Cloud Computing

ABA on disaster preparedness and ethical obligations

Stacked3Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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ABA on disaster preparedness and ethical obligations

In the wake of Hurricane Florence, disaster preparedness is on everyone’s minds. For lawyers affected by disasters, natural or otherwise, there are unique concerns given the nature of the services that they provide. Statute of limitations and other deadlines must be met despite the weather, as do clients’ needs and concerns. The drumbeat of the law stops for no one which is why lawyers need to take steps to ensure that their law office will continue to run smoothly even after a natural disaster hits.

For lawyers who are unsure how to go about doing this, an opinion recently issued by the American Bar Association provides some guidance. In Formal Opinion 482, the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility addressed lawyers’ ethical obligations in the face of a disaster and provided advice for lawyers seeking to implement a disaster plan for their law firm.

The opinion addressed a host of different ethical issues faced by lawyers following a disaster in regard to both existing and potential clients. What follows is a summary of some of their recommendations, most of which relate to existing clients.

At the outset, the Committee explained the reason that lawyers must engage in disaster planning: “Lawyers have an ethical obligation to implement reasonable measures to safeguard property and funds they hold for clients or third parties, prepare for business interruption, and keep clients informed about how to contact the lawyers (or their successor counsel).”

Next, the Committee focused on the importance of ensuring an open line of communication with clients, even in the midst of a natural disaster. The Committee emphasized that part of disaster preparedness entails ensuring that client contact information will be readily available after a disaster hits, and that storing information electronically where it is easily accessible 24/7 is often a important part of making that happen: “One of the early steps lawyers will have to take after a disaster is determining the available methods to communicate with clients. To be able to reach clients following a disaster, lawyers should maintain, or be able to create on short notice, electronic or paper lists of current clients and their contact information. This information should be stored in a manner that is easily accessible.”

The value of online storage, typically in the cloud, was repeatedly stressed throughout the opinion. The Committee explained that exploring these options and choosing the right provider are important steps to take as part of disaster preparedness: “(L)awyers must evaluate in advance storing files electronically so that they will have access to those files via the Internet if they have access to a working computer or smart device after a disaster. If Internet access to files is provided through a cloud service, the lawyer should (i) choose a reputable company, and (ii) take reasonable steps to ensure that the confidentiality of client information is preserved, and that the information is readily accessible to the lawyer.”

The Committee also offered the following guidelines for law firms creating a disaster plan:

Lawyers should check with the courts and bar associations in their jurisdictions to determine whether deadlines have been extended.
Lawyers also must take reasonable steps in the event of a disaster to ensure access to funds the lawyer is holding in trust.lawyers should take appropriate steps in advance to determine how they will obtain access to their accounts after a disaster.
Lawyers whose circumstances following a disaster render them unable to fulfill their ethical responsibilities to clients may be required to withdraw from those representations.
To prevent the loss of files and other important records, including client files and trust account records, lawyers should maintain an electronic copy of important documents in an off-site location that is updated regularly.
(Lawyers) must notify current and former clients of the loss of documents with intrinsic value, such as original executed wills and trusts, deeds, and negotiable instruments.

Finally, the Committee concluded the opinion with these words of advice: “Lawyers must be prepared to deal with disasters. Foremost among a lawyer’s ethical obligations are those to existing clients, particularly in maintaining communication. Lawyers must also protect documents, funds, and other property the lawyer is holding for clients or third parties. By proper advance preparation and taking advantage of available technology during recovery efforts, lawyers will reduce the risk of violating professional obligations after a disaster.”

You never know when a disaster may strike. Whether it’s a fire, flooding, or other unexpected occurrence, planning is key. Is your firm ready for a disaster? It not, there’s no better time than now to start planing, and reading this opinion in its entirety is a great place to start.

 

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software. She is 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 Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at niki.black@mycase.com. 


