Cloud Computing

Round up: Document Assembly Software, Robot Lawyers, and Paperless Tips

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 since the end of May:


NYC bar revisits New York lawyers and virtual law offices

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

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NYC Bar Revisits New York Lawyers and Virtual Law Offices


Lawyers have been practicing law remotely for many years now, first via remote access tools and more recently by using cloud computing software, such as cloud-based law practice management software. Not surprisingly, as cloud computing legal software has become increasingly common in law firms, so too has the occurrence of practicing law virtually.

The ethical issues posed by New York lawyers practicing from virtual law offices (VLO) have been grappled with repeatedly in recent years. As.a result, I’ve often written about many of then different ethics opinions and legal decisions that have been handed down regarding those issues.

The most recent opinion addressing lawyers and virtual law firms was handed down by the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Professional Ethics. In March it issued Formal Opinion 2019-2, noting that he opinion replaced its earlier opinion, 2014-2, which I wrote about previously. The reason The Committee replaced its earlier opinion was so that it could take into account the subsequent determinations of “the New York Court of Appeals and the United States Court of Appeals (which) held that Section 470 requires lawyers admitted in New York but who reside in another state…maintain a physical law office within New York State.”

At issue in the March opinion was whether a solo practitioner who did not intend to have a traditional law firm, and instead planned to work from a home office while using a VLO for some purposes such as client meetings and service of process, could use the VLO’s physical address as the “principal law office” address for advertising purposes pursuant to Rule 7.1(h), and also on the firm’s business cards, letterhead, and website. For purposes of the opinion, a VLO was understood to be a “a facility that offers business services and meeting and work spaces to lawyers on an ‘as needed’ basis.”

One reason that this is such an important issue is that lawyers who work mostly from a home office are often reluctant to use their home address for attorney registration and advertising purposes. Requiring them to do so would stifle innovation in law practice and prevent New York lawyers from providing affordable and superior client service by taking advantage of emerging technologies.

Fortunately, the NYC Bar recognized this fact, and declining to adopt New Jersey’s “bona fide office rule,” which requires that lawyers maintain a fixed, specific, and full-time physical location where most law office functions occur, reasoning that “(s)uch a requirement would unnecessarily burden busy solo practitioners who spend most days in court and may have no full-time support staff.”  

The Committee explained that technology has drastically impacted the practice of law, and as a result, the concept of a “law office” has changed over time: “In recent years, the concept of a ‘principal law office’ has evolved somewhat as a result of significant advances in technology which provide an attorney with the flexibility to carry out a variety of activities at different locations and under varying circumstances. The term does not necessarily mean continuous physical presence but, at a minimum, it requires some physical presence sufficient to assure accountability of the attorney to clients and to the court.”

The Committee then concluded that a VLO can satisfy the requirements of a “principal law office” in New York: “(A) VLO as described in this Opinion includes a physical facility at which a lawyer may meet with clients and receive service of process…(A)ssuming the VLO qualifies under Section 470, it may be identified as a lawyer’s ‘principal law office’ under Rule 7.1(h).”

This is a notable and timely opinion. Certainly legal ethics should not be sacrificed in the face of change, but neither should ethics prevent or discourage lawyers from embracing change. Fortunately, in this opinion the Committee strikes the right balance and provides much-needed guidance for New York lawyers seeking to take advantage of 21st technologies in their virtual practices.

 

 

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. 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: Paperless law firms, cloud computing for lawyers, and choosing legal software

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 since March:


Texas Bar weighs in on lawyers using cloud computing

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

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Texas Bar weighs in on lawyers using cloud computing

For nearly a decade now, I’ve been tracking ethics opinions that address the issue of whether lawyers can ethically use cloud-based software to store confidential client data. As a refresher, cloud computing is when you store your data on servers owned by a third party instead of on your law firm’s on-premise servers.

New York was one of the first jurisdictions to hand down an ethics opinion on this issue in 2010: Opinion 842. In that opinion, the Ethics Committee wisely concluded that “a lawyer may use an online data storage system to store and back up client confidential information provided that the lawyer takes reasonable care to endure that confidentiality is maintained.”

