Many attorneys want to take greater advantage of cloud-based technology, which allows them to access documents and case files via an internet connection. Use of practice management software like Clio, and document management services like Box, make your law practice more portable, flexible and save you the cost of storing and maintaining paper files. While many attorneys want to take greater advantage of cloud-based technology, they worry whether storing client data in the cloud will make it vulnerable. Attorneys must make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of information relating to the representation of a client[1] and the good news is there are a number of online tools that will help you and your law firm staff maintain the confidentiality of your clients’ documents.

Cloud-Based Storage: What is it?
Cloud storage is a computing model in which digital data and files are stored on remote servers, which can be accessed with an internet connection. The servers on which data is stored are generally operated and maintained by cloud storage providers/hosting companies that provide secure ways to access the data on the cloud. Examples of cloud-based storage include Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, and Box.

Cloud-Based Storage: How is it Helpful?
Cloud storage is convenient, safe, fast, and reliable.

  1. You can access your documents from anywhere as long as you have an internet connection.
  2. They provide interfaces similar to those used in Windows and Mac OS, making it easy to copy, delete, and rename files.
  3. You can easily share files by sending links or granting access to specific individuals rather than actually emailing documents. Email transmissions are often less secure and autofill features can often lead to emails being inadvertently sent to the wrong recipients.
  4. If you are making changes in software like Word or Adobe, you can often make those changes directly in the interface without downloading anything. Others with access to the file(s) can make changes to that same document if you allow edit access, which makes for a great collaborative tool too.
  5. Depending on the kind of cloud-based storage you are using, many services provide mobile apps that provide many of the same tools as their desktop counterparts such as file sharing via links or adding someone’s desired email address to a file, file uploading/downloading, and editing.

Using Online Storage Securely
Security is always the biggest worry when it comes to storing and sharing data online, but there are ways you can ensure the safety of your information and your clients’ information.

  1. Review the Terms of Service: Make sure you own the data being stored on the cloud. Carefully review who will be allowed to access your data and under what circumstances.
  2. Review security procedures: While lawyers are not expected to be IT security specialists, attorneys need to obtain some information about the sort of security procedures the online storage service has in place. Attorneys should ask questions such as:
    1. Is the data stored in an encrypted form?
    2. Does the only user have the key to decrypt the information?
    3. What firewalls and backup procedures does the cloud service use?
    4. Is data stored in the U.S.?
    5. What is the service history of the company? Have they had any issues with security in the past?

Certification can be helpful in assessing the security of an online repository. For example, see whether the software provider has been certified to be in compliance with ISO 27001, an international information security standard.

  1. Utilize functions that allow you to limit data access: Within certain cloud storage systems, you have the option to limit access to certain files and folders. You can find options that allow you to either password protect certain digital documents or you can provide read-only access (versus editing abilities) to certain individuals for files. You can also select options that allow you to pick exactly who you want to be able to access files and folders by providing access via specific email addresses, ID numbers, and more.
  2. Make sure all users select secure passwords: Choosing easy to remember passwords means they are easier for others to guess. Strong passwords include a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Avoid using obvious combinations like your birthdate or significant other’s name.

Bottom Line: Our latest devices are being built with the assumption that data will be stored primarily online, with in-hand mobile devices simply used to access that information. Attorneys should not shy away from storing data online, but rather embrace the flexibility that comes with online storage while taking the steps to prudently secure sensitive information.

It isn’t difficult to find inexpensive, safe, and dependable options. In fact, many attorneys now use practice management software that allows for easy access and file sharing, secure data storage, and even integrations bookkeeping/invoicing and scheduling options. Relying on technology to protect and store data can be intimidating at first, but if the right protocols are put in place and everyone is smart about using virtual data sharing, there is little to worry about.

For more information about online information security and other consideration in taking your information online, take our free course, which has been approved for 1 MCLE credit in California.

[1] See, e.g., Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6(c).