In Depth: Cloud Computing for Lawyers

The phrase “cloud computing” is ubiquitous. Instagram. Dropbox. Google Apps. Evernote. Netflix. There is little in every day life not touched by cloud computing. That’s increasingly true for the practice of law and running a law firm as well. Here’s what you need to know to get the most of cloud computing applications, with an eye on ethics and client confidentiality.

The Basics of Cloud Computing

Cloud computing, broadly defined, is a category of software and services delivered over the Internet rather than installed locally on a user’s computer. Cloud computing offers a variety of potential advantages, including:

  • Low upfront costs.
  • Access from any device with an Internet connection.
  • Simple setup and configuration.
  • Built-in disaster preparedness.

Using cloud computing applications in your practice can give you freedom and flexibility. For example, it removes the worry of losing a day of work for solo and small firm lawyers, and it lets cross-country or otherwise disparate teams collaborate efficiently at mid-size and large law firms. Because cloud computing places data–particularly client data–on remote servers outside of the lawyer’s direct control, it is also cause for some concern regarding client confidentiality and the applicable rules of professional conduct.  Each lawyer considering using cloud-based tools will need to weigh those concerns and make sure they’re confident they’re taking reasonable steps to protect their clients. Further reading: Lawyers and the Cloud: 3 Myths Debunked computerservers

Switching to Cloud Computing Applications

First things first: decide if cloud computing fits with your practice. Take stock of the current hardware and software you use in your practice and look at your workflow. Are there areas, like eDiscovery and email, where you are already using cloud computing applications? (Tip: web-based email like Gmail counts.) Consider where else you might start using cloud computing applications, like using a practice management platform instead of a spreadsheet to keep track of tasks, clients, cases and communications. We’ve compiled a Buyers Guide to help you find legal cloud computing applications, and other technology tools, to help you run an efficient, profitable law practice. Take the time to evaluate cloud computing providers, and determine how the applications fit with, or improve, your workflows.

Webinar Recording: 8 Best Practices for Moving Your Firm to the Cloud

Keep in mind that not every aspect of lawyering requires technology. If it doesn’t help you streamline or otherwise improve your practice then it probably isn’t worth the investment.

Ethical and Security Considerations

Have no fear, cloud computing ethics opinions by state bars are here. Check our comparison chart to see what your state bar has to say about using cloud computing and the practice of law. Additional state bars are issuing cloud computing ethics opinions regularly, so bookmark it or otherwise save it to reference if you don’t see your jurisdiction listed yet.

Webinar Recording: Ethically Embracing the Cloud

Security is top of mind with the Heartbleed bug giving everyone a scare and with breaches becoming more common. Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself. The most common method is anti-virus software, though in this day and age anti-virus software is not enough. To protect yourself, and your clients, it’s best to use more than one method. Along with anti-virus software, use encryption for things like emailmobile devices and, even, to encrypt data on Macs.  Whenever possible, make sure the data you’re putting in the cloud is encrypted at all stages.

Looking Ahead

There are obvious uses for cloud computing applications like email, calendaring, document management, and even full-fledged practice management platforms. Most of those areas already have thriving product markets and in many cases have been widely adopted by lawyers.  But the cloud isn’t just for practice management. Cloud computing applications can be used for collaboration both internally and externally, video conferencing, depositions, and even for court room exhibits. Consumer cloud computing applications like Google Hangouts also have law firm business uses, perhaps even as the new legal interface. The cloud has changed the way technology works, and as technology becomes more deeply intertwined in the day-to-day practice of law, so too will the cloud. courtcolumns

Image credit: Shutterstock.

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