Is Google Docs Practical in a Law Practice?

The cloud: every tech company, consultant, and writer seems to think we will be doing most of our work through a web browser—or apps—in the fairly near future. I am totally on board with moving my law practice to the cloud, and I am eager to see if it is possible now.


We already have a lot of our law practice in the cloud. We use Google Apps for e-mail and calendar, Clio for managing litigation files, Basecamp for managing business files, Freshbooks for timekeeping and billing, and an assortment of other cloud-based tools. We could easily switch to QuickBooks Online for bookkeeping and accounting, too.

All our cloud software is awesome. In fact, in every case, it is better than the local software that it competes with. But the biggest piece of my law practice remains local: the client file.

Moving client files to the cloud

We do use Dropbox, but while that uses the cloud to sync, it still means we have to edit the files locally.

Since a cloud-based law practice will never be practical until we can create and manage documents—both drafts and PDFs—online, this thought exercise is mainly focused on whether it is possible—or practical—to move the client file to the cloud. Moving client files to the cloud means never having to download them, since handling files locally is impossible or impractical with an iPad, Android phone, or Chrome OS computer.

Nope, it has to work through a web browser or app, or it doesn’t work. In fact, it also has to work on a smartphone or tablet. That requirement seriously limits the options at present.

Limited options for cloud-based client file management

The promise of the cloud is that you can use it anytime, anywhere, on anything. In fact, that is not quite true. Try using Microsoft Office Live on your smartphone, and you will see what I mean (hint: you can’t do anything useful). Or Acrobat.com (requires Flash).

In reality, there is only one possible option for moving your documents to the cloud, and that is Google Docs. It is the only option I know of that lets you create, edit, and manage documents in the cloud. Most importantly, you can upload PDFs and other image files (no audio or video, though).

Google Docs does have a crippling limitation, but there is a cure. Accounts come with only 1 GB of storage per user. But they can be upgraded quite cheaply; you get 20GB for just $5/year.

Moving client files to the cloud, hypothetically speaking

With a storage upgrade, would Google Docs work? Yes. Absolutely.

Google Docs isn’t the best editing environment. You can’t work with document styles, font choices are limited, formatting options are practically nonexistent, and working with footnotes is just, well, strange. Working with Google Docs, you get the feeling it is at the bottom of Google’s priority list.

That said, it does get the job done. We actually used Google Docs for a volunteer law clinic that I built a few years back. We drafted answers, discovery requests, responses to discovery requests, affidavits, and more. It worked just fine. Actually, the pleadings we generated looked better than most of the legal documents that I see, so Google Docs is (or was, at least—this was before the most-recent Google Docs update, which actually removed some of the features we used to create good-looking legal documents at the time) perfectly usable for legal work.

More recently, I decided to move a client file to Google Docs as an experiment. Uploading the PDFs and OpenOffice.org drafts to Google Docs was easy; the new uploader works like a charm. Conversions from ODT to the native Google Docs format wasn’t perfect, but it was presentable, and I could fairly quickly reformat the drafts to suit me.

Most importantly, I could view and edit those documents easily from my phone, which speaks well of my ability to work with them from my shiny new iPad 2 when it arrives in a week or so.

Untypical tradeoffs

All in all, trying to move client files to Google Docs has been an atypical cloud experience. In general, I prefer cloud software to local software. With Google Docs, the opposite is true. Although it has its advantages—I’ve loved working on a documents with a client in real time—it is, in general, an inferior product. And that has to change before moving a law practice to the cloud becomes a better option for most firms.

In the meantime, I like it enough that I am going to try to keep a couple of active client files exclusively in Google Docs, and see how it goes.

