but retain concerns about the cloud


Cloud computing: worries over compliance issues

Lawyers are warming to the use of social media in their practices but have reservations about risks associated with cloud computing, according to a major survey of law firm IT personnel.

Three-quarters of the 712 specialists surveyed jointly by the publisher Legal Support Network [2] and news and events company Legal IT Professionals [3] said they felt positive about social media as a tool to deliver value to their firms.

A third said their firms were already using social media – such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook – “to enable information sharing and collaboration” or were looking to develop the capability. This proportion rose to 41% among firms with more than 1,000 fee-earners.

Supporting the findings (which can be downloaded here [4]), Stuart Whittle, information systems and operations director at Weightmans LLP, said: “We’re finding our lawyers are becoming increasingly interested in [social media]… in particular in relation to LinkedIn. We’re now looking at how we can… build that interest into our overall marketing strategy.”

However, only last week the prominent legal IT commentator, Charles Christian, cautioned that firms should be sanguine [5] about the longevity of social networking media and avoid becoming “too excited about it”.

Maintaining law firm data in the cloud – on remote, hosted servers and accessed via the Internet – is a practice increasingly being embraced across the legal world, notably by Clifford Chance among the largest firms. But the survey showed widespread concern lingers.

Just under half (49%) of those polled said cloud computing “has serious compliance issues; where data is and who’s running applications is vitally important and must be considered”.

Yet more than a third of IT professionals at UK or US law firms did not believe compliance issues were a problem or felt the real barrier to adopting cloud computing was partners’ scepticism.

Eric Hunter, knowledge management and technology director of US firm Bradford & Barthel LLP, said: “Risks are present when moving to the cloud. But business always requires competitive risk taking.” He added that a lack of case law in some regions meant it was “vitally important for firms to specifically negotiate their contracts” with the companies hosting their information.

The survey also found higher levels of the use of business information (BI) – computer-based techniques to analyse data and help business decision-making – among UK law firms than those in either the US or mainland Europe.

Some 70% of UK firms’ IT personnel said they used BI to report on costs and profitability, create forecasts and underpin key performance indicators, as against fewer than 60% from US and European firms.

Mr Whittle explained: “Business information is the lifeblood of what we do [and helps us] demonstrate value to clients and ensure our teams are doing those things that our clients tell us they value.”

Questioned on the specifics of what software they were using or considering, 60% of respondents had a positive view of Microsoft’s SharePoint document management platform, although a third were unconvinced. Nearly half of the IT professionals named compatibility issues with existing applications as the biggest hurdle to face firms planning to upgrade their desktop software to Windows 2007 and Office 2010.