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Legal Trends in Cloud Computing and Cybersecurity

31 January 2020|Technology

By Wayne Nitti

Lawyers are not exactly rushing to engage with cloud computing, and a recent American Bar Association survey and report gives some indication as to why.

Growing Use, Full Adoption Far Off

Business and personal laptops are filling up with apps and programming that reside in the cloud – some notable examples being LinkedIn, Facebook, Gmail, and Dropbox. But the most recent survey shows lawyers much more cautious about the use of the cloud than many other business users – even their own clients. Within the legal community, solo and small firms lead the pack in terms of adoption, with 60 percent of this group using cloud services. Firms with 50-99 lawyers, in contrast, have the lowest rate of use, checking in at 44 percent. Overall, 2019 saw a slight year-over-year increase (3%) in the number of lawyers using cloud services. Whether your firm is small or large, however, the ABA findings make clear that there is still a large gap to full adoption.

One can achieve greater data safety and cybersecurity by utilizing a well-maintained and protected private, legally-focused cloud vendor than by housing client data and files on your own servers.  The use of the cloud mandates excellent security protocols, and there are many experts and vendors who can help law firms achieve security that is virtually unattainable on an office-based system. While lawyers assert that confidentiality, security, data control and ownership, and screening for vendor reputation and longevity are significant concerns, they often fail to meaningfully address these issues. Notably, the ABA survey uncovered an alarming drop in the use of standard cybersecurity practices, with only 35 percent of respondents taking at least one of the listed precautionary measures, down a few percentage points from the 38 percent reported in 2018.

Programs on the Cloud, Personal and Business

Lawyers continued to use popular consumer cloud services like Google Apps, iCloud, and Evernote at higher rates than services dedicated to the legal industry, like Clio and NetDocuments. Google Docs users numbered 37 percent; iCloud 27 percent, and Evernote 16 percent. The most popular of the legal-specific services were Clio, with 11.4 percent using the program, and Net Documents, eight percent. MyCase rounded out the top three, with five percent. One would think the numbers of dedicated legal product users can and will grow.

Some 94 percent of lawyers indicate that the reputation of the vendor for cloud services is important in their own decision-making process. Yet only 17 percent, down from 30 percent a year ago, sought advice from other lawyers and law firms, and only 23 percent evaluated the vendor of cloud services for their history and record. Only four percent of respondents negotiated confidentiality agreements in connection with cloud services, and only five percent executed legal service agreements.

Time to Collaborate with Clients

We were struck by one statistic, pointing to a need for a more client-focused mindset. Client access to firm extranets – “a classic example of a secure cloud tool that can help clients and help collaborate on projects with external parties” – was only permitted by 36 percent of responding firms. “Friendly” outsiders had even less access, with a 25 percent rate of inclusion. What’s holding lawyers back?  Of the respondents, 65 percent cited confidentiality/security concerns, and 45 percent worried about losing control of their data. Only 14 percent listed their clients’ concerns as a roadblock. It seems most, if not all, of these issues can be overcome with basic diligence and the utilization of appropriate cybersecurity protections, whether that analysis and implementation is done in-house or with the assistance of an outside expert. Law firms would be well-served to examine this missed opportunity in the coming year.