Getting Your Head into the Cloud

Whether you’re setting up a practice for the first time or upgrading existing technology, odds are you’re taking a long, hard look at the cloud. Here is a checklist to help you through the process.

Getting Started

Moving your data to the cloud is all about vetting the cloud provider – will they or won’t they keep your client information secure?  Here are your marching orders:

Research the Provider

  1. What is their reputation?
  2. How many years have they been in business?
  3. Are bloggers and news outlets critical or supportive?
  4. Can the provider give you a list of other lawyers who use their product?  (If so, check the provider’s references.)
  5. Talk to friends and colleagues: are they familiar with the product or provider?  What are their thoughts?
  6. If you belong to a listserv, poll the members of the listserv.
  7. Use the power of Google to reveal problems.  A general search using the product or provider name is a good start.  To uncover security issues, Google the product or provider name followed by the words “security concerns” or “data breach.”  To reveal if outages are a problem, search the product or provider name followed by the words “downtime statistics.”

Evaluate Speed and Reliability

Uptime, bandwidth, and general reliability of the Internet matter.

  1. Check on provider uptime statistics as part of your general research – see the discussion above.
  2. Make sure your technology is up to the task.  To use the cloud effectively you must have a fast, reliable Internet connection. If you don’t, contact your ISP.  If there is a remedy (and you can afford it), great.  If not, taking your practice into the cloud is likely not a good choice.

Read the Fine Print

  1. Dig into the provider’s website and follow any links that reference Terms of Service, Terms of Use, Privacy Policy, Security, or Service Agreements.
  2. Contact customer service for clarification of terms if needed.

Educate Yourself about Encryption

Every cloud provider encrypts your data.  The devil is in the details:

  1. Is your data encrypted at all times (in transit and at rest)?
  2. Does the provider hold a master encryption key?  (If so the provider can access your data at any time, thus defeating client confidentiality.)
  3. Is third-party encryption an option?  If the answer is yes, you can lock out the cloud provider.  A master key only permits the provider to unlock their encryption, not yours.  With third-party (AKA client-side) encryption, you – the user – apply your own encryption software before uploading any content to the cloud provider’s site.  Here’s the rub:  encrypting your own content isn’t always an option for compatibility reasons, so check with the provider.

Learn about Data Access Policies – “Authorized” and “Unauthorized”

Getting an answer to the master encryption key question will resolve whether the provider’s employees can freely access your information.  Now you need to ask:

  1. Will the provider notify you if authorities seek access to your account information?  (Some providers comply with subpoenas first and tell you about it later.)
  2. What is the provider’s procedure if a data breach occurs?

Know Before You Go: Security, Backups, Redundancy, and Local Copies of Your Data

  1. Find out what the provider has to say about the physical security of its facilities.  Features like fire suppression, redundant electrical systems, temperature controlled environments, video surveillance, and 24/7 monitoring by security personnel are standard.
  2. Learn everything you can about how your data is backed up. Where, when, and how.  A decent cloud provider has multiple servers that are geographically dispersed.
  3. Consider it a deal breaker if you can’t download a local copy of your own data. Keeping a local copy just makes sense.  First, it protects you if the provider goes out of business (some have).  Second, if the provider suffers a catastrophic breach you’ll still have a pristine copy of your information.  [Caveat: ability to download a local copy of your data does not mean you can work with it offline.  This is simply a way to protect yourself in a worst case scenario.]

Nail down the Details: Support, Training, Data Migration, and Data Integration

Cloud products are generally pretty easy to use, but at some point you’ll need help – maybe at the outset when you import your data – or later when you start using more advanced features of the program.  Either way, ask:

  1. Does the provider offer live telephone support?  Live chat?  Email?  What are the hours?  Is it free or is there a support contract?
  2. What resources does the provider have on its website?  Searchable knowledge base?  User forums?  Blog?  Training videos?  Webinars?
  3. Will the provider help you migrate your existing data?  Are you on your own?  If there is a fee for data migration, get an estimate.
  4. What about product compatibility and integration?  Some users need the cloud product to communicate with an existing piece of software, like QuickBooks or Outlook.  [Tip: don’t just take the cloud provider’s word for it.  Run another Google search: Is (cloud product name) compatible with (existing program)? If the blogosphere has spotted issues, you’ll uncover them quickly enough.

Product Cost and Licensing

Most cloud products are sold on a monthly subscription basis.  Do a bit of research:

  1. What is the current fee per user?  Any price breaks for multiple licenses?
  2. Research historic costs.  If monthly fees have jumped significantly in the recent past, factor this into your choice.
  3. Are product upgrades or new features included in existing subscriptions or is there an additional fee?
  4. What does a single license or a single user account include? Some providers are strict: one user/one license/one device.  Others are more flexible: one user/one license/multiple downloads: desktop, laptop, tablet.

Choose the Right Version

If your cloud provider offers multiple packages or products, proceed cautiously.

  1. Look for a Web page on the provider’s site that will compare the features of each version side by side.
  2. Call customer service when in doubt.
  3. Take advantage of free trials, which are almost universally available. A trial run is the best way to know whether you’re really going to like something.

Cyber Liability and Data Breach – What if the Worst Happens?

If you’ve decided to store your data in the cloud, it might be a good idea to have cyber liability and data breach coverage.

The Professional Liability Fund Excess Claims Made Plan automatically includes a cyber liability and data breach response endorsement with these features:

  • Forensic and legal assistance to determine compliance with applicable law
  • Notifications to individuals as required by law
  • 12 months credit monitoring to each notified client
  • Loss mitigation resources for law firms

If you aren’t eligible or don’t wish to purchase excess coverage through the PLF, contact a commercial carrier.

This is Too Much Work – Can’t You Just Tell Me What to Do or Give Me a List of Recommended Products?

No.  I can’t make this decision for you.  You and I have different likes, dislikes, needs, skill levels, and preferences.  (Think: Windows vs. Mac, Word vs. WordPerfect, or Mayonnaise vs. Miracle Whip.)

If you want to be happy with your choice, you have to make it.  We can talk, I can point you toward resources, or send you comparison charts.  But in the end you are the decider.

[All Rights Reserved 2015 Beverly Michaelis]

 

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