International standards body helps virtual law firms comply with privacy.
An explosion in the take-up of cloud services has led the US’ national association for attorneys to mandate that its members had a duty to keep up with technology.
The American Bar Association passed a resolution in August which added an understanding of technology to its competency rule as part of a review called Ethics 20/20.
“Lawyers have to keep up now with technology as part of their duty to be competent as lawyers,” said Stephanie Kimbro, a technology consultant and attorney with Burton Law, a virtual law firm in North Carolina. “A lot of lawyers are a little bit freaked out about it, especially older practitioners.”
A drawn-out recession had boosted the number of solo practitioners and small firms beyond any other type of firm due to retrenchments from large firms and waves of law-school graduates entering the job market. Smaller firms were turning to cloud computing as the most cost effective way to set up a practice.
The burgeoning use of cloud applications was forcing state bars to review ethics rules that governed lawyers’ responsibility to protect client information. Each US state was creating different definitions of reasonable care for information in the cloud which was making it harder for multi-jurisdictional virtual law firms to comply.
“We increasingly have this issue where lawyers are in four or five states and have to comply with four or five ethics opinions and state rules,” said Kimbro.
A newly formed body called the International Legal Technical Standards Organisation (ILTSO) released its first guidelines for reasonable care in April last year and was working with state bars to provide regular updates for ethics compliance.
“The reason that ILTSO formed was to come up with a standardised set of guidelines for the use of technology in a law firm,” said Kimbro, who sits on ILTSO’s advisory board. “But it was also set up as a guide for the state bars that have not addressed the issue.”
ILTSO planned to audit and approve cloud applications to lessen the burden for lawyers wanting to stay compliant with ethics rules.
ILTSO’s guidelines recommended different levels of protection for cloud-based data based on criteria such as the size of the firm and the size of its clients. Sole practitioners or IT consultants for larger firms could use the recommendations to ensure their clients’ documents had sufficient protection.
Kimbro’s nine-attorney firm used several cloud applications including Google Apps, Box, Total Attorneys, Clio and Yammer.