Round Up: Legal Innovation, Law Firm Billing, Legal Tech Gadgets, and More

SpiralI often write articles and blog posts for other outlets and am going to post a round up here from time to time (but won't include my weekly Daily Record articles in the round up since I re-publish them to this blog in full). Here are my posts and articles from August and September 2018:


Round Up: Law School Advice, Legal Billing Software, Online Collaboration and More

SpiralI often write articles and blog posts for other outlets and am going to post a round up here from time to time (but won't include my weekly Daily Record articles in the round up since I re-publish them to this blog in full). Here are my posts and articles from June 2018:


Round Up: Legal Beach Reads, Alternative Fees, Cybersecurity, And More

SpiralI often write articles and blog posts for other outlets and am going to post a round up here from time to time (but won't include my weekly Daily Record articles in the round up since I re-publish them to this blog in full). Here are my posts and articles from May 2018:

 


Significantly More Lawyers Using Cloud Computing in 2017

Stacked3Here is this week's Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Cloud computing, where data is stored offsite on servers owned by third parties and accessed via an internet connection - has been around for more than a decade now. At first, lawyers have were slow to adopt to the concept even though it offers a host of benefits, including 24/7 access to law firm data, the convenience and flexibility of being able to enter billable time on the go, communicate and collaborate with clients in a secure online environment, and easily manage calendaring and tasks from any internet-enabled device - all at an affordable price.

Despite these benefits, lawyers use of cloud computing initially remained fairly steady at a little over 30% according to the the American Bar Association’s annual Legal Technology Survey Report. However, in 2016 those numbers began to increase and in the 2017 Report that was just released, that percentage increased substantially. These statistics comport with a prediction that I made in one of my Daily Record columns in December 2015:

“Cloud computing will be a different story in 2016. I predict that 2016 is the year that self-reported cloud computing use starts to increase. I make this distinction because over the past 2 years, according to a number of surveys, self-reported cloud computing use by solo and small firm lawyers has remained somewhat stagnant at around ~30%.…But as the concept becomes more familiar over time and lawyers have a better grasp of what cloud computing is and which software platforms and apps are built upon it, more lawyers will begin to report that they use it and/or realize that they’re using it already.”

As I predicted, after remaining stagnant at ~30% from 2013-15, with that percentage increasing to 38% in 2016. Interestingly, this year’s survey results showed a marked increase in the number of lawyers using cloud computing, with that percentage jumping to a whopping 52% for all lawyers in 2017.

Solo and small firm lawyers lead the way in cloud computing use according the 2017 Report. The survey results indicate that 56% of lawyers from firms of 2-9 attorneys used cloud computing (compared to 46% in 2016, 40% in 2015, and 35% in 2014), as did 56% of solo lawyers (compared to 42% in 2016, 37% in 2015, and 35% in 2014), 52% of lawyers from firms of 10-49 attorneys (compared with 33% in 2016, 23% in 2015, and 29% in 2014), and 42% from firms of 100 or more attorneys (compared with 20% in 2016, 17% in 2015, and 19% in 2014).

Lawyers were also asked to share which cloud computing programs they used in their firms. The 3 most popular legal cloud computing software programs used by lawyers were MyCase, NetDocs, and Clio. The 3 most popular non-legal cloud computing programs used by lawyers were Dropbox, iCloud, and Google Docs.

When asked why they chose to use cloud computing software in their law firms, respondents provided a vast array of reasons. The most popular benefit cited was easy browser access from anywhere (73%), followed by 24/7 availability (64%), low cost of entry and predictable monthly expense (48%), robust data back-up and recovery(45%), quick to get up and running (39%), eliminates IT & software management requirements (30%), and better security than can be provided in-office (25%).

It’s clear that we’ve reached the tipping point now that more than half of all lawyers use cloud computing in their law firms. For lawyers who have not yet made the leap to the cloud, the good news it that there are now more legal cloud computing software choices than ever before.

The trick is coo choose a well-funded, reliable vendor with staying power, so make sure to carefully vet each software provider that you’re considering. You can find a list of questions to ask third party vendors here: https://tinyurl.com/Questions4LegalVendors. It’s also important to check online for reviews from current customers. Finally, reputable vendors will also offer free trial access to their software so make sure to take advantage of that option and then test drive a few different software programs before committing.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for solo and small law firms. 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 can be reached at niki@mycase.com.


NYC Bar on lawyers’ ethical obligations at the border

Stacked3Here is this week's Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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NYC Bar on lawyers’ ethical obligations at the border

Since the election, border crossings have been subject to greater scrutiny by border control agents. This presents a problem for lawyers, who often cross the border carrying electronic devices which contain confidential client information that they are duty bound to protect. Fortunately, the New York City Bar Association provided timely guidance last month when it addressed this issue in Formal Opinion 2017-5 (online: https://tinyurl.com/NYCBarBorder).

