Legal Software, Installed or Online

Installed Legal Software or Online Legal Software, that is the question.

Thirty years ago, legal software was installed on computers or servers at the law firm’s office. If a lawyer wanted to get a bill out on the weekend, the legal billing software was at the law office and that is where the lawyer had to go to access the law firm’s legal software.

Within the last thirty years the practice of law has undergone change, as has virtually every other facet of life, because of the Internet. We are now constantly connected. Instead of being tethered to our law office, wherever we go, we are connected online to our law office through legal software.

Instead of buying a legal software license for a particular computer at your law office, now the lawyer can purchase a license to use legal software on any device by purchasing online-accessible legal software.

The online legal software is delivered from a centralized computing platform which hosts the law firm’s data in a secured environment, allowing a lawyer to access the data and documents from anywhere.

As with any other aspect of change brought on by the Internet, there are advantages, disadvantages and red herrings which vary, depending on how the technology is employed. Some of these factors have rather unique applications in the law firm setting. Some of the implications of employing legal software online are as follows.

Nature of Your Law Practice

Below are several scenarios to help clarify the benefits to your practice.

• If you are a solo criminal defense lawyer, are paid up front, do not need to keep track of time, and do not need to collaborate with others, having online access to legal software adds less value.

• If you practice with others, need to keep track of time, need to be constantly in touch with and collaborate with others, having online access to legal software adds more value.

• If you have a family and want to get back some of your family life after being tied to your law office, online accessible legal software is priceless.

Red Herrings

The issue of security may arise in a discussion about online legal software, as opposed to installed legal software. The law firm that brings up the subject often does online banking, sends clients emails, and may or may not do daily backups of their data and documents. The question of security is properly an issue of what safeguards are put in place to protect information, rather than whether or not the server is in your law office.

Online Legal Software has a secure solution. Your data is encrypted to bank level 256-bit security, and is transmitted to our servers in the United States. Back up is instantaneous – and continuous to other servers at a geographically remote location in the United States. It is a private cloud that never leaves the United States. The information is available in the United States, subject to US legal process.

The Real Issue

Your legal software provider essentially controls your law firm’s informational back office. Whether the data is kept on a law firm’s installed legal software platform – or in an online legal software setting does not determine security. Practices such as backing up the data remotely and, if stored remotely, encrypting the data determine its security.

The obligation of a US lawyer, variously stated, is to act reasonably and take reasonable steps to ensure that your law firm and its client’s data are secure. One of the reasonable steps that the law firm must take is make inquiry of how and where the data is transmitted and stored, and the reasonable implications of that.

Online Legal Software options

There are essentially three significant providers of an online legal software solution; Clio, Rocket matter, and Online Legal Software. How do the three stack up on the security issues of encryption of data and storage of data?

Both Clio and Online Legal Software encrypt data using 256 bit security. Rocket matter uses a lower level of security, 128 bit encryption.

Both Rocket matter and Online Legal Software store the law firm’s data in the United States subject to US law. Clio stores your law firm’s data in Canada not subject to US law. In fact, the Clio user agreement provides that any disputes are subject to the law and courts of British Columbia.

Should there be any dispute or a need to obtain a forensically appropriate copy of data, introducing the issue of hosting the data outside the US and not subject to US law might not be helpful. For a Canadian law firm to use a Canadian solution, such as Clio, where data is kept in Canada and the terms of use are subject to Canadian law, would be a reasonable solution.

For a US lawyer, Online Legal Software is the reasonable, secure solution.