By: Harrison Lebov
Filing cabinets. Filing cabinets everywhere…that’s the sight you’ll likely see if you walk into almost any traditional law firm in the United States. With the enormous mass of paperwork exchanged in a single lawsuit for a single client, it all has to go somewhere! Needless to say, it typically ends up in dusty, old filing cabinets, organized by some kind of archaic, alphabetized, Dewey Decimal-like system. Finding one document in particular is like trying to find a needle in a somewhat organized haystack. However, on the off chance that the document you’re seeking has been misfiled or found its way into the wrong file, the chances of finding that document decrease exponentially. It might sound like a bad infomercial, but there has to be a better way.
Introducing: cloud storage. Cloud storage is a system of document management in which digital data is stored on remote servers, typically owned and managed by some kind of service company, and accessible to users through a variety of applications, web-based or otherwise. The idea is that all documents that come through a firm can be digitized, categorized, and stored off-site in a virtual drive. All of these files become searchable as well, so finding a specific document is as easy as using a rudimentary search function (i.e. command + F on a Mac). Furthermore, two main types of cloud storage options exist: a public cloud, and a private cloud.
A public cloud is likely more familiar to the average, 21st century tech-user. In fact, most people employ some sort of cloud storage system, whether they know it or not. For the most part, everyone with an iPhone backs up their contacts, photos, and other information using iCloud, which is basically just online storage space where Apple lets you keep your files. Because cloud storage in general does not rely on a physical hard drive, Apple users can access their information from all their Apple devices. However, distinctions can be drawn between platforms like iCloud and Google Drive, as the former is much more restrictive, requiring that access to your information be from your devices only, and the latter, which allows you to access your information from any device you log into. For that reason, Google Drive has grown to prominence among technologically savvy, young business people and students, as documents are not only accessible from virtually anywhere, but also shareable between anyone who has a Google account. There is actually even a small minority of sole practitioners and attorneys practicing in boutique firms that use Google Drive for all their document management needs. With that being said, there is a security concern with regards to sensitive client information being hosted on a public network. Exposure of client information could be as simple as hacking a password or forgetting to log out of a public computer. Thus, these free options have given way to safer, more secure networks, albeit for a price.
Unlike the aforementioned free options, many firms have turned to subscription-based private cloud storage systems. These paid services often come with significantly more storage capacity, as well as bolstered firewall security and additional tech-support. Oddly enough, the American Bar Association (ABA) does not require than an attorney using cloud computing do so on a private network. The ABA requires only that an attorney employing a third party cloud storage service take “reasonable” precautions to protect the client’s privacy and information. However, there does seem to be a sort of sliding scale with a converse relationship between the level of sensitivity of information and the extent to which such information is protected. Having established that cloud computing is technically legal in the eyes of the ABA, it seems as though the ABA has gone a step further and dubbed it ethical as well. In fact, the ABA has recently amended Model Rules of Professional Conduct to include code sections that address this issue, and allow for the use of cloud storage without saying so directly.
Model Rule 1.6(c) specifically makes reference to a “reasonableness” requirement for protecting client information. Although there is no steadfast requirement for the use of a private cloud over a public cloud, the additional layers of firewall protection that come with a private cloud undoubtedly make it the preferred cloud storage option. Either way, one thing is certain, cloud storage sure beats old, dusty filing cabinets, that is, assuming there is sufficiently reasonable security.
Harrison Lebov is a Staff Member on the Journal of High Technology Law. He is currently a 2L at Suffolk Law, and pursuing a concentration in Legal Technology and Innovation. He holds a B.S. in Business Management with a minor in Legal Studies from Suffolk University. Harrison is the President of the Suffolk Law Intramural Basketball Association and the Vice President of the Law Innovation Technology Student Association for the 2016-17 academic year.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.