Since then, more than 20 other states have followed suit and weighed in on the issue of whether lawyers can ethically use cloud computing to store confidential client data on third party servers. And, in each opinion, the ethics committee concluded that it was permissible to do so.

To the best of my knowledge, it’s been a few years since a jurisdiction addressed this particular topic (which I would argue is a sign that the issue is fairly well settled at this point). So I was excited to learn from my friend and Rochester-based social media lawyer, Scott Malouf, that an opinion on cloud computing had recently been issued in a new state: Texas.

In September 2018, the Professional Ethics Committee for the State Bar of Texas issued Opinion 680. At issue in this case was whether Texas lawyers may “use cloud-based client data storage systems or use cloud-based software systems for the creation of client-specific documents where confidential client information is stored or submitted to a cloud-based system.”

At the outset, the Committee rightfully acknowledged that cloud computing use is pervasive: “Cloud-based electronic storage and software systems are in wide use among the general public and lawyers.”

Next, the Committee explained that online communication and data storage systems are no different than any other type of offline systems used for communication or document storage: “While wide usage of an information storage method or software document creation system is not, in itself, justification for its use by lawyers, alternative methods of information storage and document preparation also have an inherent risk of disclosure or misuse—just as a privileged letter to a client through the U.S. Postal Service (versus transmission through email) can be intercepted or accessed by third parties and a client’s file in a lawyer’s office may be susceptible to access or disclosure by unauthorized parties without the lawyer ‘knowingly’ revealing that information.”

In other words, there’s no such thing as absolute security, regardless of whether your law firm’s information is stored and shared online or off.

Next the Committee turned to the issue of whether lawyers can ethically use cloud computing. The Committee noted that the benefits of cloud computing were many, and that in most cases it was permissible for lawyers to store confidential client data in the cloud: “Considering the present state of technology, its common usage to store confidential information, and the potential cost and time savings for clients, a lawyer may use cloud-based electronic data systems and document preparation software for client confidential information.”

Of course, as is always the case when lawyers outsource the management of confidential client data to third parties, lawyers have an obligation to thoroughly vet the third party vendor. The Committee explained that the “reasonable precautions” that lawyers must take include: “(1) acquiring a general understanding of how the cloud technology works; (2) reviewing the “terms of service” to which the lawyer submits when using a specific cloud-based provider just as the lawyer should do when choosing and supervising other types of service providers; (3) learning what protections already exist within the technology for data security; (4) determining whether additional steps, including but not limited to the encryption of client confidential information, should be taken before submitting that client information to a cloud-based system; (5) remaining alert as to whether a particular cloud-based provider is known to be deficient in its data security measures or is or has been unusually vulnerable to “hacking” of stored information; and (6) training for lawyers and staff regarding appropriate protections and considerations.”

The Committee also noted that on rare occasions, certain types of client data may be too sensitive to store in the cloud and thus “(i)n some circumstances it may be appropriate to confer with a client regarding these risks as applicable to a particular matter and obtain a client’s input regarding or consent to using cloud-based electronic data systems and document preparation software”

Finally, and most importantly, the Committee noted that lawyers have a continuing duty to maintain technology competence: “(A) lawyer should remain reasonably aware of changes in technology and the associated risks—without unnecessarily retreating from the use of new technology that may save significant time and money for clients.”

So there you have it. Yet another jurisdiction highlights the benefits of cloud-based computing and green lights its use by lawyers.

It’s not surprising since a lot has changed in the past decade. So if you’ve been on the fence about using cloud computing in your law firm, it’s time to re-assess your position. Cloud computing use has become the norm, even for lawyers. And the benefits of using cloud computing are many: affordable computing power, 24/7 access to your firm’s information, increased mobility, and far more secure communication options than traditional email. If ever there was a time to switch to cloud computing, the time is now. What are you waiting for?

 

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. 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: Artificial Intelligence, Millennial Lawyers, and Law Practice Management Software

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 November 2018:


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.