Wednesday, October 30, 2013

California's opinion on cloud-computing by attorneys

Given its position as one of the prime information technology centers of the country, it is unsurprising that the State Bar of California has weighed in on the ethical use of cloud computing systems by attorneys.

California addressed the issue in the context of a larger opinion of electronic devices and communications; in Formal Opinion No. 2010-179, the Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct set forth a list of factors to consider before using any technology:

  • The  attorney’s  ability  to  assess  the  level  of  security  afforded  by  the  technology, specifically: (i) Consideration of how the particular technology differs from other media use; (ii) Whether reasonable precautions may be taken when using the technology to increase the level of security; (iii) Limitations of who is permitted to monitor the use of the technology, to what extent and on what grounds.
  • The legal ramifications to third parties of intercepting, accessing or exceeding authorized use of another person’s electronic information;
  • The degree of sensitivity of the information;
  • Possible impact on the client of an inadvertent disclosure of privileged or confidential information or work product
  • The urgency of the situation
  • Client instructions and circumstances
None of these criteria stand out as being unusual or otherwise not in accordance with what has come to be seen as the general consensus on cloud computing.  Put simply, an attorney has to act reasonably.  If they don't understand the technology, they have to educate themselves, and they have to know the data is secure and safe.

With individualized one-on-one training (done by a human, not videos over the internet) and U.S. based servers, attorneys can feel confident trusting their data with Online Legal Software.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Technology is a key part of a new solo's tool-kit

Jim Calloway recently wrote an article in the Oklahoma Law Journal discussing the "Seven Deadly Sins" facing new attorneys who go out on their own.

Unsurprisingly, one of his points is a failure to focus on technology.

Young attorneys often have an inane advantage over their more experienced, but often less technological savvy brethren; having grown up with technology, they tend to be more familiar with its use and comfortable with how it can improve one's life.

Legal practice is no different.  Legal software, particularly, billing and time-keeping software, can streamline the admittedly burdensome practice (and, despite advances in alternative billing arrangements, a still necessary one) of keeping track of time on a minute-by-minute basis.

Online Legal Software allows attorneys to create billing entries from contemporaneous time records.  These contemporaneous records themselves ensure time is properly recorded, properly accounted, and properly billed; painlessly and accurately.

Starting smart is the key to starting right.  We can help you start smart.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Do you need an office?

Modern technology can render what used to be necessary obsolete.

A great example of this is the physical office.  A couple of decades ago, it was almost inconceivable that a practicing attorney wouldn't have an office.  Now, however, mobile technology and a rise in virtual legal office solutions have rendered the office almost superfluous.

This is especially true for newly-minted solos.  After all, keeping overhead low is one of the critical steps in any start-up business and with modern technology, including cloud-based practice management software like Online Legal Software, you can practice from anywhere with a laptop and scanner.

That said, it’s not the right choice for everyone.  Some people can’t effectively work from home; and certainly, not all prospective clients would want to meet in a coffee shop or library.  It depends too on your location – rent for a simple office might be inexpensive enough in your region to mitigate the cost – whilst in a big city, the opposite is true.

What do you think?  Does modern technology alleviate the need for a traditional office?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Nevada opinion on cloud computing by attorneys

In a brief synopsis of the evolution of electronic media and resources by various bar association (and the growing acceptance of the same), the State Bar of Nevada held in formal opinion no. 33, that the attorney’s responsibility was to exercise reasonable care in the selection of the third-party contractor and that this responsibility would be met if the attorney has a reasonable expectation the provider will keep their data confidential and instructs and requires the contractor to keep the information confidential and inaccessible. 

With over twenty years of providing legal software and services to attorneys, Nevada attorneys can trust we are no neophytes in the field.  Online Legal Software provides bank-level encryption to ensure your data remains secure, in US-based servers and our promise of confidentiality is right there in our agreement. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Arizona and the cloud

The State Bar of Arizona Ethics Committee has addressed the issues raised in cloud-based solutions in a series of Ethics Opinions.  

Specifically, Arizona has addressed the issue of online storage.  Of course, issues of online storage go beyond just practice management software - virtually every e-mail program stores at least some of your data on-line and the growing trend is for more and more of the programs you may use everyday (such as word processing and accounting software) to store data online.

Frankly, if the computer sitting on your desk is connected to the Internet (and now-a-days, few are not), it is accessible over the Internet.

Given this reality, it is not surprising that when Arizona gave consideration to the issue of electronic storage in Ethics Opinion 05-04, the Ethics Committee held that electronic storage of client files is permissible, as long as the attorney takes competent and reasonable steps to safeguard client confidences.  

This opinion was clarified and expanded by the Arizona Ethics Committee in Ethics Opinion 09-04, which held that having online access documents was fine – again, so long as reasonable steps were taken to safeguard client data – SSL encryption and passwords were considered reasonable steps.  

Online Legal Software uses bank-level encryption  while every user has password-protected access to the system.  Your data is safe with us.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Attorneys shouldn't ignore Twitter

Most attorneys don't like to market.  That's understandable, given that they went to school to practice law, not to be salespeople and marketers.

What many attorneys don't realize (until it is often too late) is that to succeed in law (at any size firm), you need your own book of business which requires sales and marketing.

