Cloud Computing for Lawyers: The Ethical Issues
For years we’ve heard about how businesses need to “move to the cloud.” Virtual businesses are more nimble and able to serve their customers better. If you’ve been thinking about making this move, then good for you! Being able to work from anywhere can be very liberating!
Those Pesky Ethics Rules
But as lawyers, unfortunately, we need to think about the Rules of Professional Conduct in our jurisdiction as part of our decision to become virtual. We have to proceed in observance of these requirements and standards, not only in setting it up, but in maintaining it going forward.
There are four (4) ABA model rules that come into play here:
- Competence (MRPC 1.1)
- Confidentiality (MRPC 1.6)
- Communication (MRPC 1.4a)
- Assistance from Non-Lawyers (MRPC 5.3)
The second and third rules may be obvious, but the first and fourth may well not. You should also consider the wording of the rule as adopted by your jurisdiction for more specific guidance.
This rule requires you to maintain the requisite knowledge and skill necessary for the task at hand. You must also keep reasonably up to date on the subject. Up until now, you have probably looked at this as applying to your various practice areas and keeping up on the changes in the law and generally knowing what you are doing. However, this is also being applied to all aspects of your practice that could impact the services you render for your clients.
What does this mean here? It means that you can’t just hire a consultant to set everything up for you and “worry about the little IT details.” Although you are not expected to be an expert on tech and IT in general, you are expected to verify certain aspects of the technology to be sure that it gets the job done properly. In short, you can’t abdicate your responsibility to the IT guy; you have to know the basics.
This rule basically requires you to make reasonable efforts to prevent inadvertent disclosure. The key word here is “reasonable.” Did you do your due diligence with regard to vendor and platforms? When you chose your cloud provider, did you make sure that there was “end to end encryption” of the data? End to end means that once it leaves your computer through upload, it is encrypted in transit and encrypted on their servers.
Make inquiries as to how good their on-site security is. Did the vendor just throw your files onto a hard drive in a third-party server farm, or is it their own facility with locked doors and limited access to the hardware? Be sure to ask good questions and get good answers.
Most jurisdictions, as far as I know, allow for the use of e-mail. People pretty much understand its nature and that it isn’t very private. Besides, e-mail encryption is a pain! But if you are using cloud technology, be sure to disclose it to your clients. Let them know the platform, the security steps you are taking and, most of all, the benefits they derive from your doing this.
Assistance from Non-Lawyers
I alluded to this above with my reference to your tech providers and making sure you are clear on the details of how they are handling the data. As much as you are responsible for supervising the people in your firm (both lawyers and non-lawyers) to make sure they don’t violate any of the rules, the same is true for those outside your firm that are touching your data. As to those in your firm, be sure that everyone is clear on the security protocols and the handling of electronic data virtually.
Achieving an Ethical Virtual Law Practice
So as you can see, working within the requirements of the model rules in moving to the cloud can be done with some due diligence and common sense. You shouldn’t be discouraged from taking this step, as the benefits are great, and the pitfalls avoidable. You can realize great savings in overhead, and leverage the additional profits into a more effective, more competitive law practice!
Making the decision to move to the cloud is only the first step, and hopefully, this article has made you comfortable with doing so. Once you’ve chosen a cloud platform, moved your files, and set up secure backups (don’t forget that!), you will need systems in place in your office to take full advantage of your new virtual law practice.
Need help fitting your cloud platform into your overall virtual law practice plan? At a loss as to what to do next and what systems you will need? I can help! Just give me a call at 856-345-9699 or shoot me an e-mail to schedule a free, no obligation consultation to discuss how I can help!
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