This opinion considered the extent of an attorney’s ethical obligation to “protect confidential information prior to crossing a U.S. border, during border searches, and thereafter.” The specific factual scenario at issue involved an attorney who was traveling abroad and was carrying a portable electronic device that stored confidential client data. When the attorney attempted to cross into the United States, an authorized U.S. border control agent demanded that the attorney “unlock” the device. The attorney did not have client consent to disclose any confidential information.

The lengthy, in depth opinion covered a variety of issues, including the ethical obligations of lawyers in this scenario, the limits of the lawful authority of border control agents, and the types of data that may be accessed an reviewed.

The primary conclusions reached by the Professional Ethics Committee were:

Before crossing the U.S. border attorneys must undertake reasonable efforts to protect confidential information;
At the U.S. border attorneys may disclose clients’ confidential information only to the extent “reasonably necessary” to respond to a government agent’s claim of lawful authority;
If confidential information is disclosed during a border search, an attorney must promptly inform affected clients.

The Committee explained that “reasonable efforts” to protect client data will vary. This determination will necessarily turn on “the ease or inconvenience of avoiding possession of confidential information; the need to maintain access to the particular information and its sensitivity; the risk of a border inspection; and any other relevant considerations.”

Importantly the Committee wisely acknowledged that there is no bright line test available to help lawyers ascertain what conduct is reasonable. This is because of “the rapid pace of technological development and the disparities between the practices, capabilities, and resources of attorneys… (which make it) difficult or impossible to identify a list of minimum mandatory prophylactic or technical measures for an attorney to adopt before crossing the U.S. border.”

According to the Committee, one way to avoid the possibility of being required to disclose confidential information at the border is to ensure that no data is stored locally on your mobile devices. Encrypting devices or storing data in cloud are two of the recommended options that lawyers who take data with them when they travel internationally should consider: A lawyer…who handles more sensitive information should consider technological solutions that permit secure remote access to confidential information without creating local copies on the device; storing confidential information and communications in secure online locations rather than locally on the device; or using encrypted software to attempt to restrict access to mobile devices.”

Finally, the Committee concluded that if a lawyer is faced with a purportedly lawful request to access confidential client data, “the attorney first must take reasonable measures to prevent disclosure of confidential information, which would include informing the border agent that the device or files in question contain privileged or confidential materials, requesting that such materials not be searched or copied, asking to speak to a superior officer and making any other lawful requests to protect the confidential information from disclosure. To demonstrate that the device contains attorney-client materials, the attorney should carry proof of bar membership, such as an attorney ID card, when crossing a U.S. border.”

All in all, this is a very useful, well-researched opinion that provides a wealth of information for lawyers who travel internationally regarding their ethical obligations. It offers in depth guidance to assist lawyers in understanding their duties and includes detailed recommendations for preserving client confidences. If International travel is on your agenda in the near future, you’d be well advised to read this opinion prior to your trip.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for solo and small law firms. 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 can be reached at niki@mycase.com.


Ohio Bar green lights cloud computing and virtual law firms

Stacked3Here is this week's Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Ohio Bar green lights cloud computing and virtual law firms

Cloud computing - where electronic data is stored offsite on servers owned and maintained by a third party - is quite common in 2017. The proliferation of mobile devices, which are essentially useless in the absence of cloud computing, has helped contribute to this trend. Another relevant factor is the convenience and flexibility offered by web-based computing. When data is stored in the cloud, it can be accessed from anywhere using any internet-enabled device, at any time, day or night.

Because of the many benefits offered by cloud computing, more and more lawyers are using cloud-based software to store and access documents, track time and billing, manage their contacts and calendars, accept online credit card payments from clients, and interact and collaborate with clients, experts, co-counsel, and more. Lawyers are even foregoing brick and mortar law firms and launching virtual law practices.

Because of these developments ethical committees across the country are weighing in on lawyers using cloud computing in their practices, with more than 25 permitting it thus far. In June, Ohio joined their ranks when the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct issued Opinion 2017-05 (online:
http://www.ohioadvop.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Adv.-Op.-2017-5.pdf).

There were 2 issues considered in the opinion: “1) Is it proper for a lawyer to provide legal services exclusively, or almost exclusively, via a “virtual law office?” 2) Is it proper for a lawyer
operating primarily as a “virtual law office” to lease a shared, nonexclusive office space
for purpose of occasional face-to-face meetings with clients, or receiving mail?”