  • http://www.lawfirmsolutions.com Andrea Cannavina

    You are contradicting yourself:

    “You can’t work with document styles, font choices are limited, formatting options are practically nonexistent, and working with footnotes is just, well, strange. Working with Google Docs, you get the feeling it is at the bottom of Google’s priority list.”

    but then you say:

    “That said, it does get the job done. We actually used Google Docs for a volunteer law clinic that I built a few years back.”

    but go on to state:

    “this was before the most-recent Google Docs update, which actually removed some of the features we used to create good-looking legal documents”

    So, no – you CANNOT use Google docs for a law firm. At least not and think you’ll have decent looking legal documents. Let’s not discuss access to all your client’s documents if you should not have a connection to the internet.

    Finally, and most importantly, what are the TOS for Google Docs when it comes to an attorney’s duty to protect and maintain the confidentiality of their client’s information? Is Google Docs indexing every word? Do you know?

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      Very well, I recognize the contradictions, notwithstanding which, you can use Google Docs for a law firm. Obviously. The pertinent question is whether you ought to.

      I can create great-looking legal documents in Google Docs. I can create slightly better-looking legal documents in OpenOffice.org or Word with slightly less effort, but also slightly less convenience. Offline access is a concern, but a diminishing one, since Google is re-developing all its apps for offline access.

      As to the security of Google Docs and attorney-client relationship, that is a red herring we have addressed at length.

      • Jeffrey Lin

        Just as an add(and probably technology plug). But if you are using Office 2010, you can sync the documents up to Office Live, which lets you edit the documents with a Word interface. It also keeps all the formatting.

        • Jay

          I’ll echo that Office Live works very well, if you open the document on your drive using your native version of Office. The online version of office is a bit sluggish. The downside is you must have a copy of Office on any PC you use.

  • http://www.lawfirmsolutions.com Andrea Cannavina

    You can use Google docs but seriously you ought not to.

    It is people like you who run with these concepts and I have to deal with the realities on the other side when I get contacted by people who say “but the Laywerist” said I could and its free.

    For instance, do you know whether all documents loaded to Google Docs remain on servers on US soil?

    Also, not sure what you are referring to when you state you addressed the issue of privacy/confidentiality re: Google as you point to one short blog post from 2009 which references all cloud computing and which does not appear to have any legal analysis whatsoever.

  • http://www.lawfirmsolutions.com Andrea Cannavina

    and now after reading that entire post, which I also commented on, I came across this:

    “I guess I’m curious as to why you decided to use Google Docs for file storage. I haven’t found it to be particularly well-suited to that, and Google Docs aren’t really very good for creating and editing documents.”

    and

    “Google Docs has a few problems that make it inappropriate for writing anything you plan to submit to a court.”

    You said both.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      It’s obvious you have extremely strong feelings about which word processing software you think people should use. I think people should try the options and go with the one that works best for them.

      It’s just as obvious that I change my mind over time, and that Google improves its products over time. I was specifically referring to the lack of smart quotes in that comment, which Google has now remedied. The same goes for its treatment of bulleted and numbered lists.

      Also, I think you missed the other article I linked to.

  • Mervyn Valadares

    My IP firm is on Dropbox and we use Google Apps Pro. On the road, I have a blackberry, and 2-way sync my calendar and contacts automatically with Google Sync. The dropbox app for BB is great too. It’s convenient to send the shared link of a file to a client while I’m out of the office. Periodically, we use Box.net, which is great too. Anyone have any experience with the desktop app at cloudhero.com which says it syncs Google Docs with Dropbox? This sounds like it may be a good fit for our systems. Sam, the aftermath from your “Small Firm” issue is a good example of when not to use an IP lawyer.

  • AMK

    I am also considering this solution, and I likewise find the limitations of the online editing software crippling. I do, however, like the almost DM-like file organization used by Google Docs — instead of putting files in individual folders, I can instead “tag” them, and each file can have multiple “tags” — for example: “Joe Smith”, “Bob v. Joe Lawsuit”, “Pleading”, and “Precedent.” This “metadata”, I feel, is vastly superior in organizing documents to a traditional folder structure.

    But on the subject of the limitations of the editing software, didn’t Google recently release Google Cloud Sync for Microsoft Office, which essentially lets you use MS Office for opening and editing the documents? Does anyone have experience and thoughts on using that solution?

