You can hardly read a legal blog or ABA update without seeing some mention of some new “cutting-edge” technology that is going to revolutionize the practice of law. Ever since attorneys traded in quill pens and parchment scrolls for high-volume copiers and electronic discovery requests, the constant march of new technology advances demands that practicing attorneys stay abreast of new tech if they don’t want to be left behind in the future.
If you keep up to date (or at least try) on new legal tech, you’ve no doubt heard of the rise of “the cloud”, but you may not know exactly what it is, or how it could affect your legal practice, if at all. Like most newfangled tech, the rise of “The Cloud” presents both opportunities, and risks, when you consider how to make it a part of your legal technical tools.
Basically, the cloud refers to saving data, instead of on a hard drive or backup drive in your office, instead to a virtual location, spread among many interlinked servers owned by large companies like Amazon. The data is no longer in one fixed location, but is now saved multiple independent places, which brings both advantages and risks.
The advantage to you is, if you have a break-in, or a fire, or a major computer crash, your data is not destroyed then, costing you all your forms, case files, briefs, and other legal documents that are almost priceless when you think of the time and expense involved in drafting and creating them. No attorney wants to have to recreate a decade’s worth of form banks and pre-drafted motions because a waterpipe burst in their office over the weekend, but unfortunately it happens to lawyers every day. Computer meltdowns, viruses, and other misfortune could cost you not only work product, but if you miss a filing deadline, a calendared hearing in your Outlook, or a list of Statutes of Limitations on a personal injury case because of computer problems, it could very well cost you a bar complaint, a lost client, and even a malpractice claim. Such risks to attorneys make the idea of saving documentation offsite in a nearly-invincible manner makes the cloud look very attractive, but there are also risks.
The biggest risk to legal practitioners of saving their private files to the Cloud is a privacy breach or hack of some kind. The professional responsibility rules of your state bar require that you hold certain client confidences to the highest degree of privacy possible, you could get disbarred for a failure to maintain client confidentiality. What would happen if a hacker managed to access certain highly private or damaging information about your clients or their cases, and used it to extort or blackmail them, or even simply to publish their private details online for the world to see? If you appeared to have acted in a negligent manner in storing this client data in a way that could be accessed by outsiders, you risk a malpractice claim or bar complaint, even though the main reason you put that data on the Cloud in the first place was to ensure better security.
For now, there are few public cases where state bar associations have addressed the issue of negligence in attorney’s use of the offsite data storage and cloud computing, but that will no doubt change in the future. Before you begin storing sensitive client data virtually, make sure you are aware of the security concerns and your potential liability and how it would be covered by your malpractice carrier, before you select a new method of paperless data storage and retrieval in an effort to make your practice work in the new online era.