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Why Lawyers Should NEVER Use Consumer-Grade Apps

I recently saw a discussion online regarding a lawyer, and his assistant’s, use of cloud storage.

I am wanting to start using Gdrive so that I can review and edit my clerk’s letters/ proposed motions before they are filed. My office already uses Gmail and the Google Calendar. Does Gdrive allow Word (.doc and .docx) to be edited in the cloud or do they need to be downloaded, edited and then uploaded?

Also, if I have one email address, such as XXX@gmail.com and that is where my Gdrive is located, can my secretary access that and edit documents with her email address of clerk.XXX@gmail.com?

I asked the lawyer if he is using the paid version of Google cloud services (G Suite), or the consumer facing, free services. The lawyer replied that they were using the free services. Uh oh.

There are two problems with doing this.

why-lawyers-should-never-use-consumer-grade-apps

Attorney/Client Privilege and Confidentiality

Google uses algorithms to scan your emails in order to determine what ads to display when you’re using their free email service. You use a free service, they get to show you ads (meaning no humans actually review the emails). By using the free email service you’re allowing a third party access to emails between you, your clients, and staff. This could potentially be interpreted as breaking attorney/client privilege.

Confidentiality is one issue, though it is unlikely to ever come about. No one is really concerned that Google is algorithmically scanning your email to display ads. It’s one of those things everyone knows is going on but pretty much ignores.

The big concern/red flag is in regards to master control. Consider the following example.

Administrative Control Over All Law Firm Documents

Jane, your assistant, is proficient at drafting documents. She creates the basic version of much of your work product. Then you go in and edit/revise before shipping it out the door. This goes along for years.

But then you and Jane have a falling out – a bad one. She caught you sleeping with her husband. In spite, Jane then revokes your shared access to all the documents she has created over the past few years. You raise hell! Those are your documents! Your client files!

Wrong.

By using the consumer facing Google products, each individual user account is protected by Google’s Terms & Conditions. Each individual account is a contract between Google and the user, not you. That means you have zero rights to access documents Jane created if she revokes your access.

This is not speculation, this is per a discussion I had with Google’s Legal Compliance Department a few years ago.

That’s why it’s imperative that you use G Suite, not free, consumer accounts. A lawyer needs a Master/Admin account, and then assign User-level accounts that the Admin accounts control. You can then assign these to staff. That way if something goes wrong, you still retain control of all User-level email, docs, calendars, etc. that the User-level accounts created because they are under your Master/Admin account.

It’s the only way to ethically and competently use any cloud-based application system. An attorney needs to maintain Maser/Admin control over all users. Otherwise it’s possible for employees to retain control over client documents.

Also consider that half the states have adopted rules regarding technical competence. I think that it’s an easy argument to make that a law firm using multiple consumer facing, cloud-based systems, without master/admin control in the hands of a law firm partner, is likely in violation of ethical rules.

Pony up the cash for Business level services, whatever service you might be using. G Suite is $5 a month per user. For one lawyer + one assistant, that’s the cost of lunch each month. Just do it.

Speaking of things you can control, how about that Amazon account you have?

2 comments

  1. Not just attorneys who want to use these things – I’ve had clients who want to share docs on google etc. I always decline or ask to download everything separately.

    I actually once had a bad client who elaborately tried to claim I didn’t do work by revoking my access to google files and hoping I didn’t have any work product to show… I hadn’t ever imagined that scenario prior to it occurring.

    • This is a really good point as well.

      You can’t let clients retain master control of documents either. That’s a crazy thing to have happened and highlights why lawyers need to make sure they retain control of cloud-based documents they work on.

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