As cloud hosting becomes a staple of law firm and in-house legal department technology strategies, a few power hitters have risen to the top of the heap. Perhaps as no surprise, forefront among those top players are Microsoft's Office 365 and Google's G-Suite.
Microsoft and Google both offer software alongside data storage in their respective cloud offerings. Support for tool integration and real-time collaboration seem to distinguish one offering from the other.
Traditionally, Microsoft's software has been favored in the legal community, where Word, Outlook and Excel have become shorthand for "word processor," "email" and "spreadsheet manager." Even as Microsoft has begun moving its Office Suite from a licensing, on-premise model to its monthly subscription Office 365 cloud model, legal organizations have stuck with it.
John Jelderks, director of information technology at Barack Ferrazzano Kirschbaum & Nagelberg, previously told Legaltech News that the firm's familiarity with Office is so great that it's nearly impossible to consider alternative options. "A lot of it really comes down to following where Microsoft is leading," he said.
Laurie Fischer, managing director at HBR Consulting, noted that for many legal service organizations, growing into the cloud with Microsoft keeps the application skills employees have developed over the years relevant and useful.
"Most businesses embraced the usage of Microsoft's Office suite over the last few decades, and that has built a transferrable set of knowledge on the products," she said.
Hunton & Williams partner Corey Lee said that even as a federal clerk, he saw the slow-moving federal court system adopt and stick with Word. But while Microsoft is heavily favored by law firms, Lee said that clients are increasingly using Google's collection of business tools.
"People using the Google Doc systems don't seem to be the law firms; they seem to be our clients, people into collaborative working," he noted.
Fischer noted that some of Google's tools, such as Gmail, do have "a strong following in the consumer world," but others are more likely to force attorneys to take the time to learn their nuances. "Other tools in the G-Suite, although more simplistic and intuitive, are new to most users, increasing the need for change management."
Google's platform stands out in its ability to host collaborative working, a need that attorneys pushing for "virtual law firms," practices that use technology to leverage client participation and attorney mobility see expanding in the future. G-Suite software such as Google Docs and Google Sheets, Google's counterparts to Microsoft's Word and Excel, allow multiple users to view and edit the same document at the same time, in real time.
Lee noted that Office 365's ShareDrives allows multiple users to access files, but doesn't have the same real-time collaboration infrastructure that Google's does. Google's users, by contrast, "are truly interested in all being able to be in the document at the same time," Lee said.
While G-Suite's collaborative features are often attractive to businesses who want to work more closely with attorneys, Lee cautioned that some legal teams have adopted the platform without fully considering how its user features could impact e-discovery strategies. G-Suite users often link to Google Docs, Sheets or collaborative documents rather than attaching them in emails, which can confuse e-discovery technology or outside companies accustomed to dealing with document attachments. Additionally, Google's collaboration infrastructure requires that users keep a sharp eye on permissions settings to avoid making sensitive data vulnerable.
"It does create some risk that companies should be prepared for if they're going to use Google Docs as a solution," Lee said.
Overall, Fischer said firms and law departments look to "cost, accessibility and, of course, ease of use," when deciding what kind of cloud platform to adopt. But while cost and ease of use still rank high on most priority lists for cloud adopters, Fischer pointed out that security and compliance needs are having an increasing impact on operations decisions.
"While email and collaboration were the traditional drivers for adoption, recently there is a larger focus on governance and security," Fischer said, adding that law firms and legal departments are increasingly looking to integrate compliance tools.
More broadly, outside software integration tends to be easier in the Office 365 work environment, as does support for that integration. "The existing ecosystem that surrounds Microsoft and Office 365 is a strong differentiator between Microsoft's offerings and those of competitors," Fischer said, adding that organizations can then implement the cloud service "without fear of not finding needed resources such as staff, third-party tools and consultants."
While Microsoft and Google provide the most well-known cloud platforms for content creation, they're by no means the only players in the game. Lee pointed to Cisco's previous dominance in the cloud space, which has since yielded to cloud offerings from Microsoft, Google and Amazon.
"Things change so fast and new offerings spring up so often that organizations may be advised to partner with an organization whose business is to stay abreast of the changing landscape," Fischer advised, though she did suggest that adopters consider other cloud providers and the coverage options they may offer. Among those she noted are Salesforce and Amazon.
Lee said that while these third-party cloud platforms such as Amazon or Salesforce have a large market share, they lack the file generation features and regular software updates of Office 365 and G-Suite. "You will have the benefits of Amazon Cloud as far as making sure you have redundancy and having things backed up, but you don't have the advantage of having applications administered for you," he explained.
In her work, the most common mistake Fischer sees is prioritizing one feature or one need above all other potential operational needs for a cloud platform. "Even though a specific platform may look sexy in one area, it doesn't mean it is the best solution for the organization as a whole," she said.
But even making a less-than-optimal decision about which public cloud provider to adopt is preferable for both Lee and Fischer than opting for in-house or private cloud data hosting. Fischer cited "security, integration, availability, accessibility and the ability to off-load the support to a dedicated solution, freeing up your IT resources to focus on providing strategic solutions," as key benefits to cloud adoption.
"Whatever technology you're going to use, going to the cloud offers a real opportunity for companies to really take control of their data," Lee said.