ABA Techshow

Lawyers should weigh risks and ethics in cloud computing

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Nicole Black and Jim Calloway

Panel members Nicole Black and Jim Calloway discuss the cloud computing industry during “Cloudy, With a Chance of Sanctions—or Success!” at the Hyatt Regency Chicago on Friday afternoon.

The legal industry has been slow to embrace cloud computing, partly because of ethical concerns, but lawyers can take steps to protect client confidentiality.

During a Friday afternoon ABA Techshow panel titled “Cloudy, With a Chance of Sanctions—or Success!” at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, Nicole Black, an attorney and legal technology journalist, said more lawyers are taking the plunge and using cloud computing. But she warned that attorneys should stay up to date on technological advances and thoroughly vet cloud storage providers before using them.

A cloud computing service is usually a more secure option for solo lawyers, as well as small and mid-size firms than if they kept data in-house, she said.

“You’re going to get a lot more security provided, both in terms of the physical servers themselves and also in terms of your data, and its encryption levels and their ability to shield your data from an attack or breach,” Black said.

Panel co-host Jim Calloway of the Oklahoma Bar Association echoed that sentiment.

“Your risk today is any computer connected to the internet,” Calloway said. “You can have the best security system—retinal scans at your law firm, whatever you want—all it takes is one staff person clicking on a malware link—and boom!”

An ABA 2019 Legal Technology Survey found that lawyers are still lagging behind other professionals in adopting cloud computing because of concerns about storing client information on third-party servers.

“Despite slow growth and wariness of lawyers, cloud computing appears to be moving toward becoming a standard approach in legal technology, with more than half now using cloud services,” the ABA report states.

Follow along with the ABA Journal’s coverage of the ABA Techshow 2020 here.

Calloway said a handful of companies dominate the cloud computing industry. Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud are among the most prominent players. The are also several legal cloud services, including Clio, Rocket Matter and MyCase.

Cloud services are not always the best option if a firm is handling sensitive information. Black, who is the legal technology evangelist at MyCase, cautioned that if a firm has a client who is a celebrity, dissident, or even a terrorist that it should think twice about using the cloud.

“There’s certain things that are that sensitive that you probably want to protect and not put in the cloud and have this extra layer of protection within your office because that information is so valuable to people that have a reason to try to access it, whether it’s for money or political gain,” Black said.

There are other safeguards lawyers can take to exercise reasonable care, Black said. A majority of states currently require lawyers to maintain “technology competence,” she said. Next, firms should make sure they thoroughly vet cloud computing providers before signing up, measuring security, and the provider’s back-up strategy.

Black said no method of storing data is full-proof.

“Stuff happens, and there’s no such thing as absolute security,” she said.

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