When people mention “data,” the atomic particle that comes to mind is the electron. We speak of bits and bytes, of the “cloud,” of “cyberspace” and use the word “virtual” way more than we should. However, we tend to forget that all of this wonderful e-universe (don’t bother looking it up; we just coined the term) actually exists thanks to a massive physical presence, manifested by computers, switches, routers, networks, hard drives, memory chips, datacenters and the like, all of which house and transport that which is the lifeblood of the legal industry, namely documents.
This aspect of information technology (IT) is not particularly glamorous – we typically view it as a commodity, seeking out the lowest-price, minimal-specification solution with the least number of features and capabilities, and expect it to work in a seamless, uninterrupted and invisible manner in perpetuity. This mindset usually applies to all aspects of the IT environment, from cheap network cables purchased at local big-box stores to consumer- grade networking devices deployed in professional, high-volume work settings and student and home computers utilized as office workstations and servers.
Not Rocket Science
Asked by reporters as to what he was thinking of while sitting atop the Mercury spacecraft awaiting takeoff, astronaut Alan Shepard famously replied, “The fact that every part of this ship was built by the low bidder.” What was left out was the fact that there were thousands of NASA engineers responsible for every possible operational aspect. We should be so lucky.
The reality is that the IT infrastructure of many law firms is held together by spitand- baling-wire, which includes aged computers, cobbled-together networks, uneven software license levels, intermittent testing and maintenance, combined with nonexistent system monitoring and untested disaster recovery plans. Moreover, day-to-day oversight of these patchy, problem-prone environments is relegated to nontechnical staff that are expected to constantly put out flare-ups and fires. And boy, can those flames get hot.
Murphy Lurks Everywhere
Let’s take something as mundane and routine as data backups. Like a box of matches stored away for an emergency, one never knows if they’ll work or not until you need them. Legal practices routinely perform daily data backups, yet never perform verification and restoration tests. Then comes the day when the virus attacks, or the paralegal’s hard drive crashes or the associate’s laptop dies and you need the data restored. Good luck finding those documents that were lost from a specific computer or drive. Thanks to the estimable legislator Mr. Murphy, Esq. (he did have a law named for him, so he was probably not without a legal education), it will be a certainty that the one document you are absolutely unable to recover not only represents a massive time investment in re-crafting, but will invariably be the one needed by the client for the big closing, tomorrow.
And our fire rages on. Data integrity isn’t only about not using “password” as your system administrator password. It’s about the physical properties of your IT environment. Where do you keep the file server? (Hint: we hope it’s not in the hall closet). How many disks are concurrently written-to in your array? (Please tell us you have a disk array). How are valuable files being protected when the laptop they were on was stolen, along with the partner’s car? (Not the one whose password is “password;” the one that uses his birth date to log on).
Maintaining high levels of data integrity is not a tactical issue, but rather a highly strategic one which may ultimately impact the firm’s very survival. There is not a single asset in a law practice more valuable than its records and documents; ensuring their ongoing integrity is vital.
Divorcing Your Data
One of the best ways to solve this problem is to place your data assets in the cloud. By removing the physical presence of your documents and software applications from your office to a remote, secure datacenter you will, in one fell swoop, gain at least four significant advantages. First, the elimination of numerous points-of-failure which currently exist inside your office, from defective connections to aging equipment and software mismatches to coffee spills. Second, it will secure your data from a variety of accidents which may befall it when stored on local desktops and notebooks. Thirdly, good cloud providers also deliver a comprehensive set of management and monitoring services relieving your firm from relying on less-than-optimal internal IT skill sets. Lastly, a cloud strategy enjoys massive economies-of-scale, as your data assets will be maintained in a certified secure data center, providing your firm with a powerful IT resource at a minute fraction of its true cost.
Your clients entrust their legal representation to top-notch professionals; why not do the same with your valuable files and documents? Mark Wiener