By guest author Shaloo Shalini and Bhavana Sharma
In this interview, Sramana and Michael Aginsky discuss cloud computing adoption from the legal industry perspective. The legal industry has evolved slowly but significantly and reaped benefits from tremendous changes in information technology over the past decade. Law firms are actively gearing up to beat competition and get out of the old “relationship” mode of doing business. They are actively adopting newer technologies, including cloud computing and social networking [survey data here], for almost all aspects of what they do – consulting with clients, colleagues, or experts; increasing compliance and regulation demands; wading through a constantly expanding sea of legislation and case law; managing outsourcing partners; keeping abreast with latest developments; or managing a mountain of matter files.
Michael Aginsky, CTO of Gibbons P.C., is responsible for overseeing all information technology projects for the firm’s more than 400 employees in five offices in four states. Under his direction, the firm has implemented various technological advancements including Exterro Fusion Legal Hold, a defensible, automated cloud-based legal hold solution, as well as an end-to-end Internet protocol (IP) voice and data network. Gibbons is on the forefront of technology adoption, which helps his firm to compete effectively with large national firms and provide the best possible service to clients, who are looking for not only the top legal talent and favorable billing rates but also advanced technology capabilities, business agility, and convenience such as electronic litigation and discovery management.
With 230 attorneys, Gibbons is a leading law firm in New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, and Delaware, ranked among the nation’s top 200 firms by The American Lawyer. Gibbons maintains offices in Newark, New Jersey; New York, New York; Trenton, New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Wilmington, Delaware. Gibbons’s areas of practice include business and commercial litigation, corporate, criminal defense, employment law, financial restructuring and creditors’ rights, government affairs, intellectual property, real property, and environmental litigation.
SM: Let’s start our discussion with your views on cloud computing adoption. Have you gone beyond cloud technology pilots and evaluation stage at Gibbons?
MA: We are definitely beyond the pilot and evaluation stage. Over the past few months, the definition of cloud computing has been expanding to include what traditionally was considered Software as a Service (SaaS) type of functions. Six years ago, we started with SaaS–based products for spam filtering, and in the past few years we have moved to Web filtering and collaboration. We are also using extranets, which are now considered as cloud services, to work with our clients.
SM: We do consider SaaS as part of our cloud definition. What kinds of workloads and applications are you running in the cloud? You mentioned spam filtering, Web filtering, and collaboration. What kind of collaborations you do at Gibbons P.C. using clouds?
MA: At Gibbons P.C., it is the extranets. We have set up sites either for our clients or for our attorneys to share documents, calendars and task lists. This is similar to what Microsoft SharePoint offers, but it uses a slightly different delivery platform.
SM: Do you use a solution other than Microsoft SharePoint?
MA: Yes, we use AMS Legal.
SM: Are there legal-industry specific application software vendors that sell such offerings or have already sold you cloud based applications or cloud offerings?
MA: Almost everyone seems to be selling cloud-based offerings nowadays, whether they are new or existing vendors. These offerings range from cloud-based hosting options to some that provide the ability to co-mingle between the cloud and your enterprise.
SM: Are there any legal-industry specific functions that people are offering on cloud that are interesting for legal users? Are there any functions that you would like to see offered to you as cloud applications?
MA: We recently signed on Exterro. That is a perfect example of a legal-specific application that lives in the cloud. This is something we have tried to do at Gibbons for a long time. It never made much sense for us to make the capital investment that is required to bring a solution like that in-house and as a cloud offering. An Exterro product called Legal Hold is a very simple solution. It is cost effective and saves our attorneys lot of time while managing the legal hold process.
[Note to readers: More statistics on legal industry’s usage of technology are available here.]
SM: Can you give me a quick summary of what the Legal Hold application does for legal vertical?
MA: When we get into a litigation process, we have an obligation to ensure that our clients are preserving data that may be relevant to the case. Traditionally, this is done by processes which includes writing a memo, e-mailing a memo and hoping that everyone acknowledges they received it, keeping a log of all of this, and keeping track of the entire chain of events.
With Exterro Legal Hold, the memo is created in the cloud. A list of custodians or people who are going to receive it are maintained on the Exterro platform. The custodians for a case are sent a message, which has a link that they are required to click and visit in order to acknowledge the message. If they do not do it, they get constant reminders. Later, Legal Hold puts all the information in one portal that has an interface for us to go through and to ensure that everyone has received the acknowledgement and knows the status of the case. As and when changes are made to the legal hold or its scope, we can update the hold in the platform. It takes care of renotifying users and enables them to acknowledge it again. Finally, it keeps the entire legal hold process very tight and tidy for us.
SM: Sounds interesting. This is an example of an IT application that perhaps larger competitors have deployed through their own in-house IT resources. With Legal Hold, you as a small company can now access such applications because of cloud computing. Is that a fair statement to make?