Last month I explained how emails are inherently insecure, amounting to the offline equivalent of a postcard written in pencil. This is because emails are typically unencrypted and traverse an untold number of servers en route to their final destination. Despite the lack of security provided by email, this form of communication received the green light from most bar associations in the late 1990s simply because it was widely used as a business tool and other more secure methods of communication were unavailable at the time.
Well, times have changed. While email is still widely used for business purposes, bar associations are just starting to issue ethics decisions that acknowledge the changing technology landscape and are requiring lawyers to balance the sensitivity of the information being discussed with the security offered by the specific technology being used. (See, for example, ABA Formal Opinion 11-459). The standard is changing because there are now a number of more secure online methods available for sharing confidential information with your clients.
One secure solution that is increasingly being used in many industries, including the legal field, is web-based communication portals. For example, for some time now, consumers have used online banking platforms which include the ability to access their bank account information and communicate with their banks via secure online portals. Similarly, more lawyers are relying on this type of technology to provide a secure way to safely with communicate with clients about confidential matters.
Oftentimes these client portals are built into web-based law practice management software like MyCase. Incorporating secure communication and collaboration tools into case management software offers benefits to both lawyers and their clients. Of course, the security of these portals lies with the provider, so it’s important to exercise due diligence by carefully vetting the company that will be hosting your law firm’s data. For guidance on the standards applicable in your jurisdiction, take a look at this chart from the American Bar Association, which lists decisions addressing the ethical issues presented when lawyers use cloud computing.
So how do online portals solve the email problem? For starters, these portals allow lawyers to securely share case-related information of their choosing with their clients, all in one convenient location. The cumbersome back and forth process of unsecure, threaded emails is avoided and is instead replaced by the ability to securely communicate in an encrypted, controlled online environment.
The information that can be shared includes calendars, documents, and billing information. Clients are provided with a unique, secure login and can sign in from any Internet-enabled device and immediately access all information related to their matter to which they’ve been granted access. The information available to them can include include new court dates, recently uploaded documents, messages from their lawyer, notes about their case, and invoices. Many platforms also allow your clients to upload or download documents, pay bills, and leave messages for your or your staff.
Because your clients can log on at their convenience and easily find answers to many of their most common questions, they’ll no longer need to contact you to find out their next court date or obtain a copy of a document from their file. Instead, they can obtain information on their own, virtually eliminating back and forth messages and phone tag.
Communications aren’t limited to just clients, however. Some software systems, like MyCase, allow you to use online portals to communicate securely with other contacts as well, such as investigators, experts, or co-counsel. Using the portal, the contacts you invite can access and collaborate on documents and information stored in MyCase and can upload or download documents and communicate with you—all in a secure online environment.
By using online portals, you ensure that everyone involved in a matter stays in the loop. Cumbersome communication via unencrypted email becomes a thing of the past, replaced by an efficient communications platform where all discussions appear in chronological order in one central location.
Web-based portals are an incredibly beneficial tool for law firms since they streamline communication and increase efficiency. Being able to communicate and collaborate with your clients and contacts in an encrypted online environment gives you peace of mind and allows you to run your law firm from any location, at any time, day or night.
So, if your firm is still using unencrypted email to share confidential case-related information, maybe it’s time to reconsider your law firm’s communication methods. Web-based portals may be exactly what your firm needs to improve client service while simultaneously increasing security and efficiency. Technology has advanced substantially since the the proliferation of email in the 1990s, so why not take advantage of the the more secure, client-focused communication tools like the web-based portal built into MyCase today?
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