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Cloud computing offers many benefits
The cloud gives users the ability to share and store large files, backup and sync files across multiple computers, and access, edit, or undelete content from virtually anywhere, without having storage servers, IT maintenance contracts, or even advanced technical knowledge.
Since law firms rely on filing systems full of important data and are dependent on that information being organized and accessible, cloud storage is an ideal option. Whether you prefer to go paperless or desire the convenience of having your files with you anywhere you have internet access, the cloud offers a safe and easily scalable opportunity to streamline the storage and retrieval of the information necessary to run your business from where you are.
What it is
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), gives the following definition: “Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”
In layperson’s terms, cloud computing allows you to use an Internet connection to access software that is stored on someone else’s computer systems. Then the cloud computing provider uses shared computer resources to deliver information to you, the user. The result is that you can access the same software and files found on your desktop computer on any device with an internet connection.
Most lawyers have been using cloud computing in their law offices for years. For instance, if you use Westlaw or LexisNexis for research, you’re conducting that task in the cloud. Same with web-based email platforms like Gmail. Transitioning to a cloud-based software system means you’d be using similar storage for your practice’s files.
What to know
So, what are the ethical and legal implications of storing confidential information in the cloud?
The American Bar Association published a chart of ethics opinions on whether or not lawyers can use cloud-based storage. No states have said no, many have said yes, and some are still undecided and have no official verdict. There’s an expectation that attorneys use “reasonable care” with this form of file storage but what does that entail?
For example, the Ohio Bar gives four factors for lawyers to use to determine if cloud storage is appropriate:
- Competently selecting a vendor: A lawyer selecting any support services should do their due diligence into the qualifications and reputation of any selected service. Do research into the longevity and professionalism of a cloud storage vendor and read terms and conditions carefully. What safeguards are in place? Is the agreement legally enforceable? Does it give any ownership of the data to the vendor? Where is the server located and is it subject to international law? How may the vendor respond to government attempts to disclose said data? Consider all the above before committing to a service.
- Preserving confidentiality: A lawyer must make reasonable efforts to prevent inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of client information. Can the vendor be trusted to safeguard the information? What technology issues may put confidential information at risk and how can that be avoided? Is there an alternate plan for particularly sensitive information that could be at-risk on shared servers?
- Supervising cloud vendors: Law firms must make reasonable efforts to ensure that non-lawyers employed to provide a service are compatible with the professional obligations of a lawyer. The contract or terms and conditions of the cloud storage service should make it clear that confidentiality will be safeguarded appropriately and that contracts are enforceable.
- Communicating with clients: It’s a lawyer’s duty to reasonably consult with the client about how the client’s objectives will be met. Although it may not be necessary in every case to disclose personal information is being stored on a cloud-based server, there may be particularly sensitive occurrences where consultation and/or disclosure of cloud storage is appropriate.
The keys to successful cloud-based storage in a law practice involve finding a trusted and competent vendor and developing an organized method for storing and retrieving files. Cloud-based computing can increase productivity through increased access, safeguard information in a third-party location, and reduce the cumbersome burden of traditional paper filing systems. Explore the alternate dimension of cloud-based storage and learn how to streamline the information that powers your law practice safely.
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