How Much Say Should Clients Have Regarding the Legal Software You Use?

office-equipment

Last week, Sam polled Lawyerist readers to find out if their clients cared whether they used Dropbox to store client files. This begged the question: how much say should your clients have in your legal software choices, anyway? After all, clients don’t have any input regarding your hiring decisions, your selection of office supplies, or your choices regarding long term paper document and file storage. So why should your clients have any say in the legal software programs you choose to use?

My position: your clients should have little, if any, influence on your legal software choices. The software that you use to run your law practice is a business decision. So, just like any other back office decision, the software that you choose for your law practice is solely within your providence.

Of course, from a practical standpoint, you should make these decisions with your clients in mind. This is especially true if the software includes features that will allow your clients to collaborate or share information with you in an online environment (such as Dropbox or a client portal in your practice management software).

So when choosing online software that includes collaboration elements, it is important to ensure that the software is both user-friendly and secure. Importantly, when assessing the security of a particular legal software product, you have an ethical obligation to take reasonable steps to research  the vendor and the security features of a specific system in order to ensure that your client’s confidential client is secure.

But, as long as you’ve done that, your ethical obligation to obtain client input or permission to use a particular legal software system, can and should, end. And I don’t say that simply because I’m associated with a system that includes a collaborative client portal. In fact, I said that years ago, long before I was hired by MyCase.

Of course, there’s more to it than just ethics. There’s also the practical element of considering reasonable requests for accommodation from your clients. So if a client has limited access to a computer or has minimal proficiency with computers, then obviously, collaborating with that particular client in an online environment wouldn’t make much sense. More traditional methods of communicating and sharing information would be a better option.

Similarly, if your client’s case involves highly sensitive data, for example the extreme case where your client is a Chinese dissident and your client has legitimate concerns that case-related information might be subject to a China-based hacking attempt (something that has happened in the past), then your ethical obligations could arguably preclude storing case-related data of any type in electronic file format, whether cloud-based or otherwise.

Finally, if a potential client has the potential to be a recurring and significant source of income, then the client’s specific up front requests regarding certain aspects of the case, including the staff assigned to work on their matters and the type of technologies used to handle their client documents, might be worth considering.

But those cases are the exception, not the rule. In most situations, back office decisions, including choices about legal software, such as law practice management or document storage solutions, are within the sole providence of the law firm.

At least, that’s my opinion. What do you think?

(image: http://http://www.flickr.com/photos/the_justified_sinner/4884033844)

, , , ,

  • Craig Bayer

    It really depends on what type of law you practice. If you are an insurance defense firm and are representing a mid to large size business they routinely tell you what software you can and can’t use to transmit their data. They never allow DropBox or Google Drive. I have had a large corporations tell a law firm they did not want them to Microsoft 365. Sounds ridiculous, but when there are hundred of thousands of dollars of billable hours at stake, the law firm is going to make the client happy.

  • http://www.towerofivory.net Lukasz Gos

    If it transmits data that belongs to them, then I’m not so convinced they shouldn’t have a say, especially as they may have some legal requirements binding on them that you don’t know about. But if they simply like this or that interface more, then they shouldn’t have a say any more than in your hiring. For the record, big clients sometimes may have a say on your hiring, or especially in your firing.

  • https://twitter.com/judith_ip Judith

    At this point almost all of my larger clients require me to use their billing software, and many also require the use of their scheduling software.

    With respect to software use in general, I usually tell my clients my preferred software tools, but I am quite open to using a different tool if they prefer. For example, I have a number of clients that use Google text editing tools exclusively, and I ensure that I save documents in a format that work for them. In the end, your clients define your practice, and the tools you use.

  • http://www.matthewjamesarnold.com/ Matt Arnold

    From a client’s point of view I wouldn’t trust a lawyer who uses Dropbox or other cloud services to store my sensitive information, WITHOUT first encrypting it heavily with truecrypt.

    • http://samglover.net/ Sam Glover

      There’s no point using Dropbox if all you’re syncing is encrypted TrueCrypt containers. It renders Dropbox all but useless. You’d be better off with Bittorrent Sync, at that point, because having a central sync server is all but pointless.

      • http://www.matthewjamesarnold.com/ Matt Arnold

        Well if you depend on using mobile devices its pointless I guess, but if you are just syncing to another PC truecrypt would work well. I also wouldn’t trust bittorrent sync I know its encrypted, but I don’t trust others having even little bits of my files.

        • http://samglover.net/ Sam Glover

          BitTorrent Sync doesn’t put your files on other people’s computers.

          • http://www.matthewjamesarnold.com/ Matt Arnold

            Yeah you’re right, sorry. After further looking into BT sync I can say if I was a client I would be much more comfortable you using that than Dropbox with no encryption. The only problem with BTsync is: its closed source, only 128 bit AES, generated keys are short and no symbols. Also if you were using BTsync you would definitely want to use hardware encryption on your PC since files are stored unencrypted, but other than that its a pretty cool sync solution.

  • writenow

    The attitude of Ms. Black, as well as her rationale for putting clients at risk, wins for unbridled stupidity, while demonstrating wholly undeserved, superiority.