Cloud Computing for Lawyers

Cloud Computing for Lawyers, by Nicole Black (my co-author for Social Media for Lawyers) is an extraordinary book. Not just for the exhaustive and well-researched content, which I’ll discuss in more detail below. Rather, what’s so significant about Cloud Computing for Lawyers is that Niki acknowledges the cloud for what it is: a universal trend impacting all business and not just lawyers specifically.

Cloud computing starts not with the law, or law-related issues, but the facts. Such as, that the cloud is a growing technology, gaining traction exponentially due to the pace of growth of Internet processors versus hardware. That many of today’s innovations that we rely on so seamlessly – Hotmail or Google Docs or Dropbox are all cloud-based. And that multiple other industries, from the government to medical profession to Fortune 500 businesses are integrating the cloud to slash costs and improve functionality.

As businesses adapt to the cloud, and as a new generation of school children are born and bred on cloud products (my daughters are far more adept with Google Docs than Word and have each had Gmail accounts since they were eight), they come to expect the same skills of the lawyers who serve them. In short, the cloud isn’t some out-there, nutty idea concocted by legal futurists, but it’s real and it’s here now.

Which means that lawyers need to understand it. No, we don’t have to understand the programming aspects and the code that goes into designing cloud products – and Niki makes clear at the outset that this isn’t a book about technical nuts and bolts of the cloud, but rather, a practical guide focused on what lawyers need to know.  So in the opening chapters, Niki defines cloud computing and assesses both the pros and cons of relying on the cloud for a law practice (the book is quite even handed in that regard).  Thereafter, the remainder of the book is divided into two large chunks;  the second section which deals with ethics and security issues governing cloud and the third describes cloud products for lawyers and how to go about choosing the ones that are right for one’s practice.

So, on to part II. My buddy Larry Port of Rocket Matter believes that the ethics chapter of the book, authored by Steph Kimbro makes the book worth the price of admission and I don’t disagree there. But with all due respect to Stephanie’s stellar and undoubtedly critical work in unravelling the ethics issues, for me, what’s far more important for lawyers to understand about the cloud than the legal ethics are the straight up laws – privacy and data security and protection laws, both in the US and overseas. (As an aside, I’ve long believed that the applying legal ethics to cloud issues is at best a stretch, a last gasp effort by the bars to hang on to some relevance in a fast changing world. But let’s face it – if a lawyer holds client data and there’s a security breach that he fails to disclose, resulting in millions of dollars of losses to a client, do you really think that the client will be content to file a grievance or seek relief under data breach statutes? Thought so). Niki discusses the relevance of each of these statutes and how they might apply to lawyers’ use of cloud computing in various circumstances.  I cannot over-emphasize how important this is because no longer do lawyers have the luxury of just ethics compliance; we have real world data security and protection obligations as well.  For me, it’s these chapters that make the book worth the price of admission.

Part III of the book identifies a variety of cloud-based tools applications and the purposes for which they can be used, including practice management, back up, collaboration and e-discovery. There’s a helpful chart comparing legal-specific practice management tools (I wish there’d been discussion of non-legal ones as well but there’s just too much to cover) and examples from practicing lawyers about the suite of tools that they use. In testament to how quickly this area is changing, the book does not have much discussion on cloud-based document automation or forms, which seem to have leapt onto the scene in the past three to six months (I know that some of the virtual law office portals have document preparation, but I’m talking more about document automation as a standalone product). Also helpful for lawyers are checklists for choosing a cloud-based vendor and a sample contract from Clio, another cloud based provider.

My only criticism about the book relates to the structure. Personally, I’d much rather have read about the suite of tools available before learning about the ethics and laws that attorneys must abide in using cloud-based tools. Not a big deal – I just skipped ahead to the fun stuff!

Bottom line – Cloud Computing for Lawyers is a critical read for all lawyers, because all lawyers deal with the cloud one way or another – and if they don’t, their clients do. Lawyers will be faced with a host of different products and need to know how to choose those that are reliable versus those that may compromise client data. With this book, lawyers are well armed for a bright future where the sun shines because of the cloud.