The ethical implications of cloud computing was the highlight of a Friday panel at the State Bar convention that peered into the future of legal practice.
Fenwick & West's chief technology officer, Matthew Kesner, suggested that while law firms may some day store client data “in the cloud” -- on the Internet, rather than on local servers -- the cost savings as yet do not outweigh the ethical and practical risks.
“Don't be surprised if you have days of down time -– you will. Your providers will go down,” Kesner said. That's a problem, obviously, when facing a filing deadline.
Another challenge is that cloud vendors store data in servers all over the country or even the world. Fenwick asked one would-be vendor where its data would reside. “They wouldn't tell us,” he said. But if that vendor lost client data, the firm's liability and duty of notification would vary with every jurisdiction.
So “have we put any client data up there? No, not yet,” Kesner said. But it's probably inevitable, he added, noting that sensitive data in other industries, such as patient health records, are now commonly stored online. “We all have data in the cloud,” he said.
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe partner Robert Rosenfeld said he expects the legal industry to get there. While loss of data would be unfortunate, it wouldn't be unprecedented, he said, recalling an incident many years ago when a shipper misplaced a Beacon box of paper documents being sent across the country.
The challenge is that with cloud computing, one mistake could implicate much more data. But, Rosenfeld said, “it's gonna get worked out. The industry is young.”