    On that note, is anyone aware of a similar plugin for Adobe Acrobat? It would be very useful to be able to scan/OCR documents, tag them, and save them directly to Google Docs.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      Cloud Connect for Google Docs is an awesome concept that’s a little too undeveloped to be really useful. It’s nice for backup, but it still has to convert between MS Office and Google Docs formats if you want to be able to edit them online. Which results in formatting inconsistencies. If you would rather use MS Office, Dropbox is a better backup/sync option. If you would rather use Google Docs, just do that.

      If you like Cloud Connect, and you are okay with not editing documents on your phone or tablet, give Office Live a try, instead. The web interface is truly a pleasure to use, and it matches up formatting perfectly with your local copies of MS Office, etc.

  • Chris

    Can you manage trust accounting with Freshbooks?

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      Not really. I mean, you could probably come up with a way to do it, but Freshbooks is timekeeping and billing software. It is not meant for bookkeeping and accounting, and anything you might come up with probably wouldn’t satisfy the ethical rules.

  • http://whichdraft.com/ Jason Mark Anderman

    For me, there is one major problem with using Google Docs for transactional work, and that’s the lack of automatic outline numbering. You can really only do one level of numbering, so more elaborate schemes (e.g., Section 1, 1.1, 1.1.1) are not an option. If this functionality were added, the ability to do version tracking and collaboration online would be terrific for speeding up a law practice focused on contracts. This would offer lawyers the ability to move away from the cumbersome process of juggling multiple email attachments and make life a great deal easier. Hopefully, one would also be able to skip the challenge of dealing with multiple file formats (many, many clients don’t have the latest version of Office, so you often have to save files in the older format so the clients can read them, this can also be a challenge when dealing with adversaries). I think most legal technology companies that include word processing functionality would want to build their systems on a universally compatible cloud based word processor as well that could handle most legal needs.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      I agree that this is a frustration. The limitations on numbering and paragraph styles are a real frustration. In the old version of Google Docs, you could fix this with some basic CSS knowledge, but that is no longer an option.

  • Anerio V. Altman, Esq.

    It is a matter of time before Google Docs gets to an acceptable point for me.

    We have to use 28 line pleading paper and if you can do it in Google Docs, I have no idea how. That limits what I can do.

    Still…I’m waiting.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      I am glad I don’t have to use numbered lines. I have no idea why courts think that’s a good idea. It doesn’t really even help that much for citation.

      But yeah, it’s a no-go in Google Docs—for now.

  • http://lawpracticestrategy.com/ Donna Seyle

    I totally agree with Andrea. Lawyers should NEVER use Google docs for legal documents, ever. Even if you have Google’s paid premier service (and most just use the free version) which has increased security provisions, Google’s servers are located world-wide, and you will never know where your data is stored. They will never tell you where they are, mostly because pieces of them are everywhere, and can be moved without any agreement that you will be notified of cross-border transfers.

    Since you have no leverage with Google, there is no opportunity to negotiate the terms of service (also as Andrea points out) to insure you are meeting your due diligence obligations with respect to insuring that your vendor’s system takes the necessary steps to preserve the privacy of your client’s data, as well as confidentiality and A/C privilege. Opinions issued by various state bars require lawyers to take “reasonable” precautions in insuring that these duties are preserved when putting data in the cloud.

    As a prominent law practice site on which lawyers rely for advice in this confusing world of legal tech, I am dismayed that the Lawyerist would advocate using Google docs. And I’m glad, Sam, that I’m not one of your guinea pigs.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/aaronstreet/ Aaron Street

      As a prominent law practice site on which lawyers rely for advice in this confusing world of legal tech, I am dismayed that the Lawyerist would advocate using Google docs. And I’m glad, Sam, that I’m not one of your guinea pigs.

      Strange reading of Sam’s post, Donna.

      He never once advocates that firms should use Google Docs. He only describes why he is doing a small-scale experiment with it himself. Sam is Sam’s only guinea pig; as the guy with an office next to his, I can guarantee you that.