Twitter, the micro-blog site, is one potential source of free and easy marketing exposure.  Many attorneys, to the extent they are on twitter at all, use it to cross-post their blog or other limited marketing ideas.  But if this is the only thing you are doing with it, you're missing out.

Especially if you are in a smaller community (or neighborhood-based), there is significant value in becoming a trusted source for local information - seek out local reporters, organizations, etc.  Follow them, re-tweet them, and you will almost always be rewarded in kind; moreover, you may find yourself receiving calls for comments and opinions and otherwise gaining free publicity.  And calls from potential clients.

We try to practice what we've said above.  You can follow Online Legal Software on twitter @OLSoftwareNYC.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Law blogs better than law review?

Back in law school, nothing was more prestigious than making law review.  Of course, once the student actually became an attorney, they realized that outside academia, few practicing attorneys could care less about the content of those law reviews, given how little relevance they have to the average practice.

In recent comments to the Wall Street Journal, no less than Justice Kennedy agreed with the common perception of law review, suggesting instead something that is of more importence to him and his clerks: the law blog.

The benefits to a lawyer blogging are well-known including, but of course not limited to: exposure to potential clients, establishment of an area, or areas, of expertise, and the ability to develop networks (including referrals).

Now, maybe that'll include a Supreme Court citation.

So if you're not blogging; ask yourself why?  For many attorneys, the answer is a variation of being "too busy," which often (but not exclusively, of course) is simply a euphemism for being unorganized.  Tools such as legal software can help an attorney in this regard, allowing them to better manage and organized their files and move beyond simply handling the crisis du jour to creating the groundwork for later success.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What is the cloud?

As lawyers, we have a tendency to use jargon unknowingly - that is, it is so commonplace to us that we tend to incorporate into our general speech without even pausing to consider if what we're saying even makes sense for the intended audience.

We realized that we might be doing the same thing with the buzz word du jour - "cloud"

So what the heck is the cloud?

Well, put simply, the "cloud" means something that, instead of being physically located on the computer you are using, the data, application, etc. is located somewhere else: that somewhere is usually a server farm, that is hundreds, if not thousands, of powerful computers that form the backbone of much of the Internet as we know it.

Legal software in the cloud is a relatively new phenomenon, however the cloud itself is not as radical new thing as some attorneys think.  Most people, even attorneys, are using the cloud, even if they don't realize it.  Do you have a Gmail account? Yahoo?  AOL?  All in the cloud.

The ubiquity of the cloud is one of the reasons why no state ethical committee has had a problem with the use of cloud computing to store client information.  Obviously, like anything else, this isn't a carte blanche, it's tempered by reasonableness - just like most things an attorney does.

Using the cloud can help your practice in many ways.  It un-tethers you from physical location, keeps you better organized, and helps you be more productive and make more money.  Our system, especially, keeps your data safe and secure in multiple U.S.-based servers.  Best of all, you can try it for free.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Technology and ethical opinions

Megan Zavieh had an interesting article on Lawyerist recently, making the point that State ethical boards shouldn't try to regulate specific technology use by attorneys directly, but instead posit general guidelines.

The thesis is a good one.  Her argument is rooted in the simple concept that the law is, by definition, a slow-moving process, whilst technology is the exact opposite.  As a practical matter, what this generally means is that often the specific technology being discussed may well be moot by the time a Court gets around to reviewing it.  Broad precepts, on the other hand, tend to better stand the test of time.

Within the field of legal software, specifically in regards to the issue of cloud computing, Ms. Zavieh's thesis seems to be in effect, with ethical opinions focusing on the idea of "reasonableness" without delving deeply into the morass of the technical nitty-gritty.  Although assuredly, some attorneys might prefer a touch more guidance (although the overall picture is clear), a series of quickly obsolete opinions would potentially do less to provide the same than broad ones.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Pennsylvania Opinion on use of cloud computing

The Pennsylvania Bar Association Committee on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility, in Formal Opinion 2011-200, came to a similar conclusion as did the other states that have considered the issue, holding that Pennsylvania attorneys may use the cloud, as long as (1) all such materials remain confidential, and (2) reasonable safeguards are employed to ensure that the data is protected from breaches, data loss and other risks.

Online Legal Software understands the responsibilities inherent in providing solutions to law firms; with over twenty years’ experience in the legal software field and commitments to data security and confidentiality – including bank-level encryption and password-protected access.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Careful tooting your own horn

Making the rounds recently in the blogosphere is renewed discussion on the issue of attorneys using testimonials, customer reviews, and anecdotal evidence as part of a marketing campaign.

No doubt, positive reviews can be a powerful tactic to gain clients.  While decades ago, an attorney might have coveted an "AV" designation from Martindale-Hubbell, most attorneys today would likely see more benefit from a high AVVO rating or positive Yelp reviews.

This has, unsurprisingly, led to attempts to game the system.  Attorneys would write positive reviews for themselves or engage in review-swapping with other attorneys or professionals.

Now the review sites are fighting back.  Yelp recently sued an attorney for posting fake reviews, while in New York, the Attorney General has been waging a campaign against fake reviews as well.  Needless to say, the practice would also be dubious under any reasonable interpretation of most state's ethical codes.

The best way to get (real) positive customer reviews is the simplest: ask for them.  Most happy clients would certainly be willing to write a quick review: using practice management software can systematize the process so the request can go out timely and receive the proper follow-up as well.