Cloud Computing

Ready or Not, It’s Time To Set Up Your Remote Law Office

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

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Ready or Not, It’s Time To Set Up Your Remote Law Office

You’ve resisted technological change for years and put off adopting new software into your law firm. After all, you were busy doing what lawyers are trained to do: practice law. You didn’t have time to learn about technology, research the legal software available, and then figure out how to use it in your firm. You figured you’d get around to it eventually, when the time was right.

I’ve got news for you: the time is now. As you know, earlier this week, the world as we knew it ground to a screeching halt. COVID-19 descended upon our country, and cities, counties, and states began to require most non-essential businesses to close in the name of public safety. Courts began to suspend all but the most essential proceedings, and many law firms were forced to shut their bricks and mortar doors. It is no longer business as usual, and experts are predicting that the disruption could last for a year or more.

Rest assured, that doesn’t mean that the business of practicing law will cease to exist. The technology tools you need to set up a remote law office (aka a “virtual law firm”) are readily available and affordable. It’s simply a matter of identifying the software tools your law firm needs and implementing them firm-wide.

For most law firms, you’ll need to invest in the following tools in order to run your law firm remotely:

• Video conferencing software: facilitates encrypted face-to-face video meetings with clients, work colleagues, and co-counsel;
• A VOIP (voice over internet protocol) phone system: allows you to make and receive unlimited phone calls, conduct conference calls, and receive (and store) messages without needing a landline.
• Cloud-based law practice management software: provides a centralized location for contacts and calendars; invoicing and time-tracking; documents and other matter-related data; internal and external communications; financial data; and may also include built-in e-signature capabilities, lead management tools, integrated email, 2-way text messaging, and secure communication and collaboration tools such as a client portal.
• An online fax service: instead of using a landline-based fax machine, documents can be sent and received over the internet via email, an online portal, or a smartphone app.
• Document scanning tools: hardware and software tools, including mobile apps, that can be used to quickly and easily scan and digitize documents.
• Collaborative word processing software: cloud-based word processing software that makes it easy to collaborate in real-time with work colleagues.
• Speech-to-text dictation software: voice recognition technology that allows you to simply dictate and then the text contemporaneously appears on the screen in front of you as you speak.

You can find links to articles I’ve written about each of these technology tools here.

Once you’ve researched and chosen the software you’ll be using to set up your remote law firm, the next step is to train your employees and provide them with the information they’ll need to implement the software into their daily routine. Teach them how to use the features of each type of software and impress upon them the fact that client confidentiality rules apply no matter where they happen to be working.

No doubt you're feeling overwhelmed and concerned about the future of your law firm, but the good news is that the tools you need to practice law virtually are readily available and have been for years now. The technology is time-tested, trustworthy, and ethical. In fact, the ethics committees of more than 20 states, including New York, have deemed the use of cloud computing by lawyers to store confidential information to be permissible.

So what are you waiting for? Your clients are relying on you to get back to work - so get to it! Do your research, choose the right technology for your law firm, and start practicing law remotely. It really is that easy.

And, rest assured, there truly is no better time than the present.

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, Facial Recognition & Mobile Lawyers

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:


Cloud and mobile computing trends for lawyers in 2020

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

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Cloud and mobile computing trends for lawyers in 2020

I started writing about cloud and mobile computing and their potential benefits for the legal profession in 2008. Two years later I began to work on a draft of my book “Cloud Computing for Lawyers,” which was published by the American Bar Association in 2012. Back then, convincing lawyers that cloud computing was the future and that its benefits far outweighed the risks was a tough sell. This is because at the time many lawyers were understandably skeptical, and expressed concerns about the ethical and security issues presented by the use of cloud computing by lawyers.

Fast forward to 2019 and how times have changed! The majority of lawyers are now using cloud and mobile computing tools as part of their day-to-day practices and are reaping the benefits offered by mobile law practices. For proof you need look no further than the latest ABA Legal Technology Survey Report, which was released earlier this month.

According to the survey results, 58% of lawyers now report that they use  cloud computing tools for work-related tasks, compared to 38% in 2016. Small firm lawyers from firms with 2-9 lawyers were the most likely to use cloud computing software at 61%. Next up were lawyers from firms of 10-49 attorneys at 60%, followed by 59% of solo lawyers, and 51% of large firm lawyers (100 or more attorneys).

Notably, 8% of the lawyers surveyed indicated that their firms had plans to replace traditional server-based software with a cloud-based alternative within the next 12 months. Lawyers from firms with 2-9 lawyers were the most likely to plan to make that move (12%), followed by lawyers from firms with 10-49 lawyers at 8%. Next up were 6% of lawyers from firms with 100 or more attorneys, and solo lawyers came in last at 5%.

According to the Report, lawyers use cloud computing software for many different reasons. The top reason they provided was easy browser access at 65%, followed by 24/7 access to their law firm’s data at 61%. 48% reported that the low cost of entry and predictable monthly expenses were important benefits. 45% of lawyers indicated that robust data backup and recovery was a top benefit. For 35% a strong selling point was that cloud-based software is quick to get up and running, followed by the fact that cloud computing software eliminates IT and software management requirements at 31%. And last but not least, 34% shared that they used cloud computing software because it offers better security than they can provide in-house.