  • http://lawpracticestrategy.com/ Donna Seyle

    OK, so what am I missing here? He says:

    “Moving client files to the cloud, hypothetically speaking
    With a storage upgrade, would Google Docs work? Yes. Absolutely.”

    Is that not advocacy?

    He goes on to say:

    “In the meantime, I like it enough that I am going to try to keep a couple of active client files exclusively in Google Docs, and see how it goes.”

    How is he his own guinea pig in this? He does use the term “active client files”.

    • Thomas

      “Donna Seyle”, tell me please, how much is Steve Ballmer (Microsoft) paying you to write such a MS Propaganda…

    • Thomas

      Ok ok, Dona, maybe I am wrong with my assumtion regarding You, but it is said that Microsoft is really hiring people (usually lawers) to advocate for them and “fight” Google. Remember Google Apps has the potential to destroy Microfts profits…

  • http://nicoleblackesq.com Nicole Black

    There are certain client documents, ie. legal memos, that are publicly filed with the court and, as such, are not confidential. The same can be said of outlines or summaries of legal research, etc. Arguably, storing and working on these types of non-confidential documents in Google Docs thus does not present a problem in terms of preserving attorney-client privilege.

    Of course, if you are talking about uploading confidential client data into the cloud using a cloud service, whether it’s Google Docs or another platform, you need to exercise due diligence and carefully research the cloud provider before doing so. I discuss this, and many other issues, in depth in my upcoming ABA book about cloud computing for lawyers that will be published in May of 2011.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      A few months ago, a post titled Lawyers Should Not Be Wary of SaaS and Cloud Computing, you said “common sense prevails. Lawyers must resist the urge to overreact to emerging technologies.” I agree.

      You also—accurately—dismissed confidentiality concerns with a cite to a NY Bar Ass’n opinion:

      Unless the lawyer learns information suggesting that the provider is materially departing from conventional privacy policies or is using the information it obtains by computer-scanning of e-mails for a purpose that, unlike computer-generated advertising, puts confidentiality at risk, the use of such e-mail services comports with DR 4-101…A lawyer may use an e-mail service provider that conducts computer scans of e-mails to generate computer advertising, where the e-mails are not reviewed by or provided to other individuals.

  • http://lawpracticestrategy.com/ Donna Seyle

    The documents are not confidential once they reach the public domain (i.e., filed with the court). But here, we’re discussing using Google docs as a platform to interact with your client in drafting the document. There will be comments and edits which are confidential. There is metadata that needs to be cleaned. All sorts of extra information that is not contained in the filed document.

    Same with legal memos, outlines etc. Generally, they summarize legal theories and cite authority that form the basis for your case. Although you will use the content in your legal arguments in court-filed documents, in their raw form they are work product, and as such, clearly confidential.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    Third-party storage is not an automatic ethics violation. Nor does it automatically waive the attorney-client privilege.

    Stop fearmongering.

    Putting your client files in third-party storage involves much the same considerations whether you are using Google Docs, Dropbox, or storing your paper files in an archive facility.

    As Nicki points out, you need to be familiar with the TOS, privacy policy, and security policy for any services you use. I’m familiar with Google’s, and I’m comfortable putting my client files there.

  • http://nicoleblackesq.com Nicole Black

    Just to clarify, memos may constitute attorney/client work product, depending on how you interpret that term and depending on what stage they’re in–same goes for legal research outlines, etc. So that may present an issue for you, depending on your interpretation of the rules of your jurisdiction, even if the documents are publicly filed. Nevertheless, not all documents created in the practice of law are privileged.

    The bottom line is that there are any number of factors that determine whether an attorney should use a cloud service in their practice. It depends on the information being stored in the cloud, the jurisdiction in which you practice and the rules applicable to you, and your research re: the particular cloud provider.

    For some attorneys, Google Docs may be a viable option, after assessing all of these factors.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      But even if the documents are work product or privileged communications, merely uploading them to Google Docs does not waive those protections. Unless you go and do something stupid like share the documents with the world.