The Board acknowledged that lawyers have a continuing duty to maintain technology competence, explaining that “a VLO lawyer should possess a general knowledge of the security safeguards for the technology used in the lawyer's practice, or in the alternate hire or associate with persons who properly can advise and inform the lawyer.”

The Board confirmed that Ohio lawyers are permitted to use cloud computing technologies to run virtual law practices. In order to comply with their ethical obligations, lawyer must take reasonable efforts to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of confidential client data. Steps lawyers should take include analyzing “ several nonexclusive factors including 1) the sensitivity of the information, 2) the likelihood of disclosure if additional safeguards are not employed, 3) the cost of employing additional safeguards, 4) the difficulty of implementing the safeguards, and 5) the extent to which the safeguards adversely affect the lawyer’s ability to represent clients.”

Lawyers must also vet third party cloud computing providers and confirm that the vendor understands that lawyers have a duty of confidentiality, and must also verify that the vendor will maintain and regularly back up law firm data. Finally lawyers must “(r)equire that the vendor give the lawyer notice of subpoenas for client data, nonauthorized access to the stored data, or other breach of security, and a reliable means of retrieving the data if the agreement is terminated or the vendor goes out of business.”

Next the Board moved on to address a virtual attorney’s obligation to clients. According to the Board, due to the unique nature of virtual law offices, lawyers must discuss the technologies that the firm uses with clients, along with the communication methods available, and ascertain which ones are amenable to the client. These determinations should be memorialized in the client fee agreement.

Finally, the Board turned to the issue of the office setup of virtual law firms, concluding that a physical office is not required in Ohio. However, an office address must be provided on letterhead and elsewhere which can consist of “the lawyer’s home or physical office, the address of shared office space, or a registered post office box.” And, the use of shared office space with both lawyers or nonlawyers is permissible as long as steps are taken to maintain the confidentiality of client files.

Overall, this opinion is in line with those issued in other jurisdictions and takes a reasonable stance on lawyers using cloud computing software, such as law practice management software, as part of a virtual law office setup. Notably, Ohio allows provides lawyers with flexibility when it comes to listing an office address, permitting the use of an post office box, rather than requiring virtual lawyers who have no physical office space to use their home address, as some justifications do.

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for solo and small law firms. 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 can be reached at niki@mycase.com.


ABA Issues New Opinion On Secure Online Communication With Clients

Stacked3Here is this week's Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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In 1999, the American Bar Association issued Formal Opinion 99-413, which permitted lawyers to use email to communicate with clients. In that opinion, the ABA Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility concluded: “Lawyers have a reasonable expectation of privacy in

communications made by all forms of e-mail, including unencrypted e-mail sent on the Internet,

despite some risk of interception and disclosure. It therefore follows that its use is consistent with the duty under Rule 1.6 to use reasonable means to maintain the confidentiality of information relating to a client’s representation.”

Times have most certainly changed since 1999. So, too, has technology. While email used to be the best method available for electronic communication with legal clients, technology has advanced such that the security issues inherent in email make it a less desirable way to communicate with clients compared to alternative and far more secure online communication tools.

That’s why the ABA issued Formal Opinion 477 on May 11, 2017. In this opinion, the Committee concluded that because there are more secure electronic communication methods available in 2017, lawyers may want to consider avoiding email for many client communications and use other, more secure electronic methods instead.

At the outset, the Committee acknowledged that today most lawyers “primarily use electronic means to communicate and exchange documents with clients, other lawyers, and even with other persons who are assisting a lawyer in delivering legal services to clients” including “desktop, laptop and notebook computers, tablet devices, smartphones, and cloud resource and storage locations.”

Next, the Committee noted that pursuant to an amendment to the Model Rules adopted by the ABA in 2012, lawyers now have a continuing duty to stay abreast of changes in technology. As part of that duty lawyers must take reasonable efforts to protect confidential client information from disclosure and in doing so must assess “the methods of electronic communications employed, and the types of available security measures for each method.” Furthermore, when dealing with highly sensitive confidential client information, lawyers must “inform the client of the risks involved” and advise that either extra measures should be taken to protect email transmissions or that email should be avoided altogether.

Factors to be considered when determining the appropriate way to communicate with clients in each case include:

  • the sensitivity of the information,
  • the likelihood of disclosure if additional safeguards are not employed,
  • the cost of employing additional safeguards,
  • the difficulty of implementing the safeguards, and
  • the extent to which the safeguards adversely affect the lawyer’s ability to represent

clients (e.g., by making a device or important piece of software excessively difficult to use).

The obligation to evaluate and choose appropriate technology to protect client data may be outsourced “through association with another lawyer or expert, or by education.”

Importantly, the Committee emphasized that “(a) fact-based analysis means that particularly strong protective measures, like encryption, are warranted in some circumstances.” The Committee explained that as long as lawyers have implemented basic and reasonably available methods of common electronic security measures, using unencrypted email may be appropriate for routine or low sensitivity communications, but that due to “cyber-threats and (the fact that) the proliferation of electronic communications devices have changed the landscape…it is not always reasonable to rely on the use of unencrypted email.” As such, lawyers must assess how to communicate about client matters on a case-by case basis.

The Committee recommended that lawyers take certain steps when making this assessment for each case: 1) understand the nature of the threat, 2) understand how client confidential information is transmitted and where it is stored, and 3) understand and use reasonable electronic security measures, 4) determine how electronic communications about client matters should be protected, 5) label client confidential information, 6) train lawyers ad non lawyer assistants in technology and information security, and 7) conduct due diligence on vendors providing communication technology.

The Committee concluded that the duty to vet the security measures taken by each third party provider that stores a law firm’s confidential client data is a continuing one and lawyers must “periodically reassess these factors to confirm that the lawyer’s actions continue to comply with the ethical obligations and have not been rendered inadequate by changes in circumstances or technology.”

Of note, the Committee explained that client matters involving proprietary information such as “industrial designs, mergers and acquisitions or trade secrets, and industries like healthcare, banking, defense or education, may present a higher risk of data theft” and as such reasonable efforts in those in higher risk scenarios generally requires that greater effort be taken to protect client data than simply using unsecure email to communicate. The Committee suggested a number of more secure alternatives including using secure Wi-Fi, a Virtual Private Network, and a secure Internet portal such as those routinely included with law practice management software.

The Committee clarified that cloud-based online collaboration portals are a viable option to ensure secure communication: “(I)f client information is of sufficient sensitivity, a lawyer should encrypt the transmission and determine how to do so to sufficiently protect it, and consider the use of password protection for any attachments. Alternatively, lawyers can consider the use of a well vetted and secure third-party cloud based file storage system to exchange documents normally attached to emails.”

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.


Attorney-client privilege waived when non-password protected files stored online

Stacked3Here is this week's Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Attorney-client privilege waived when non-password protected files stored online

Lawyers have been using cloud computing for nearly a decade now. Nearly 30 different jurisdictions, including New York, have issued ethics opinions permitting lawyers to store confidential client data in the cloud as long as reasonable steps are taken to ensure that the data is secure. But what steps must be taken to ensure that the data is securely stored? And if the data is not adequately protected, then how might that affect a pending case?

Some of these questions were answered in Harleysville Insurance Company v. Holding Funeral Home Inc., a decision handed down by the United States District Court, Western District of Virginia last month (online: http://tinyurl.com/mcl5qxp). Issues considered in the case were whether the attorney-client and work product privilege were waived when defense counsel accessed data (via a link found in discovery documents) stored by the plaintiffs online in an unprotected Box.net account.

At the outset, the Court acknowledged the ever-changing state of technology in the 21st century and the necessary obligations of those who choose to take advantage of it. Interestingly, the language used by the Court echoed the language typically used by ethics committees who have opined in recent years on the obligations of lawyers to stay abreast of changes in technology. “The technology involved in information sharing is rapidly evolving. Whether a company chooses to use a new technology is a decision within that company's control. If it chooses to use a new technology, however, it should be responsible for ensuring that its employees and agents understand how the technology works, and, more importantly, whether the technology allows unwanted access by others to its confidential information”

In reaching its decision, the Court noted that the fact that the data stored online in this case was not protected by a password was pivotal. “(T)he information uploaded to this site was available for viewing by anyone, anywhere who was connected to the internet and happened upon the site by use of the hyperlink or otherwise. In essence, Harleysville has conceded that its actions were the cyber world equivalent of leaving its claims file on a bench in the public square and telling its counsel where they could find it. It is hard to image (sic) an act that would be more contrary to protecting the confidentiality of information than to post that information to the world wide web.”

