By Rhonda Arnott*
There is not often a major shake up of the way the legal industry operates, however in recent history I believe we have been consciously or unconsciously subjected to two.

1. Firstly, the increased globalisation of Australian law firms (all of the top 4 major Australian law firms have made the conscious decision to actively pursue mergers or alliances with other international legal firms to create global giants). 

2. The second has been the invention of cloud based technology.
Consciously or unconsciously the legal profession has been slowly infiltrated by some form of cloud based technology without even recognising it. The increased use of hand held devices and tablets to receive emails at the swipe of a screen, view documents or co ordinate calendars, are just some example that have become standard workplace practice. There are now a range of cloud technologies being commonly used in the legal industry because of the benefits they provide, particularly when it comes to collaboration.
For example, the use of commercial information software such as Encompass, which allows you to share workspaces to view the results of statutory searches, has simplified access and availability to search results across different divisions of firms. Similarly, M&A lawyers have for some time been using cloud based technology, such as AnsaradaTM, for due diligence through the use of electronic data rooms. 
The use of cloud based document management removes the need for emailing large documents and all of the potential roadblocks associated with firewalls and document size. It assists with collaboration whether across divisions within large national firms or across jurisdictions for global multinational legal firms and in providing access to all advisers involved in any given transaction. It provides access anywhere at any time, that can be crucial, in a cross border transaction spanning a number of time zones. Furthermore, monitoring and providing certain levels of access (eg. read only or print restrictions), allowing collaboration in a single workspace and monitoring workflow are all features that make a solicitor’s life more practical and efficient.
While large multi nationals may be driving the use of cloud based technology and global legal firms may be forced by their clients into the cloud, the benefits are not limited to larger firms. Per user pricing models and minimal IT requirements, among other cloud characteristics, means that being at the forefront of implementing the best available technology as part of the everyday practice of a solicitor is within reach for firms of all size. Doing so can set one firm apart from another and assist in working more efficiently with clients who are also using the cloud.
Collaboration is not the only benefit on offer. These solutions also provide that flexibility as to where work can be performed.   This should be attractive to all law firms trying to accommodate flexible working arrangements, particularly for working mothers and is clear evidence of the steps being taken to ensure that “work life balance” is truly part of a firm’s culture, and not merely being paid lip service.
As the cloud has unconsciously started to infiltrate our working lives, the ease of use and set up has sometimes meant appropriate consideration of the issue of security has not occurred. The need for a security policy for a cloud based system is, as I understand it, no different to the security requirements for a firm’s internal computer system, something many others have discussed in more technical detail and for which we put our faith in our IT departments. Suffice to say, when establishing a cloud based system, as with any business project, due consideration needs to be given to security policies.

In my view a properly and well considered adoption of cloud based technology, including training of staff in order to maximise the benefits of the system and appropriate security measures, should be on the agenda of all firms. As the CIO of the Reserve Bank of Australia stated recently, Australian businesses have some catching up to do when it comes to having a digital edge. Cloud technologies will inevitably assist the efficiency of a transaction, particularly for large global law firms and that can only be a win/win for their clients and their solicitors in delivery of that service.
Rhonda Arnott is an Industry Advisor to Encompass and SAI Global. She is an Accredited Mediator in commercial, tenancy and franchise disputes and has significant legal experience as a the commercial partner in boutique legal firm in areas of corporate governance, advising on family constitutions and advisory boards, estate planning and general commercial law. Non-Executive Director roles allow Rhonda to formulate and embed strategic plans and assists with the stewardship of those organisations. Rhonda’s financial and business acumen assists in all her roles and understand different stakeholders perspective in a commercial world.