If you’ve been looking for better ways of collaborating with clients, you’ll have likely come across the benefits of legal practice management solutions and how they address the day-to-day challenges you’re running into. However, cloud consideration does not come without some challenges. Law firms planning on moving to the cloud — or those expanding their use — should consider not only the benefits of cloud services but also the practical, technical, legal, and ethical issues of cloud computing and the implications of such a decision.
Benefits of cloud-based legal practice management systems
Legal cloud solutions are a cost-effective means for maximizing the productivity of your remote/hybrid workforce. They provide anytime, anywhere access to practice management tools, including calendaring, document automation, billing, and invoicing, all of which are essential for a modern firm. Frequently, they also offer automation tools that help your firm increase productivity and, as a result, profitability.
In addition, cloud solutions also enhance the overall client experience. Replacing cumbersome, old-fashioned phone and email communications with more effective and innovative collaboration tools, such as client portals, optimize those interactions. And clients also receive anytime, anywhere access to important information about their matters.
Cloud-based legal practice management platforms can help you reduce overall costs by limiting the need for expensive computer hardware and the in-house IT personnel required to keep the equipment running. Cloud-based law services ease the burdens on existing IT resources.
Perhaps most importantly, in an age of growing cybersecurity concerns, cloud systems will help firms better protect client data and meet their ethical and fiduciary duties.
Cloud storage legal and ethical considerations
So, why haven’t all firms made the transition? One main reason that firms traditionally have resisted legal cloud solutions is a concern about meeting legal and ethical obligations regarding client confidentiality. In recent years, there has been a fair amount of dispute within the industry about whether cloud storage of client information is consistent with a firm’s ethical obligations.
So, what exactly are the legal and ethical issues around cloud computing and storage?
Let’s deal with the big question first: Does storing client information on cloud-based systems or communicating client information across them create any ethical risks or expose your firm to potential malpractice liability? The short answer is that it should not, so long as you take reasonable precautions to protect your client’s data.
What constitutes a reasonable effort to maintain client confidentiality when it comes to cloud computing?
The American Bar Association describes a multi-factor analysis involving the sensitivity of client data and the available methods of protection, which also notes that lawyers must “keep abreast of…the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.”
Many jurisdictions, recognizing the realities of how modern work is done today, explicitly endorse the use of cloud computing for lawyers. Still, you must choose your vendors wisely. Using experienced cloud providers that constantly handle data security issues is the best way to meet your ethical obligations when moving to the cloud.
Best practices extracted from various legal guidance on cloud-based ethical considerations across the U.S.
- A lawyer’s obligation to protect does not end once the lawyer has selected a reputable provider.
- Know how your cloud service provider handles storage/security of your data.
- Develop or consult someone with competence in online computer security.
- Evaluate the nature of the technology, available security precautions, and limitations on third-party access.
- Determine whether the provider is capable of conduct compatible with the lawyer’s ethical responsibilities.
- Lawyers must take reasonable precautions in the adoption and use of cloud-based technology for client documents and data storage.
- Lawyers must take reasonable steps to ensure that ethical standards and responsibilities are also met by the conduct of the service provider.
- Review (and periodically revisit) terms of service, restrictions on access to data, data portability, and vendor’s security practices.
- Delete data from the cloud and return it to the client at the conclusion of representation or when the file must no longer be preserved.
Why not just keep all client data in-house?
As you no doubt can imagine, in the fast-changing technological landscape, most firms can’t provide the same level of protection as professional cloud service providers with technical and cybersecurity expertise. After all, you have enough to do in a day without adding the task of maintaining and securing huge amounts of private client data internally.
Some of the biggest vulnerabilities for cyberattacks come from a failure to update software promptly when new patches are available. Is it more reasonable to place that responsibility on your internal IT resources or trust a third-party expert whose business relies entirely on their ability to ensure security?
Security considerations of moving to the cloud
Unfortunately, law practices have traditionally been soft targets for cyberattacks – and perhaps with good reason, as they have often been behind the curve on security. Firms are also desirable targets due to the types of data they maintain, whether sensitive client financial information or proprietary technical information and trade secrets.
The American Bar Association and U.S. Department of Justice statistics show that, as of mid-2020, more than 25% of all law practices had experienced a cyberattack. And it was not just smaller firms; large companies with sophisticated IT systems also suffered breaches, including Seyfarth and Cadwalader in 2020 and Goodwin Procter in 2021.
You may think that legal cloud solutions and services put your client’s information at greater risk. But, when properly integrated, they can actually help your firm improve data security, while also providing a better client experience.
How often does your firm use email?
Think about the vulnerabilities associated just with email. Email is one of the single biggest vectors for cyberattacks because many people are untrained in recognizing these types of attacks. And the pandemic created a huge opportunity to exploit email vulnerabilities.
Many of the most common, damaging cyberattacks in 2020 involved emails that referenced government payments of coronavirus relief funds. When employees opened these emails, followed instructions in them or clicked on attachments contained in them, they exposed firms to harmful phishing or ransomware attacks.
But what if – in addition to running employee cybersecurity training, such as phishing simulations – your firm reduced its usage of email for client communication by implementing client portals? Fewer emails mean fewer opportunities for attack, particularly if you are also limiting the likelihood that someone will open a malicious attachment with better training and awareness.
Competent cloud services are built with cybersecurity in mind, and legal practice management service providers such as Caret Legal are instilled with a security-conscious culture. Be sure to discuss with your cloud provider how it is protecting both your own and your client’s data.
Is moving to the cloud right for your firm?
Cloud-based legal practice management solutions offer a wide range of benefits for law firms, from enhanced communication with your remote workforce to improved client collaboration, reduced IT expenses to better defense of data.
We understand that the protection of your client’s information is paramount. We offer a range of highly secure cloud computing solutions for law firms of all sizes to increase mobility, security, reliability and control. Run your practice securely from a purpose-built private cloud hosted not by some unknown third party, but by industry-leading SaaS providers for the compliance-focused professional services market.