      • http://lawpracticestrategy.com/ Donna Seyle

        Sam:

        I didn’t write that post, Niki wrote it on your blog.

        I’m hardly fearmongering. I’m a huge advocate of virtual lawyering and cloud computing in the right context. Google is not one of them. There is a reason why lawyers are required to do their due diligence with respect to their cloud vendor’s security processes, and why legal cloud vendors need to use bank-grade security protection. There are plenty of highly secure cloud platforms where lawyers can comply with their obligations.

        I did not say that putting documents in the cloud automatically waives anything. Here is my post on Google: http://bit.ly/ap6C7e (Google Apps Security for Lawyers: Premier Edition Only).

        • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

          Sorry, I meant to reply to Nicki’s comment. Fixed.

          In the post you link, however, you said “[i]f you’re a Google Apps user, be sure to subscribe to their Premier Edition to be certain you are meeting your ethical obligations regarding confidentiality and privacy.”

          Getting some conflicting messages, here.

  • Jay

    OT a bit here, but you touch on this so…

    Why use Freshbooks versus using Clio to track time, expenses and invoicing? Again, why use Clio or litigation files and Basecamp for transactional? Why use Google Apps at all if you have Clio? I though Clio was supposed to be an all-in-one solution for a small firm? It seems that you are duplicating efforts and paying a lot in fees to these many companies when one, or maybe just two, could cover all your needs.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      For me, mostly because playing with software is part of my job, and because Clio and Rocket matter let me test their software.

      However, to answer you more directly, whether you use Clio, Rocket Matter, or Basecamp + Freshbooks is down to personal preference. They all do the same thing for roughly the same cost, but in slightly different ways. Basecamp has the most robust collaboration features, which is why I use it for business files; it makes collaborating with clients easy. Rocket Matter and Clio are more focused on deadlines and scheduling, which is why they work better for litigation. In my opinion, anyway.

  • http://gregoryluce.com/ Gregory D. Luce

    I was an early fan of Google Docs and am still somewhat of a fan, but it still remains an underdeveloped online “word processor.” It is, in reality, just a fancy HTML page. The changes and formatting you do are, in fact, HTML and CSS. Because of that, it makes for terrible conversions, I’ve found, when trying to go back to Word. Or at least, inconsistent conversions, and I just don’t want to go through the doc in my local word processor to make sure all the formatting stuck. Not worth it.

    I used it successfully on a client matter in which I needed three clients on a single matter to help draft interrogatory responses. That worked extremely well because I was able to get answers edited collaboratively and in real time. I would NOT use Google Docs word processing for court filed documents that do not need client editing or input. Just a mess. I would just use Dropbox to keep my MS Word files synced (or OpenOffice if you are into that kind of thing).

    The bottom line, though, is that a lot of clients 1) don’t trust it; or 2) still cannot figure out how to use it, particularly when they try to do some basic formatting. Telling them to apply some background HTML or CSS is just terrible advice. Most clients don’t know what CSS is, let alone what you can do with it.

    Google Docs for spreadsheets, however, is awesome. You can do a lot with it, share the information with clients easily, and even create simple forms to complete. I just don’t like Google Docs word processing as much as I used to. There are much better choices for now.

  • http://whichdraft.com/ Jason Mark Anderman

    While Nikki is right that you have to look at how your particular state bar is dealing with this issue, I have to agree with Sam as to how most bar associations are treating the reasonable diligence issue. Below is the section from Google’s privacy policy on information sharing. Given these restrictions and Google’s massive security resources, one could argue that client data placed with Google not only satisfies reasonable due diligence requirements, but is actually much safer than many paper document files stored at warehouses. Of course, Donna’s point about the lack of leverage is well taken, and attorneys would have to monitor Google’s privacy policy for changes, but given the company’s size and reach, one would expect a great deal of publicity as to a loosening of information sharing restrictions.

