Cloud Computing, Ethics, Financial Management, Security, Technology

The Cost of Not Upgrading Technology

Many law firms put off upgrading and replacing outdated software and hardware because of the cost and disruption. However, putting off purchasing replacement hardware and updating your operating systems, server software, and mission critical systems until they are outdated and insecure will cost far more eventually.  The delay in upgrades and replacements will have a cascading effect, forcing you to buy far more than you might think to get up to speed. Firms should budget for upgrades and updates, so they stay on a schedule and avoid costly surprises.

The NC Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.1 (Competence) comment [8] was updated in 2014 to read: “To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with the technology relevant to the lawyer’s practice”.  One very real risk is the continued use of older software and operating systems when they are no longer supported due to security issues.

You Need Support

Most lawyers know that maintaining firewalls, up-to-date anti-virus and anti-malware definitions, practicing vigilance when opening attachments and surfing the Internet, and maintaining adequate backup files are all vital for security.  What lawyers should also know is that running old, outdated, and unpatched software and operating systems puts the firm at a substantial risk for infection, data breach and violation of confidentiality. Windows 7 is no longer supported as of January 2020. Also, as of October 2020, MS Office 2010 is no longer supported (and mainstream support of Office 2013 and 2016 is over). And don’t forget servers. Windows Server 2008 (SP2) and Exchange 2010 (SP3) are no longer supported as of January 2020.

So, What’s The Big Deal?

Unsupported operating systems receive no security updates, no security hot fixes, support, or online technical content updates from the vendor. The computer and software will still operate but becomes more vulnerable to security risks and malware infections. There will be no patches for threats such as zero-day vulnerabilities (elevated risk security holes). Often the zero-day exploit is a code injection that sits undetected in the background opening a back door to the firm’s data and files.

Even if a firm has upgraded from Windows 7 and Office 2010 to more recent versions there are still heavily used, yet unsupported and unpatched software applications putting files at risk on many law office machines. Adobe Acrobat X Reader/Standard/Pro is no longer supported as of November 2015. Adobe Acrobat XI and Reader XI support ended October 15, 2017Internet Explorer 10 (and 9 and 8 and 7) is no longer supported as of January 2016. And Microsoft is encouraging users to move to Edge instead of IE11.  Mac users are not immune, as OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard), 10.7 (Lion) or 10.8 (Mountain Lion) and older versions of their Safari browser are no longer receiving security updates from Apple.

That Will Be $10,000 

A firm with one attorney and three support staff with a total of five computers noticed that one of the paralegal’s machines was running so slowly that it was impeding her ability to get work done. The five computers were networked with a server. Upon investigation the firm realized that due to putting off upgrades for computers, peripherals, and software that they needed five new desktops, a new server, and a new printer. They also needed updated versions of Microsoft Office, QuickBooks, and Adobe Acrobat. Their client/server-based law practice management software also needed to be upgraded and re-installed. The total bill for new hardware, software, upgrades, implementation, migration, and customization was nearly $10,000. The firm had skipped regular updates for a mere seven years.

Budgeting and Planning for Technology

The 2020 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report showed that nearly 60% of solos and 41% of firms with 2-5 attorneys did not budget for technology. Firms should budget for technology upgrades, new equipment, and IT support. Commit to replacement cycles for desktops, laptops, and smartphones about every three years to 5 years, with laptops and smartphones being replaced sooner than desktops. Stay up to date on what you have that won’t be supported. There are generally a few years of lead time from the vendors and manufacturers so the need to upgrade should come as no surprise. Replacement cycles are extremely helpful because operating systems are supported far longer than the average life of most computers. For instance, many people who are considering upgrading to Windows 11 are finding that their machines do not have the computing capacity to run the new operating system. If your firm budgets for replacement and upgrades you will be far less likely to suffer a surprising and overwhelming spend that is required for the firm to continue to operate.

It is ok, and even advisable not to jump into the newest version of software or operating systems since you do not want your firm to be a BETA tester. You can find a happy medium between upgrading to stable versions of technology, without falling too far behind.

The Cloud Fixes This, Right?

While moving installed software to a browser based (SaaS) version can certainly help reduce or remove the burden of manual upgrades (for instance, moving from QuickBooks to QuickBooks Online), not all clouds are created equal. For instance, you could be accessing your desktop on a hosted server from your IT company. However, the software running on the hosted server still needs to be patched and updated, the server software will need to be updated, and the server hardware will need to be replaced. The machines at the office accessing the hosted desktop will need to  be replaced eventually and the operating system updated. Do you trust your IT company to do that? Similarly, if you have server software hosted on Amazon or Microsoft Azure you will still need to keep the software updated and patched. Simply accessing it through the cloud doesn’t completely mitigate the need for maintenance, upgrades, and replacement.

Software has moved steadily towards a SaaS (Software as a Service) model, or a hybrid subscription model where the installed software is constantly being updated, like MS 365. Soon having your operating system virtualized will be widely available, as Microsoft rolls out Windows 365. You may rent Windows 365 cloud PCs, removing the need to have a buy/replace budget cycle. Or you may be able to get away with a very inexpensive device since it will not need storage space or significant processing power.


Technology can be extremely beneficial for lawyers and their clients, but it does not come without risk. Not updating your technology may provide short term savings but will be very costly overall. Running old, unpatched, and out of date software increases the firm’s exposure to ransomware and viruses. Additionally, last minute system upgrades and updates can be extra costly if they necessitate new hardware and other software updates, precipitate the need for training, or cause disruptions such as downtime. Keeping office technology up to date and following best practices for basic security will help you stay competent and guard client confidentiality.