It’s all too common to find law firms busting at the seams with an avalanche of paper. Some might say it’s in our nature. The importance of “the original” of a document begins in the hallowed halls of law school. Paper can be trusted, even revered. What better way to authenticate something but to hold it in your hands while examining it, before preserving it into a categorized and alphabetized filing system. That just makes sense. Or, at least it did.
Digital information can be created, altered, copied, stored, and shared far faster and cheaper than paper. As laws, rules, and processes change to allow for better and more secure data storage and transmission, law firms join other industries working to reduce their paper and physical storage use and costs by “going to the cloud” with their data.
Lawyers have an extra hurdle to jump with the ethical obligations to their clients’ data. Not only must they ensure the security of their clients’ confidential information, in storage and transmission, they also have an ethical obligation to the ongoing control of the “client file.” The client has a vested right to the surrendering of the client’s documents, or a copy of them. (See Maintenance of client files and records: ISBA Opinion 17-02; Former client access to lawyer’s file: ISBA Opinion 01-01.)
Not Paperless, But Less Paper
Lawyers may use cloud-based data storage of confidential information while still protecting their client confidentiality responsibilities. Over 20 state bar associations have issued ethics opinions on this topic, and all have reached the conclusion that lawyers may ethically use cloud computing, so long as they exercise reasonable care to keep client information and files confidential. Some of those opinions may be found on the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center’s page (note that it is an incomplete list with Illinois and possibly others omitted).
READ MORE Chicago Daily Law Bulletin July 11, 2018