The results of the survey also showed that the majority of lawyers (55%) now telecommute on a regular basis. Of the 55% of lawyers who reported that they telecommuted in the past year, lawyers from firms with 100 or more attorneys were the most likely to do so (60%), followed by 56% of solo attorneys, 53% of lawyers from firms with 2-9 attorneys, and 49% of lawyers from firms with 10-49 attorneys

One way that lawyers access their information stored in the cloud while on the go is through the use of smartphones, so it’s no surprise that smartphone use by lawyers continues to increase. A whopping 79% of lawyers reported that they used an iPhone for work-related tasks, while 18% use an Android smartphone. Up next is Blackberry at 7%, and only 1.5% of lawyers reported that they never use a smartphone for work-related purposes.

One place that lawyers often use their smartphones is in court, and when asked how they used smartphones while in court, 54% shared that they used them for checking email.  Next up was calendaring at 40%, real-time communications at 32%, and legal research  at 22%.

According to the survey results, 29% of lawyers also use tablets in the courtroom. Some of the activities that lawyers conducted on their tablets included email (25%), legal research (19%), calendaring (14%), real-time communications (13%), and accessing court dockets and documents (10%).

Lawyers also regularly use laptops when they’re in the courtroom, with 44% of survey respondents indicating that they regularly did so. The most popular tasks accomplished with laptops while in the courtroom were email (34%), legal research (33%), accessing court dockets and documents (26%), and editing document (24%).

So that’s how today’s mobile lawyer gets work done on the go. How does your usage compare? Are you taking full advantage of the many benefits offered by mobile and cloud computing tools in your practice? If you’re not already using cloud computing software at your firm, maybe it’s time to consider an upgrade. After all, there’s no better time than the present!

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: Cybersecurity, Dictation Tools, and Law Firm Disaster Planning

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  August:


In 2019, lawyers are using mobile and cloud computing more than ever

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

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In 2019, lawyers are using mobile and cloud computing more than ever

A little over a decade ago, the mobile revolution was launched when the iPhone was released in 2007. Just one year earlier, Amazon rolled out Amazon EC2, their first cloud computing service, and now, in 2019, many of the most popular websites, including Netflix, Pinterest, and Reddit are run on cloud servers hosted by Amazon Web Services.

It’s no coincidence that mobile and cloud computing tools launched so close in time. After all, mobile and cloud computing go hand and hand, and together they make today’s computing possible. This is because mobile devices alone are limited by their memory, processing power, and battery life. But when mobile phones and tablets are used with cloud computing tools, the data processing and storage needed to make mobile apps useful and functional can happen outside of mobile devices on cloud computing servers.

This combined utility has contributed to the significant rise in the use of cloud and mobile computing by lawyers in recent years. According to the American Bar Association’s most recent Legal Technology Survey, small firm lawyers are making the move to cloud-based legal software more than ever before, with 55% of lawyers surveyed reporting that they’ve used cloud computing software for law-related tasks over the past year, up from 38% in 2016.

And many more are thinking of switching to cloud-based legal software in the year to come. Small law firms were the most likely to plan to do so. The survey results showed that firms with 2-9 lawyers led the way at 15%. Next up was law firms with 10-49 lawyers at 14%, followed by firms with 50-99 lawyers at 13%.

According to the survey, the reasons for using cloud computing software are many. Ease of access from any location was the most popular reason (68%), followed by 24/7 availability (59%), and the affordability and the low cost of entry (48%). Other reasons provided by the lawyers surveyed included robust data back-up and recovery (46%), the ability to get the software up and running quickly (40%), the elimination of IT and software management requirements (34%), and last but certainly not least, better security than the firms were able to provide in-office (31%).

The top reason cited for making the switch – ease of access from any location – isn’t surprising since lawyers are more reliant on mobile devices in 2019 than they’ve ever been. In fact, according to the survey, 95% of lawyers reported that they use their smartphones outside of the office for law-related purposes. And, nearly half of all lawyers – 49% – reported that they used their tablet for law-related purposes while away from the office.

The most popular type of phone used by lawyers was iPhones, with 72% preferring it. Androids were next at 27%, followed by Blackberrys (2%) and then Windows Mobile (1%). Notably, despite the prominence of iPhone use by lawyers, 43% of lawyers surveyed reported that their firms supported multiple platforms for smartphones, rather than just one type of smartphone.

50% of lawyers have downloaded a legal-specific app to their smartphone, with legal research apps being the most popular. Similarly, 50% of lawyers have downloaded a general business app to their smartphone. Dropbox was the most popular, with 77% of lawyers reporting that they’d downloaded it. LinkedIn was next at 63%, followed by Evernote (37%), LogMeIn (15%), and DocsToGo (14%).

Do any of these statistics about how small firm lawyers are using cloud-based legal software and mobile devices surprise you? How mobile are you compared to your colleagues? And, is your firm in the cloud yet? If not, maybe it’s time make the switch.

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: 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: