The cloud has been around for a while now, and attorneys are embracing it faster than they have many other forms of technology. I imagine this is because of the dizzying array of services available that help to decrease costs while increasing productivity.This does beg the question though, is it ethically appropriate for attorneys to use the cloud? Are there security concerns? Is backup necessary? Let’s take a look.
The cloud is a-ok for lawyers
The answer to my first question is yes, it is perfectly acceptable for attorneys to use the cloud. Ethically speaking, a number of advisory opinions have made this clear. However, attorneys do have an obligation to make sure the data is secure and that client confidentiality is protected. The surest way to meet this obligation is to research companies and make certain that you choose to store your data on services that are known to be as secure as possible. If you use tools such as dropbox, you will want to add encryption. Otherwise, make certain you use services that include encryption and are with companies that are not fly-by-night and are willing to stand behind their security.
Personally, I use Spider Oak for my backup, Office 365 for my email/contacts/calendar, and Clio for my practice management. These are all companies that have been around for a while and provide services that are secure and well-reviewed.
Secure your passwords
It is crucial that you choose good passwords for all of your cloud-based services. The easiest option is to use a service that stores your passwords for you so you don’t have to remember them. Make sure you don’t use the same password more than once, and also, change the password every 90 days or so. Make sure that you have to log in to the main password on any device that can be lost or stolen such as a phone, tablet, or laptop. (i.e. that the password does not automatically log you in.) Be sure that your desktop has appropriate security. And of course, do not write down your passwords.
Backup your data
Just because your data is in the cloud doesn’t mean you shouldn’t back it up. Mistakes happen, especially when it comes to user error. Spider Oak serves as my backup, but first I have to actually back up the pst file from Office and download my information from Clio. You can also purchase services that will perform automatic backups for you.
It is perfectly acceptable for attorneys to use cloud computing. We must simply choose wisely in terms of both our services and our passwords, and we must make certain the data is appropriately backed up.
For an excellent advisory opinion on the subject of cloud computing, see the Pennsylvania Bar Association Committee on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility opinion, “Ethical Obligations for attorneys using cloud computing/software as a service while fulfilling the duties of confidentiality and preservation of client property.” Formal Opinion 2011-200. This opinion is behind a subscription wall of the PBA’s website.