Cloud computing may have been around for a few years now, but it’s not surprising that lawyers’ use of it to store confidential client data is a relatively new phenomenon. They tend to tread cautiously when it comes to new IT tools. Even so, as cloud computing proliferates in the business landscape, lawyers are slowly but surely taking advantage of cloud benefits.
The American Bar Association’s 2012 Legal Technology Survey Report states that cloud adoption continues to rise among solo practitioners, with 29 percent reporting use. Small firms with two to nine lawyers came in close behind, at 26 percent.
Lawyers should be using the cloud. After all, server-based platforms simply can’t compare when it comes to the affordability, flexibility and mobility of cloud computing services. With just an Internet connection, lawyers can run their practices and access firm data from anywhere. The cloud enables lawyers to locate contacts, securely communicate with clients, access files and documents from a mobile device, and even bill while on the go.
Historically — and predictably — lawyers have been reluctant to store confidential client data in the cloud because of security concerns. But distrust of cloud computing has declined over time, in part because legal ethics committees across the United States are giving it their blessing. (For a summary of the various opinions on cloud computing ethics, there is a wealth of information on the American Bar Association website’s Cloud Ethics Opinions page.)
In the vast majority of the opinions, committees recognize that lawyers have always entrusted confidential data to third parties, including process servers, court employees, cleaning crews, summer interns, document-processing companies, external copy centers and legal-document delivery services, among others. Likewise, most committees acknowledge that absolute security is impossible.
Generally, lawyers who seek cloud resources exercise due diligence by taking reasonable steps to ensure confidential client data remains secure.
Weighing the Risks of the Cloud
That’s not to say that cloud computing does not involve some risk. But as long as lawyers exercise due diligence, the risks are acceptable.
The most recent opinion, handed down in February by the New Hampshire Ethics Committee, is clear on that point: “As noted in NH Bar Ethics Op. 2011-12/5, ‘Lawyers regularly engage companies to provide support services. Banks hold client funds; telephone companies carry privileged communications; credit card companies facilitate the payment of bills; computer consultants maintain necessary technology.’ When engaging a cloud computing provider or an intermediary who engages such a provider, the responsibility rests with the lawyer to ensure that the work is performed in a manner consistent with the lawyer’s professional duties.”
In other words, when heading into the cloud, take the time necessary to really research cloud providers. Make sure that the IT team thoroughly understands the nature of the services provided — just as it would when entrusting confidential client data to a third-party vendor of any type. But don’t let unfounded concerns about security deter the firm from benefiting from all that the cloud can offer.
The cloud makes it easy to manage a practice, no matter where the firm’s lawyers may need to roam. It’s the future of computing and the key to a successful, modern law practice.