Next, the Court concluded that because the data was not stored in a password protected account, the attorney work product privilege likewise did not apply: “Harleysville's disclosure should not be considered ‘inadvertent' under federal law. Harleysville has not claimed that its agent's posting of its Claims File to the Box Site was not an intentional act. Also, based on my reasoning above, I cannot find that Harleysville, or its counsel, took reasonable steps to prevent its disclosure or to rectify the situation. Therefore, I find that Rule 502 does not apply in this situation to prevent a waiver of the work-product doctrine.”

Finally, the court considered whether defense counsel’s conduct in viewing the unprotected Box file was unethical. The Court concluded that the defense counsel’s actions warranted sanctions because “defense counsel should have realized that the Box Site might contain privileged or protected information…and should have contacted Harleysville's counsel and revealed that it had access to this information.”

So the lesson to be learned from this case is that it is critical to ensure that any information you store online is adequately protected. By using platforms designed for lawyers that are encrypted and password protected, you’re able to meet your ethical obligations and avoid waiving any privileges related to that data. The key is to ensure that you understand the technology that you’re using and that you take sufficient steps to vet any third party providers who will be housing your client’s information.

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.


Survey shows how lawyers use technology in 2017

Stacked3Here is this week's Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

*****

 

Survey shows how lawyers use technology in 2017

Technology has become part of the fabric of our lives. Its effects are inescapable and its impact on our culture has been tremendous. In the business world, technology has helped to streamline processes and improve efficiencies. Although most lawyers weren’t first in line when it came to using technology in their practices, over time the benefits of doing so became clear. That’s why today’s lawyers are increasingly incorporating the latest tools and software into their law firms.

As shown in a survey recently conducted by Above the Law in partnership with MyCase (the company for which I work) lawyers’ technology needs and decisions vary depending on a number of factors, including firm size. The goal of the survey was to determine how lawyers would use technology in the upcoming year. The focus was on learning more about the goals and challenges lawyers faced in running their practices and the types of technologies they planned to incorporate into their firms in 2017 to solve those problems.

As part of the survey, lawyers were asked: 1) What will you do in 2017 to modernize your law firm? and 2) What is the biggest challenge at your law firm?

Nearly 650 lawyers responded to the survey from firms of all sizes. The largest number of respondents (52%) were from firms of 20 or more lawyers, followed by solo lawyers (18%), firms with 2-5 lawyers (13%), firms with 5-10 lawyers (11%), and mid-sized firms with 10-20 lawyers (6%).

When lawyers were asked about the steps they would take in 2017 to modernize their firms, the most popular response was that they planned to move towards a paperless law office (21%). Other responses included revamping the firm’s website (18%), investing in legal practice management software (10%), moving to the cloud (8%), and accepting online payments from legal clients (3%).

Solo and small firm lawyers were the most likely to take steps to accept online payments in 2017(10%), while larger firm lawyers prioritized revamping their firm’s website (44%). Another area of focus for solo and small firm lawyers was investing in law practice management software, with 32% reporting that was a priority in the coming year.

The responses to the challenges faced by lawyers were particularly enlightening. By far, the biggest hurdles lawyers encounter are managing their workload (19%) and bringing in new business (16%). In some ways, these replies were counterintuitive, but the responses to these pressures clearly varied by firm size, with 26% of solos reporting difficulties obtaining clients, compared to only 13% of large firm lawyers. In comparison, 21% of large firm lawyers reported issues managing their workload, while only 14% of solos did. So it’s readily apparent that large firm lawyers and solos encounter very different challenges in their day-to-day practices.

Other common issues that lawyers reported facing in their practices included communicating with clients (8%), tracking time and billing (7%), managing case files (7%), choosing the right technology (6%), and getting paid (4%). Interestingly, getting paid was the most difficult for solo attorneys, with 8% reporting this was a hurdle they faced. Mid-sized firms with 10-20 lawyers were next at 5%, followed by firms with 5-10 lawyers at 4%. Large and small firms reported less of an issue with collecting payment, with large firms at 3% and small firms with 2-5 lawyers at 2%.

How do your plans for 2017 compare? There’s no reason to run your law firm as if it were still 1995. Technology has revolutionized the way that business is being conducted. Smart lawyers understand the realities of practicing law in the 21st century and the benefits of taking advantage of the latest tools and software. By doing so, you’re able to run your law practice more efficiently, allowing you to be a more effective lawyer. So what are you waiting for? What steps will you take in 2017 to modernize your law firm?

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