Practice management software has come a long way in the nine years that we’ve offered Clio to law firms. And, while it might seem that the industry has come around to the idea that cloud-based software is a secure, powerful tool, it wasn’t always the case.

When we first launched Clio, we were met with hesitation and apprehension, mostly over perceived deficiencies—promulgated by on-premise vendors—in the security of the cloud. And despite the fact that I and my founding partner Rian saw a very clear opportunity to bring the cloud to the legal industry, we had no idea whether lawyers would actually embrace the cloud. We identified that as our highest business risk back in 2008.

Overcoming security apprehension

Lawyers are often risk averse—and for good reason. They’re incredibly driven professionals who’ve been trained to constantly contemplate worst-case scenarios, and depending on their practice area, someone’s life or liberty could hang in the balance. And while many tech-savvy lawyers have already embraced the cloud-based practice management software (and the many tools available to complement it), trying out the cloud still falls outside the comfort zone of many others.

But increasingly, failing to embrace technology is turning out to be the real risk. So far, 27 U.S. states have adopted the duty of technology competence, meaning that lawyers must “keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” Meanwhile, 20 U.S. states have issued ethics opinions that permit cloud computing, and the Legal Cloud Computing Association (LCCA), founded by Clio and a consortium of other legal cloud computing vendors, has a set of standards that can be used as a due diligence checklist for lawyers practicing anywhere in the U.S.

While there were some initial doubts over the security of the cloud back in 2008—especially amongst lawyers—it’s now accepted that the cloud is more secure than on-premise solutions. Gartner expects that through 2020, public cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS) workloads will suffer at least 60% fewer security incidents than those in traditional data centers.

The business world is shifting, and for many, the cloud has become so prevalent that the idea of using an on-premise server seems antiquated. More and more companies are adopting a cloud-first strategy. According to a study by cybersecurity company McAfee, 93% of organizations are using cloud-based services and within 15 months, cloud spending will account for 80% of IT budgets.

What makes the cloud so secure? Simple economies of scale have led cloud computing vendors to invest aggressively in security infrastructure that is orders of magnitude more secure than what a small to medium sized law office would be able to invest in to protect on-premise servers. Clio, for example, spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on security, penetration testing, a dedicated security team, and much more to make sure all client data is secure.

Proven case for law firms

This change in perception of the security of the cloud within the legal industry didn’t come without a substantial amount of effort. Through white papers, blog posts, and speaking circuits, we’ve been able to help guide the conversation around security and ethics in the cloud, making sure lawyers and legal professionals have the information they need to feel confident using these tools.

Also, associations like the LCCA have worked hard to clarify best practices around security for cloud-based companies and to give lawyers a good sense of how to do their due diligence when considering working with these providers. Following the LCCA’s input, the first state bar ethics opinion on cloud-computing shifted from a negative one to a positive one, paving the way for positive opinions from other state bars and helping lawyers feel secure and compliant while leveraging the power of cloud technology for their practices.

Today, discourse around legal technology almost presumes that lawyers are using the cloud.

Now, with a user base 150,000 strong, Clio is the most widely used cloud-based practice management system in the world, and we have a tremendous opportunity to transform the practice of law, for good.

The way forward for savvy lawyers

Think of cloud-based legal practice management software as the operating system for your law firm. Unlike on-premise solutions of the past, cloud-based systems allow lawyers to securely access their practices from anywhere. Accordingly, lawyers who’ve adopted these systems run their businesses more efficiently and provide better client service.

At its inception, cloud-based practice management software was mainly embraced by solo lawyers and small firms. Without IT support staff or budgets to manage expensive on-premise solutions, the cloud was a welcome alternative.

More recently, however, we’ve seen that same willingness to embrace the cloud diffuse upwards to larger firms. Lawyers, no matter where they work, are starting to recognize the power of the cloud. Cloud-based systems have brought more intuitive interfaces, more features to help legal professionals be more productive, and ever-improving mobile apps in light of increasing usage of mobile devices over desktop computers.

These changes in technology have given lawyers more than just the ability to be productive in transit or while waiting at the dentist’s office. They allow business lawyers to quickly notify their clients of last-minute changes to contracts, so that deals get closed. They allow family lawyers to easily calm a distraught client by pulling an update on their matter when they call after hours. And they allow criminal lawyers to go to court with only a cell phone, because that’s all they need to present their case.

What does all of this mean for law firms? For those who start using cloud-based services sooner rather than later, there’s a chance to get ahead of the wave and gain a competitive edge over those who wait.

The faster you begin to master these tools, implement processes at your firm, and get well-acquainted with all the options available, the faster you’ll start reaping benefits, whether that’s by driving cost efficiencies, delivering better experiences to clients, or moving faster and managing a higher workload. The sooner you make the change, the more time you’ll have to reap the rewards.

On the other hand, lawyers that wait too long to adopt new technologies risk being left behind. There’s a fundamental shift underway that will require lawyers to leverage technology to be more efficient, and to deliver better client experiences, or they risk losing out to their competitors that are using these tools.