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Articles | 29.07.19

Law Firms and Cloud Storage: Keeping Your Data and Your Documents Safe

Cloud storage for documents is a commonly used tool, and for good reason. It cuts down on the continuing need to find a way to expand a law firm’s physical storage ability. It creates the ability for law firm employees to access documents from practically anywhere as long as they have access to the Internet. Many cloud storage providers even enable the sharing of documents with others outside of an organization. Really, what’s not to love?

Well, it turns out that if your law firm uses cloud storage, you must make sure that you’re using the right provider that can give you the data and document security required by your jurisdiction or as recommended by the ABA.

Aren’t All Cloud Storage Providers the Same?

DropBox, OneDrive, Google Drive, Nextcloud, iCloud, Amazon Cloud…there are so many cloud storage options out there. Aren’t they all the same? Well, the truth is…no. In fact, the ones I just named are all generalist cloud storage providers. They aren’t specifically designed to rigid data security standards often required in individual jurisdictions. Sure, you can get document storage, share documents, and access them from practically anywhere, but they might not provide you with the data security you need. It also may not have the features and tools you need.

If you use practice management software, check and see if they provide cloud storage. If they do, it might be easier for you to contact them and ask if they provide extra storage (if needed) and what the price would be.

Document Security Considerations

If you plan to use Google Drive, OneDrive, DropBox, or another general cloud provider, there are some security considerations.

Know your options for sharing documents. Generally, document sharing with these platforms can happen in two ways. You can either send out an email invitation to someone who can then access the document or you can create a link that you can share with whomever needs access. Here’s the problem: you’ll also need to remember to make the document view only for those you invite (unless it is someone who needs to add on to or edit a document). And the link situation? There are two important points:

  1. You’ll need to remember to set the link to read-only.
  2. You’ll need to remember that anyone with that link can access the document. If that doesn’t scare you, it should. It very well could impinge on your duty as a lawyer to maintain confidentiality of client information and work-product.

Can you actively track who changes something in a document? Going back to confidentiality and data security, it’s important that whatever cloud storage program you choose allows you to see how made changes and when those changes were made. Although it’s not quite the same as version management that you may find in dedicated document management systems (DMS), it can help you monitor your documents.

Multiple editors can work on a document at the same time. While collaboration is often a great feature, it may not be what you’re really looking to do. It’s not so bad if you only have two people with verifiable editing access for a document. However, if there are multiple editors, all of those changes may be made at once. That could make managing the integrity and content of the document more difficult.

What Features Should a Law Firm Look for in a Cloud Storage Provider?

Okay, so maybe you’re at least convinced that perhaps you should look at cloud storage providers that cater exclusively to the legal community. What features should you look for when you’re doing your research?

Start with security. Find out any jurisdictional requirements you need to meet as far as data security. Also, consider the type of law you practice. Someone who practices personal injury should look for cloud document storage that meets HIPAA standards. Bankruptcy, real estate, and other practice areas involving sensitive personal information such as bank account numbers and social security numbers should look for a cloud storage provider that has the same security standards that banks and investment firms use.

Consider its search function. If you don’t have a huge practice that generates a lot of documents, you may be alright with a general search function. However, if you can find a provider that gives you optical character recognition, that’s even better. Basic search involves tagging of documents, document names, and folder names. It may also include metadata, such as the name of the author. With optical character recognition (OCR), the documents are read by the system. You can search on any word or phrase you remember and the system will look at all of the basic search data plus the inside of the document. If you’ve ever used Evernote and ran a search, you’ve used OCR.

Does it integrate with your commonly used programs? Cloud storage is about data security and about convenience. Look for a provider that integrates with Microsoft Word and Outlook. It’s more preferable that it integrates with Microsoft Office. If you use Office 365, make sure that it integrates. DropBox integrates with a lot of various legal practice management solutions as does OneNote. Drafting or editing documents directly into the cloud drive is important. Otherwise, you have to download the document, make your changes, and upload it. How many rouge copies of a document do you think could be floating around a law firm because people meant to upload the new version and forgot? And don’t forget the fact that many times people will overwrite the existing copy. So, there’s no guarantee that all changes will be integrated (this is why version management is such an important feature).

Clouds Are Great Tools, But Security and the Right Features Are Essential

Clouds are great tools for law firms. However, it’s truly essential (in the name of meeting your ethical obligations as a lawyer) to make sure that you have the right security. And a cloud document storage provider could end up being more trouble than you thought if it doesn’t have the features you really need. So, make sure you do your research and choose accordingly!

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