Rethinking the Cloud

Indeed, increasing numbers of lawyers are expected to find themselves embracing and endorsing the same computing technologies they now view as risky once they decide the risk is worth it.

-Joe Dysart in “The Trouble with Terabytes”

Mr. Dysart is half right.

It’s true that most attorneys will embrace cloud technology in the next few years because it’s easier, more convenient and less expensive. But unless misunderstanding abounds, lawyers won’t be making that choice “in spite of the risks”. They’ll be embracing new technology because in addition to being simple, flexible and cheap, it’s safer than the way they’ve always done business.

Addressing Security Concerns

The security concerns raised in the recent ABA Journal article “The Trouble with Terabytes” reminded me of something I observed a few years ago when my wife and I were building our house. During the transition, we put some of our furniture and other random things in a storage unit, and the security was impressive. Security cameras monitored the premises every hour of the day and night; a locked gate kept the public out, and a lock on the storage unit kept my things locked in – I guess.. That was all very reassuring. Once we were ready to move in, everything left the storage facility, into the shiny new house with a couple dead-bolts – no constant video surveillance or levels of locked doors protecting my couch.

Most business data, even in law firms, lives in a place much more like my living room than that storage facility. Mr. Dysart encourages attorneys to question whether bank-grade encryption is sufficient to protect their client data. However, small firm and solo attorneys often store that data unencrypted on a local machine accessible not only to any employee but to the cleaning crew and the building manager. That data resides on a server protected by a door and a lock not unlike those protecting my couch, whereas cloud service providers typically use servers in secure data centers much more like the secure storage unit. And that’s only the beginning.

Attorneys not only communicate via email, but they often send and open that email on mobile phones. In the analogy above, that’s the equivalent of taking the jewelry box out of that secure storage unit, out from behind the locked residential door that protects my other property and setting it on the lawn.

Technology does present some issues for attorneys, and the profession is often called upon to determine exactly what new options are secure enough to use in client communications or store client data. Because the ABA and state bar associations are still developing their policies on emerging technologies, attorneys often have to use their best judgment and employ their own balancing tests to determine how best to make use of new technologies while protecting their clients. Cloud-based computing, though, is a complete departure from that trend—it may be the first major technological development that offers a solution to security issues for attorneys rather than throwing them into a complicated analysis of acceptable risk.

If the legal profession fully educates itself about cloud computing, acceptance won’t come with a sigh of resignation that we live in a risky world; it will come with the relief of knowing that client data is being protected and backed up in ways we’d never have imagined just a decade ago. This evolution in security will be brought to you by the same technology that’s revolutionizing your law practice.