    Nikki, I’m excited to see your book, can you share with us the pre-orders page or a way to be notified when it comes out?

    “Information sharing

    Google only shares personal information with other companies or individuals outside of Google in the following limited circumstances:

    We have your consent. We require opt-in consent for the sharing of any sensitive personal information.
    We provide such information to our subsidiaries, affiliated companies or other trusted businesses or persons for the purpose of processing personal information on our behalf. We require that these parties agree to process such information based on our instructions and in compliance with this Privacy Policy and any other appropriate confidentiality and security measures.
    We have a good faith belief that access, use, preservation or disclosure of such information is reasonably necessary to (a) satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request, (b) enforce applicable Terms of Service, including investigation of potential violations thereof, (c) detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues, or (d) protect against harm to the rights, property or safety of Google, its users or the public as required or permitted by law.
    If Google becomes involved in a merger, acquisition, or any form of sale of some or all of its assets, we will ensure the confidentiality of any personal information involved in such transactions and provide notice before personal information is transferred and becomes subject to a different privacy policy.”
    http://www.google.com/intl/en/privacy/privacy-policy.html

  • http://www.rocketmatter.com Larry Port

    Great points all around a very spirited discussion. I agree with what Niki says. It’s up to the legal consumer to exercise due diligence.

    To Donna’s point, I think consumers need to have their expectation set that negotiating terms of service, unless you’re talking a six-figure enterprise deal, will most likely not be an option. It’s not operationally pragmatic for cloud providers, who services thousands of users, to have one-off changes for individual customers unless they’re paying non-volume pricing.

    For this reason it’s important to understand the terms of service of cloud providers and be comfortable with what they are out of the box. For an understanding of some of the critical issues as we as cloud providers see them, check out the ABA Ethics 20/20 response put together by the signers of the Legal Cloud Computing Association (via Google Docs):

    http://www.legalcloudcomputingassociation.org/Home/aba-ethics-20-20-response

    I will be traveling and unable to respond to this thread for a while, so email me if you want to discuss this point with me further.

    Larry Port
    Rocket Matter

  • Scott Szorcsik

    This isn’t even up for debate, in my opinion.

    You’re talking about providing (i) client information and (ii) your own proprietary work product to a 3rd party. Even if (a) you’re satisfied that you’ve received client consent that covers this type of disclosure and (b) you’ve gained some comfort that the terms of service are sufficient to prevent any unwanted access/disclosure, you’re still relying on them to avoid a breach in security — by no means something you can assume away.

    With the state of the Internet security and data storage as it is, you’re exposing you, your practice and your clients to needless risk. There are plenty of solutions for data storage/sharing available that don’t include you handing the information to 3rd parties.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      More FUD.

      With the state of the Internet security and data storage as it is . . . .

      Really good, you mean? You’ve got more to fear from your office cleaning staff (also a third-party) than from Google Docs.

      • http://gregoryluce.com/ Gregory D. Luce

        Agree with Sam. I’m consistently surprised by the level of fear directed toward cloud computing and client files. You must take reasonable precautions to protect client confidences. Until we’re required to write with invisible ink or type on computers that immediately mask the content, risks always exist.

  • https://twitter.com/resawu Teresa Wu

    Hi Sam,

    I appreciate you sharing your experience with Google Docs here. We’re actively working to improve some of the disadvantages you and your blog readers mention here. Thanks for trying us out and hope you continue to find ways to use Docs, whether personally or professionally!

    Teresa Wu
    Google Docs Community Manager
    @resawu / @GoogleDocs

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      Oh, if only I had a CR-48 to give Google Apps a real test…

  • Gwynne

    To the point of Google Docs not being robust enough, has anyone used ZoHo?

