3 Things Lawyers Should Know about Cloud Computing
Lately, you’ve no doubt heard a lot about cloud computing. There’s a reason for that–it’s reached a tipping point and is becoming widely used in both the public and private sectors.
Of course, just because you’ve heard of it, doesn’t mean you necessarily know what it is. Simply put, cloud computing allows you, via an Internet connection, to access software or data that is stored and operated on someone else’s computer servers, in many cases, those belonging to a cloud computing provider. The cloud computing provider, in turn, uses shared computer resources, including software and servers, to deliver information and services to you, the end user.
So, why should you, as an attorney, care about cloud computing? Because even if you decide not to use cloud computing in your practice right now, it’s very likely that you will choose to do so within the next few years. So, at the very least, you need to understand what it is, why it matters and why it may be useful in your law practice.
So to help you get started, here are 3 things you should know about cloud computing.
1. You’re already using it
You may not realize it, but you’ve been using cloud computing in one form or another for years now.
Do you access Westlaw or LexisNexis for legal research via your Internet connection? If so, then you’ve been conducting legal research in the cloud.
Have you ever used an Internet-based email platform, such as Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo mail as your email platform or have you ever exchanged emails with a client who uses one of these email platforms? If so, then the emails that you sent to your client are now stored in the cloud.
2. It’s the next stage of computing
There are two factors that make cloud computing so appealing to most businesses. First, the convenience and flexibility of cloud computing is difficult to ignore. Second, in many cases, the costs of owning and maintaining data centers, servers and computer software have simply become too great for many law firms. Cloud computing offers a more efficient, cheaper alternative by allowing users to share computer resources and cheaply store and access data and software programs in the cloud.
However, many lawyers are hesitant to use cloud computing services because of legitimate reservations about security and ethical issues. These concerns are perfectly valid, but need to placed into perspective.
3. Absolute security is an impossibility
Third parties have always had access to confidential client data, including summer interns, contract attorneys, temporary employees, cleaning services and other employees who maintain the buildings that law firms are housed in. Likewise, lawyers routinely outsource the handling and storage of confidential client data in paper form—from third party document storage warehouses to process servers to delivery services. And, ethics committees have never required lawyers to lock the documents in fireproof safes, encode or otherwise encrypt those documents in order to prevent third parties from viewing them.
Instead, ethics committees in the vast majority of jurisdictions that have addressed this issue have concluded that lawyers who choose to outsource the storage of digital data, whether by using cloud computing systems or otherwise, must take reasonable steps to ensure the data would be adequately protected from unauthorized disclosure. These committees have acknowledged that absolute security is an impossibility and instead have required only that reasonable efforts are made to maintain the confidentiality of client data.
Make no mistake about it: cloud computing is the future. In its current state, it’s not perfect, but over time the security and ethical issues—especially those specific to lawyers and other professionals who handle confidential client information—will be ironed out, making cloud computing or variations of it, a feasible and cost effective alternative for law firms.