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?