  • http://www.cekor.com Dave K

    Some Issues:

    unauthorized access to confidential client information by a vendor’s employees (or sub-contractors) or by outside parties (e.g., hackers) via the Internet;

    the storage of information on servers in countries with fewer legal protections for electronically stored information;

    a vendor’s failure to back up data adequately;

    unclear policies regarding ownership of stored data;

    the ability to access the data using easily accessible software in the event that the lawyer terminates the relationship with the cloud computing provider or the provider changes businesses or goes out of business;

    the provider’s procedures for responding to (or when appropriate, resisting) government requests for access to information;

    policies for notifying Clients of security breaches;

    policies for data destruction when a lawyer no longer wants the relevant data available or transferring the data if a client switches law firms;

    insufficient data encryption;

    the extent to which lawyers need to obtain client consent before using cloud computing services to store or transmit the client’s confidential information.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      Have you even bothered to read Google’s policies?

      • http://www.cekor.com Dave K

        Yes, I read Google policies, I wrote an article about this once. I was all for using Google, and putting client data on the cloud. I am a 20 veteran IT person and Administrator for two law offices. The thing that made me slide to the opposing side was, as a Client, would I want my personal case files some place besides my Attorney’s office? If I didn’t know they were being stored outside the office, It would not raise concerns, but if I knew potentially damaging information was being stored on Google servers I would be a little upset. The other issue is any medical information you have has to remain in a HIPAA compliant environment, meaning your third party vendor has to maintain HIPAA compliant proceedures for any action on that data. If you want to put this to a test, draft a letter to your clients that their data will be stored on Google storage devices along side other people files, see if you get a favorable response… just one mans opinion.

        • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

          HIPAA may apply to medical information stored by law firms. It definitely doesn’t apply to non-medical information.

          As for notifying my clients, I do, and all of them are happily using the cloud to share documents, timekeeping and billing information, e-mail, and more. I doubt such a letter would come as a surprise.

  • http://www.netdocuments.com Danny Johnson

    Awesome experiment and confirms my suspicions about Google Docs. Google Cloud Connect looks promising however and Office 365 could be good (though I don’t fully trust MS to loosen its hug on traditional software anytime soon). So I guess in the meantime, it’s locally installed editing apps, cloud for everything else.

  • http://www.coyelaw.com Wade Coye

    We use GoogleDocs to share basic things, such as office letterheads or template letters, but you’re right about the limited editing capability. Maybe when Google upgrades those tools we’ll invest more time and effort into the product. But for now, we like our level of involvement.

  • Matthew Doebler

    I’m contemplating moving our firm’s Case List to a privately-shared Google Docs spreadsheet. I want to anticipate, though, the predictable question of security that our other lawyers will raise. The Case List won’t have any opinion memos or anything like that on it, but it WILL have the client’s names, so there ARE potential ethical considerations.

    My general attitude is that if you’re comfortable sending a file over e-mail, you should be equally comfortable letting it live on Google Docs. So if you wouldn’t have a problem attaching the Case List as an Excel spreadsheet to an e-mail and sending it to lawyers at the firm, you should be equally unconcerned about posting it on Google Docs.

    I know this is an evolving area and the conversation on this page is already several months old which–in tech-years–is decades old. Anybody got any thoughts or ethics opinions or articles that they can point me to that will arm me for the conversation I’m about to have with our firm’s other attorneys on this point?

    I appreciate your help!

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      I guess it depends on what security concerns people have. Hackers? Backup? Something else?

      I’d start with Google’s own documentation, and work from there to address specific concerns.

      • Matthew Doebler

        Thanks, Sam. I guess the concerns I anticipate are based more in ethical concerns as opposed to lost data. I can certainly put a back-up system in place that would alleviate any lost data concern.

        “Is it safe to have our client’s information ‘out there’?” That’s the type of question I’m expecting.

        • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

          I think that question is best answered with the terms of service.

          On ethics, you should start by looking to see whether your state has weighed in on cloud computing. That would be the most important thing. If it has, follow any requirements. If it hasn’t, it’s really up to you. Google is pretty secure. It isn’t perfect, but it’s probably more secure than regular email, which means it’s unlikely to be the failure point in your security regime.

          Then again, it’s not perfect, and it is out of your control, which is usually where the FUD starts when it comes to the cloud.