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The Legal Cloud: A Question of Security, Ethics

The Legal Cloud Security Ethics

Security emerged as a major barrier to the adoption of cloud technology in a recent survey of independent attorneys.  It’s been a trend for a while, as Bob Ambrogi wrote:

As other surveys have indicated. concerns about security and confidentiality remain the greatest barrier to cloud adoption among small-firm lawyers. Even though security was the top-ranked barrier, the survey nonetheless found that 41% of small-firm lawyers believe that the cloud is secure and only 9% say it is unsecure. Roughly 36% fell in the middle — saying they were unsure whether it is secure.

Notably, when asked why they believe the cloud is not secure, a significant number of respondents cited fear of access by the government or the NSA. They also cited fear of hackers and rogue employees of the cloud vendor.

This barrier may have slowed the legal industry in terms of adoption, as Inside Counsel reported:

While industries including healthcare and finance have paved the way for implementing new technologies, the legal industry has been a bit more skittish, especially when it comes to cloud-based services.

In reality it’s not a race, but if it were we all know the story about the tortoise and the hair.  Perhaps the legal community has timed cloud adoption just right.

Drilling down on security

In a thorough post on The Droid Lawyer blogger and lawyer Jeffrey Taylor drills down on the issues over security. He breaks security threats into categories – active and passive threats.

Active threats are those created be bad actors; think hackers.  Passive threats are those that inherently exist – like the yellow sticky note filled with hand written passwords tucked secretly under a mouse pad.

Jeffery writes:

Personally, I’d rather have a company that’s actively engaged in improving security, backing up my data, and offering me efficient ways to interact and use my information, than my hap-hazard pasting of security suites, backup solutions, and half-hearted systems updates.

Understanding the Cloud

One practicing attorney we recently spoke with, regarding the cloud, expressed concern over the terms of service of some cloud-based products.  He relayed a story about a panel of IT staff explaining how they had converted all of the law firm’s data into a cloud service – and it was apparent to him the lawyers were “completely unaware of what that meant.”

The 2013 ABA Technology survey found that just about 40% of attorneys were reviewing the terms of service (ToS) before accepting a software license. Such a review is an essential step along a cloud computing check list, such as this checklist, which was developed by an attorney.

Several state bar associations provide ethical opinions on cloud computing. Alabama for example, provides three recommendations:

  • Know how provider handles storage/security of data.
  • Reasonably ensure confidentiality agreement is followed.
  • Stay abreast of best practices regarding data safeguards.

The American Bar Association has neatly listed out the ethical opinions on cloud computing from several state bar associations on its website.

Note:  the terms and conditions for the Firm Manager cloud service for law firm practice management are published online for anyone to freely review.

The Droid Lawyer is sums up the cloud security concerns this way:

Certainly that cloud won’t solve all the issues we face, but we’re arguably getting closer to ethical compliance and at least better protection. The choice is yours as to how you want to handle your firm’s security. Most solo and small firms don’t have the monetary resources to hire a team of technology consultants to protect stored data.

What do you think – are independent attorneys safer with vendor focused on legal technology or is the do-it-yourself route a more viable option?

Photo credit:  Flickr, Creative Commons

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Infographic:  Law Firms Warming are Warming Up to the Cloud

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About Frank Strong

Frank Strong
Frank Strong is the communications director for the LexisNexis software division located on NC State’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh. In this capacity, he leads communications efforts in support of software products for law practice and law department management and also litigation tools – across large law, small law and corporate counsel segments. With more than 15 years of experience in the high-tech sector, Strong previously served as director of public relations for Vocus, which developed marketing, PR and media monitoring software. He has held multiple roles both in-house with corporations, ranging from startups to global organizations, and has also endured the rigors of billable hours, having completed gigs at PR firms including the top 10 global firm Hill & Knowlton. A veteran of two year-long deployments, Strong has concurrently served in uniform in reserve components of the military for more than 20 years, initially as an enlisted Marine and later as an infantry officer in the Army National Guard. Strong holds a BA in Film and TV production from Worcester State University, an M.A. in Public Communication from American University, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University. He is a PADI-certified Master Scuba Diver and holds a USPA "B" skydiving license.


  1. […] cloud based products, a 10% increase from last year. Similarly, 41% of small law firms believe the cloud to be secure. In my opinion, this move towards adoption of cloud tech is coming from 2 […]

  2. […] cloud based products, a 10% increase from last year. Similarly, 41% of small law firms believe the cloud to be secure. In my opinion, this move towards adoption of cloud tech is coming from 2 […]