Sequestered away in a session at LegalTech NY last February, a semi-secretive appellate court heard arguments from attorneys arguing on behalf of both cloud-based and premise-based law firm practice management tools.
Cameras were not permitted in courtroom, but over the weekend, an audio recording of the hearing surfaced on the internet was obtained by this blog. The acting justices included Robert Ambrogi, Jack Halprin and A. Bradley Randall.
In a sometimes contentious hearing, pro-cloud advocates, led by Christopher T. Anderson, argued cloud-based tools have a lower total cost of ownership (TCO), frees lawyers to focus on practicing law, rather than managing IT infrastructure, and better enables attorneys to meet their ethical responsibilities under ABA Model Rule 1.4 Communications.
Opposing counsel Jay Brudz arguments were largely based on the idea that a “case by case” assessment was required for a law firm to choose between cloud or premise software.
“These risks apply either way, they are not risks that apply just to the cloud, they are not risks that apply to just on prem[ise],” said Mr. Brudz.
Is the Law Cloud Secure?
Mr. Anderson, who has previously argued in the court of public opinion that disruption in the legal industry flows from clients, reasoned that client expectations of communication with attorneys had changed. It’s changed to the degree lawyers need freedom of mobility and access to client information from anywhere and from any device.
“Back 10, 15, 20 years ago, responding to a client included dictating a letter, having it proofed by your staff, having the final version put in front of you, signed, stamped and put in the mail, so that the client would receive it in 3-7 business days was considered a prompt response,” said Mr. Anderson.
Justice Amborgi, who is widely regarded by industry watchers as the swing vote on the three-panel court, was at times aggressive in his probing of Mr. Anderson’s arguments, implying the pro-cloud argument for communications was sidestepping the core issue. Justice Ambrogi indicated he believed the “real question” in the debate was whether or not the “cloud is secure.”
“I would recommend to this court that the real point to start that analysis is not whether the cloud itself is secure, though it’s important to determine that, but whether it’s more secure than what we’re doing today,” stated Mr. Andersen in response. “I would submit to the court that on the premise side…that lawyers are woefully inadequate in securing the data.”
In his rebuttal, Mr. Brudz, who hailed from the law firm of Drinker Biddle, also seized sharply on Mr. Anderson’s arguments about whether or not the cloud was secure.
“The advanced persistent threat is targeting law firms. When a law firm is breached [in the cloud] an entire industry can be breeched,” countered Mr. Brudz. “That’s putting a lot of eggs in one basket.”
A Cloud Company with “Two Consecutive Vowels”
Justice Halprin frequently sparred with Mr. Brudz, challenging him on his assertions about availability and level of technical competence that is prerequisite for an attorney to make an informed judgment about either premise or cloud-based tools.
In a particularly suspenseful moment in the hearing, Mr. Brudz made seemingly cavalier references to large company “with two consecutive vowels in its name.” Gossip column pundits say that was a jab at Justice Halprin’s known affiliation with a giant search engine company.
There are actually two large search engine companies with consecutive vowels in their name, though one of them uses technology from a third search provider.
The court did not issue a ruling, which was rushed to a close due to “time.” Political analysts say a decision is not likely to be handed down until after the next election.
We have however, obtained briefs submitted by both pro-premise and pro-cloud advocates, and distilled arguments from both sides into an easy to read blog post: Practice Management: Should Law Firms Go Cloud or Premise?
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Note: For anyone still uncertain, this post is an attempt at humor – the session at Legal Tech was in fact quite funny. The recording on SoundCloud is available from anywhere you have an internet connection and runs about an hour. We hope you enjoy it.
Disclosure: Mr. Ambrogi is a member of the LexisNexis Firm Manager Advisory Board.
Blatant pitch: Click here if you’d like to try Firm Manager free for 30 days or see these 5 reasons to try cloud-based practice management for free.
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