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Data management for small firms: what you need to know

Data management for small firms

As the legal industry continues its shift toward digital technology, data management and security are increasingly important. Law firms of all sizes need to consider how to properly organize, store, and protect their data.

But for small firms with more limited IT resources, these tasks can be a challenge. So what can small firms do about their data management?

As a solo or small-firm practitioner, there is first some basic terminology in data management you need to know. Then you can understand some common data management challenges faced by small firms — as well as how cloud-based solutions can come to the rescue.

Data management terminology

We know, we know — you are an attorney, not an IT consultant, so how are you supposed to understand data management?

The answer is that you only need to understand some basics, such as the terms below.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing is the use of digital technology services through the internet. Simple, right?

The alternative to cloud computing is generally the use of an on-premises server. That means that you have big computers somewhere that store your data, and you need to have someone on staff to manage those computers. It’s not a common solution for small firms.

When your firm utilizes cloud-based technology, firm members can access data and firm software from any location where they have internet access. Most likely, you’re already using a cloud solution for your data.

Data

Data can very simply be defined as information.

However, it is more accurate to specify data as facts and statistics collected for the purposes of analysis and reference.

Critically for attorneys, this includes information received from clients, opposing counsel, and our own investigations. It’s all the stuff you store related to your cases and your firm.

Data migration

This refers to moving data from one system to another, often in the context of a system upgrade, data backup, or integrating data across different systems.

A common example of data migration is from an on-premises server to a cloud-based system or vice-versa.

Database

A database is a collection of data, usually designed and organized for data storage and retrieval, as well as for a business entity to perform its functions.

Integration

In terms of data, integration refers to the ability to combine data from different sources into one structure.

In other words, if you use InfoTrack from within Clio, you’re using an integrated solution. InfoTrack and Clio can both use the data you input to accomplish things more easily without having to enter the same information in both systems.

When a firm has different software platforms that are integrated, it can save its attorneys and staff from having to log into multiple systems or check multiple files for data they need.

Security

Data security refers to the methods used to protect data from being accessed, modified, or destroyed by any unauthorized persons or entities.

Server

A server is the physical place where the database resides.

Before cloud computing, most firms relied on on-premises servers. With cloud-based systems, the user relies on a network of servers that are often distributed throughout the world. Your data still lives on computers, but it doesn’t have to be a computer that you own and manage in your office.

Data management challenges for small firms

Ensuring security is one of the main data management challenges for small firms.

Unlike larger firms, they often lack the extensive resources and IT teams to maintain the security of their on-premises servers, making them more vulnerable to cyber attacks. Any Wi-Fi internet connection can leave the firm’s data exposed, even with basis protections like a firewall.

Another challenge is avoiding on-premises server headaches. Any physical server will require maintenance, repairs, and upgrades, which is a major obstacle without dedicated IT personnel.

The ability to work remotely is also negatively impacted by traditional data management using on-premises servers.

This has always been a relevant consideration in the legal industry, since attorneys work outside of the office frequently. The COVID pandemic and the accompanying broad shift to remote work have made it even more relevant.

However, with on-premises servers and software installed on individual computers, you and your staff are limited in your work locations.

A firm’s data management system also needs to ensure reliability, so the firm decreases its risk of losing data or files to physical damage, errors, or data breaches.

If the primary system fails for any reason, the firm will need a backup to recover its data and reduce downtime. While a firm can create a backup of its on-premises server, regular backups are just the sort of thing often overlooked at a busy smaller practice.

Cloud-based solutions for data management

One of the main benefits of a cloud-based solution for data management is the creation of a centralized hub for the firm’s data.

The centralized source increases efficiency by allowing you and your staff to retrieve documents and information from one source. It also enhances collaboration, since multiple users can access the same documents from different locations.

Enhanced data security is another clear selling point for cloud-based systems.

Cloud-based software providers generally supply security measures it would be difficult or impossible for a small firm to implement on its own, such as backup servers, IT teams, and encryption services.

The cloud can also bring your firm reliability and reduced costs. Systems maintenance, updates, and repairs are part of the package of services offered by the software provider. The risk of data loss is cut down substantially.

And of course, remote access is no longer an issue.

The bottom line? Even if you work at a small firm, you cannot afford to shrug off your data management system if you want to compete in the modern digital era. Be sure to think about your data management challenges and how cloud-based solutions can help.

Author

  • After a fifteen-year legal career in business and healthcare finance litigation, Mike Robinson now crafts compelling content that explores topics around technology, litigation, and process improvements in the legal industry.