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How to choose software for your small law firm

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "How to choose software for your small law firm."  My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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How to choose software for your small law firm 

 

I am often asked to speak to lawyers about mobile and cloud computing and when I do, members of the audience tend to have lots of questions. That was certainly the case last week when I spoke to a group of lawyers in Buffalo.

At one point one of the attendees asked a question that typically comes up during my talks: how do you choose the right software for your firm? He then followed up on that question and wondered if there were there any online sites that offer comparisons and whether any bar associations had pre-screened any software programs and deemed them to be ethically compliant.

Unfortunately, when it comes to bar associations and software, they are unable to give the green light to any specific software program since the way each firm intends to use software may vary, including the types of data that will be stored using the program. This is especially true when it comes to cloud computing software.

But bar associations do sometimes offer guides that describe and compare different types of legal software, which can often be very helpful. For example, the American Bar Association provides a useful case/practice management comparison chart on its website.

There are also software comparison sites that purport to offer accurate comparisons of all types of software, ranging from very general software such as word processing or website hosting platforms to very specific types including software for the legal industry. Although these sites tend to offer a fairly general overview of the different products and are often drafted by someone with little to no understanding of the particular industry, they nevertheless sometimes offer valuable information both in terms of the comparisons and the user reviews and ratings that are included for each product. Examples of these sites include capterra.com and getapp.com.

Another way to research legal software is to frequent online forums for lawyers. You can ask fellow lawyers for their recommendations or experiences, in addition to searching the archives of the forums for past feedback. Your state bar association likely has a few relevant forums or listservs available, so that’s a great place to start.

You can also join Solosez, the American Bar Association’s listserv for solos. The Macs in Law Offices Google Group (MILO) can also be very useful for researching Mac or cloud computing software (since when you use cloud software the type of computer you use is irrelevant).

Finally, the Lawyering Advisory Board forum (lab.lawyerist.com/) is another good online site to consider. In fact, this forum recently conducted a poll to ascertain the most popular law practice management software. That poll received nearly 9,000 views, 108 comments and 540 votes. There’s lots of great information there that will help you choose the right software for your law firm.

So if you’re in the market for new software for your law firm, never fear. There are lots of great resources available to help you choose the right technology tools for your needs. It’s simply a matter of carefully researching your options, narrowing down your choices, and then test driving a few programs before committing to one of them. Follow those steps and you’ll be on the right path to making software choices that work best for your law firm’s needs.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for the modern law firm. She is also the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at niki@mycase.com.


Alaska opinion on lawyers using cloud computing

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Alaska opinion on lawyers using cloud computing."  My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Alaska opinion on lawyers using cloud computing

Last week I wrote about a recent opinion from Tennessee wherein the Ethics Committee joined many others across the country in permitting lawyers to store confidential client data in the cloud. While reading that opinion I discovered that an ethics opinion on cloud computing had been handed down in Alaska last year that I somehow missed. So, today I’m going to rectify that.

In Alaska Bar Association’s Ethics Opinion No. 2014-3, the Alaska Bar Association Ethics Committee considered the issue of whether lawyers may ethically store client files in a cloud-based system. In the end, the committee joined the other jurisdictions that have considered this issue and concluded that lawyers may store client data in the cloud as long as reasonable steps to protect that data are taken.

This opinion was very perfunctory, and although it may not have been the intention of the authors, placed what I believe to be an undue burden on Alaska lawyers who use cloud computing. Essentially, the committee concluded that lawyers have an obligation to stay abreast of changes in technology, including “(t)echnological changes, the regulatory framework, and privacy laws.”
While that conclusion comports with the standard applied in other jurisdictions, the committee explained the lawyer’s duty as follows:

“While a lawyer need not become an expert in data storage, a lawyer must remain aware of how and where data are stored and what the service agreement says. Duties of confidentiality and competence are ongoing and not delegable. A lawyer must therefore take reasonable steps to protect client information when storing data in the cloud. The requirement of competence means that even when storing data in the cloud, a lawyer must take reasonable steps to protect client information and cannot allow the storage and retrieval of data to become nebulous.”

Contrary to the conclusion reached in most other jurisdictions, nowhere in the opinion does the committee state that lawyers have the option of hiring a technology consultant to assist in making the decision to use cloud computing and instead the committee seems to require that the burden of assessing the security of data stored in the cloud be placed entirely on the lawyer’s shoulders.

The committee explains that a lawyer must ensure that the provider takes “(a)ppropriate security measures (which) could include password protections or other verification procedures limiting access to the data, safeguards such as data backup and restoration, a firewall or encryption, periodic audits by third parties of the provider’s security, and notification procedures in case of a breach.”
The committee also seems to place the onus of maintaining the cloud computing systems on the attorney — something that typically falls within the jurisdiction of the cloud computing provider — when it states:

“Reasonable steps must be taken to safeguard data stored in and transmitted through the cloud … During the course of representation, a lawyer must take reasonable steps to ensure that the electronic data stored in the cloud are secure and available while maintaining that information on the client’s behalf … The lawyer must know at all times where sensitive client information is stored, be it in the cloud or elsewhere.”

The committee’s decision to require lawyers to understand both the intricacies of cloud computing platforms without the assistance of a consultant and the ins and outs of maintaining data in the cloud, is troubling and seems designed to discourage lawyers in Alaska from using cloud computing tools.

It’s unclear to me if this was the intention of the committee or if the results were instead an unintended result of the rather truncated nature of the opinion. There’s no doubt about it — the committee didn’t mince words — something that may end up working to the detriment of Alaskan attorneys seeking to use 21st century technology tools in their law practices. 

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for the modern law firm. She is also the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at niki@mycase.com.


Tennessee weighs in on the ethics of cloud computing

Stacked3This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Tennessee weighs in on the ethics of cloud computing."  My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Tennessee weighs in on the ethics of cloud computing

 

Lawyers have been using cloud computing, where law firm data is stored on servers owned and maintained by a third party, for years now. But as is often the case with new technologies, it takes a while for ethics committees to address the potential ethical issues lawyers face when incorporating new technology tools into their practices.

 

Earlier this month, Tennessee joined many other jurisdictions across the country and considered the ethics of lawyers using cloud computing in Formal Ethics Opinion 2015-F-159 (online: www.tbpr.org/ethic_opinions/2015-f-159).

 

At issue was whether lawyers may store confidential client information “in the cloud.” In reaching its decision, the Ethics Committee thoroughly reviewed the opinions issued by other jurisdictions prior to applying the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct to the issue.

 

From the outset, the committee wisely noted that because technology has changed so rapidly in recent years, a fluid standard was required: “Due to the fact that technology is constantly evolving, this opinion only provides lawyers with guidance in the exercise of reasonable care and judgment regarding the lawyer’s use of cloud technology in compliance with the rules of professional conduct, rather than mandating specific practices regarding the use of such technology.”

 

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for the modern law firm. She is also the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at niki@mycase.com.