Cloud Computing

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The Ethics and Security of
Cloud Computing

T

he shift from desktop- and server-based

to traditional, on-premises solutions. In a law firm

software to software as a service (SaaS)

context, the use of cloud computing raises ethics

or “cloud computing” is one of the most

issues around storing confidential client data on a

significant transitions in computing to

system the attorney may not own or otherwise control.

occur in the last 20 years. While the

The discourse on the ethics of cloud computing

benefits offered by cloud computing are numerous,

took a significant step forward in March 2010 with the

several outstanding questions remain regarding the

issuance of a proposed Formal Ethics Opinion (FEO)

relative security of cloud-based systems as compared

on cloud computing by the North Carolina State Bar.

16

Infrastructure Technologies

ILTA White Paper

This was the first FEO in North America to explicitly

for firms of all sizes. Cloud-based services

deal with the use of SaaS/cloud computing in a law

typically eliminate large up-front licensing

firm. While the proposed FEO ultimately endorses

and server costs, offer drastically reduced

the use of cloud computing technology in a law firm

consulting and installation fees, and do away

provided that “reasonable care is taken effectively to

with the “upgrade treadmill ” usually associated

minimize the risks to the confidentiality and to the

with traditional desktop- and server-based

security of client information and client files,” the onus

software. Cloud-based services also offer

of evaluating a cloud provider’s security infrastructure

“anywhere accessibility,” a h igh level of ease-

is placed on the law firm.

of-use, and compatibility with both Windows
and Mac OS X.

Cloud CompuTIng
Cloud computing is computing delivered as a service

EThICS of Cloud CompuTIng

over the Internet, with less need for software on your

In the context of a law firm, cloud computing

desktop computer. Increasingly, it will matter less

raises concerns associated with entrusting a third

and less which computer you use to do your work:

party with confidential client data. Alice Neece

your documents, e-mail messages, pictures, and all

Mine, Executive Assistant Director of the North

other types of information, will be stored and securely

Carolina State Bar, outlines the primary concerns

accessed online. The shift to cloud-based services

in the proposed FEO (2010 FEO 7):

typically offers increased security and dramatically
reduced overhead and IT costs as compared to on-

SaaS for law firms may involve the

premises servers and software.

storage of a law firm’s data, including

While much of the concept of practicing in the

client files, billing information, and work

cloud may seem novel, most Web-savvy computer

product, on remote servers rather than

users have been using cloud-based technologies

on the law firm’s own computer and,

for a number of years via longstanding services such

therefore, outside the direct control

as Hotmail, Gmail, or Yahoo Mail, among others.

of the firm’s lawyers. Given the duty to

These technologies were among the first to pioneer

safeguard confidential client information,

the idea of centralized services delivered efficiently

including protecting that information

over the Web, and they have succeeded in laying the

from unauthorized disclosure, the duty to

groundwork for a software revolution that is gradually

protect client property from destruction,

leading most applications to evolve toward a Web-

degradation or loss (whether from system

based mode of delivery.

failure, natural disaster, or dissolution of

BEnEfITS of Cloud CompuTIng

a vendor’s business), and the continuing
need to retrieve client data in a form that

The benefits of moving...
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