Lawyers can use “cloud computing” to provide software and store records but must take reasonable steps to ensure than information remains confidential, according to a suggested Bar ethics opinion. As the proposed opinion notes:
“Because cloud computing involves the use of a third party as a provider of services and involves the storage and use of data at a remote location that is also used by others outside an individual law firm, the use of cloud computing raises ethics concerns of confidentiality, competence, and proper supervision of nonlawyers.”
Cloud computing gives lawyers the ability to access records from laptops, tablets, and smartphones and also protects records from being lost if a law office is damaged by a hurricane or fire. But because the records and software are stored by a third party at a remote location, lawyers must work to see that the information and client confidences are protected.
Several other states, the proposed opinion says, have found that the use of cloud computing is ethically acceptable as long as precautions are taken. The opinion notes, for example, that the Iowa Bar described the goal as: “Lawyers must be able to access the lawyer’s own information without limit, others should not be able to access the information, but lawyers must be able to provide limited access to third parties to specific information, yet must be able to restrict their access to only that information.” New York listed three obligations for attorneys: Ensuring that the provider can preserve confidentiality and security, including informing the lawyer if there is a subpoena seeking information in those records; reviewing the provider’s security procedures; and using available technology to protect “against reasonably foreseeable” attempts to infiltrate the offsite records.
Cloud computing involves use of an outside service provider which provides computing software and data storage from a remote location that the lawyer accesses over the Internet via a web browser, such as Internet Explorer, or via an “app” on smart phones and tablets. The lawyer’s files are stored at the service provider’s remote server(s). The lawyer can thus access the lawyer’s files from any computer or smart device and can share files with others.
Software is purchased, maintained, and updated by the service provider. Many lawyers and others are computing “in the cloud” because of convenience and potential cost savings.
The main concern regarding cloud computing relates to confidentiality. Lawyers have an obligation to maintain as confidential all information that relates to a client’s representation, regardless of the source.
Rule 4¬1.6, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. A lawyer may not voluntarily disclose any information relating to a client’s representation without either application of an exception to the confidentiality rule or the client’s informed consent. Id. A lawyer has the obligation to ensure that confidentiality of information is maintained by nonlawyers under the lawyer’s supervision, including nonlawyers that are third parties used by the lawyer in the provision of legal services.