Skies clearing over stormy comments on B.C. cloud computing

The president of the Law Society of British Columbia has clarified comments she made at a conference last week about the use of cloud computing after they caused a bit of tempest in the province over whether the law society has “killed” cloud computing for lawyers.

If you are using the cloud, view providers outside the province with care, LSBC president clarifies. Jan Lindsay published a clarification on the law society’s website after Jack Newton, the president of Clio, a cloud-based practice management software provider, quoted her in a Slaw piece saying lawyers in the province aren’t allowed to use non-B.C.-based cloud computing services.

“I don’t believe I said that non-BC cloud computing services were not permitted, but if I did I was wrong,” Lindsay wrote. “However, in light of the law society rule changes, I want to point out that out-of-jurisdiction storage providers should be viewed with care.”

The kerfuffle spread on social media after Newton wrote an article titled “Did the LSBC just kill cloud computing for lawyers in BC?”

In it, Newton said he had just given a presentation at the Canadian Bar Association- B.C. branch conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., when a member of the audience asked if lawyers in the province were allowed to use Dropbox to store documents. Newton said he replied there aren’t any fast rules on which tools were permissible but that lawyers are required to do due diligence to ensure the safety of the services they’re using.

That’s when another person in the audience raised their hand and said, “I am Jan Lindsay, president of the law society of B.C. This is black and white: B.C. lawyers are prohibited from using non-B.C.-based cloud computing providers, including Google and Dropbox,” Newton wrote.

Her comments left him dumbfounded, Newton also wrote.

“Ms. Lindsay’s statement took me by complete surprise, and left me feeling both embarrassed and disappointed that I’d wasted an hour of my audience’s time,” he said.

Steve Matthews, president of Vancouver-based law firm web strategy company Stem Legal, says the whole thing appears to be a huge mix-up.

“It was basically a big misunderstanding as far as I can see from the outside,” he says, adding it would be impractical to tell lawyers they could not use non-B.C.-based cloud computing tools.

The vast majority of cloud computing providers are based in the U.S. and even if they’re not, “they’re certainly going to have connectivity with American databases or American tools because a lot of services get outsourced through Amazon Web Services, or services like that,” he says.

“A lot of things run through the U.S. whether we like it or not,” Matthews adds.

The B.C. law society’s cloud computing working group did publish a report in 2012 about cloud computing that urged lawyers to be careful about the services they’re using. On Oct. 31, benchers approved the rule changes in that report.

“While it is perfectly acceptable for a teenager to uncritically embrace ‘the cloud’ to create a virtual shrine to Justin Bieber, the same does not hold true for a lawyer dealing with confidential and privileged information,” says the report.

But instead of telling lawyers which services they should avoid, the report urges them to understand the risks associated with cloud computing and to look carefully at the security of the tools they’re using.

“In addition, the working group is of the view that the proper role of the law society is to regulate lawyers, not attempt to regulate technology. What this means is that lawyers should be allowed to use emerging technologies, provided the lawyer is able to comply with his or her professional responsibilities while using the technology,” the report says.

“Cloud computing is no different. It is for this reason that the working group did not attempt to set up regulatory models that are contingent on the type of cloud service that is being used.”

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