As a frequent public speaker, I’ve seldom found myself speechless on stage, however, last week I stood in front of an audience of over 200 lawyers in stunned silence for the first time in recent memory. I did so after the Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) President, Jan Lindsay, boldly pronounced that, in no uncertain terms, BC lawyers are prohibited from using US-based cloud computing providers.
To set the stage, let me rewind to Friday, November 14. I was invited to talk at the CBABC Annual Meeting in Scottsdale, AZ. My topic, “The Security and Ethics of Cloud Computing,” was one I’ve presented on dozens of times at various law society and bar association meetings and conferences across North America.
The primary goal of this talk is to inspire lawyers to embrace technology – in particular cloud technology – not only to make their practices more efficient, ethical and effective, but to deliver superior and differentiated service to their clients. I also spend some time outlining the state of ethics opinions relating to cloud computing, and the due diligence some of those opinions require.
At the conclusion of my presentation, one of the attendees asked if the LSBC has given its blessing to Dropbox as a document storage tool. I replied by citing Appendix 1 of the LSBC Cloud Computing Report and the LSBC Cloud Computing Checklist, both of which provide guidance for BC lawyers looking to undertake due diligence on a cloud provider. “For better or worse, there’s no black-and-white or pre-authorized list of providers from the LSBC, you’ll need to perform your own due diligence and reach your own conclusions about the suitability of a given provider,” I stated.
This is where, from the back of the room, an attendee stood up and stated (roughly, to paraphrase): “I am Jan Lindsay, President of the Law Society of BC. This is black and white: BC lawyers are prohibited from using non-BC-based cloud computing providers, including Google and Dropbox.”
I’m sure I stared back at Ms. Lindsay for ten or twenty seconds, completely dumbfounded by her statement. In my role as President of the Legal Cloud Computing Association and co-founder and CEO of the first cloud-based practice management system, I pride myself of staying abreast of cloud computing developments, especially relating to ethics issues at the Law Society and Bar Association level. Ms. Lindsay’s statement took took me by complete surprise, and left me feeling both embarrassed and disappointed that I’d wasted an hour of my audience’s time.
“Is this a new development?” I asked.
“It is a new ruling as of October 31st,” Ms. Lindsay replied.
On that devastating note, my talk ended. One audience member live-tweeting my talk aptly described Ms. Lindsay’s statement as a “bombshell.” As I left the stage, a dozen or so of the 200+ attendees approached me, deeply concerned by this development. One was a loyal Dropbox user, who heavily relied on its data syncing and backup capabilities to access his practice data from any device. Another was a Clio user, who asked me if she’d have to cancel her subscription to the practice management system she’s been depending on for the last three years (disclosure: I am a co-founder of Clio). Everyone had questions about this new ruling, but I had no answers.
I returned to my hotel room and spent the next two hours poring over the Bencher’s Agenda and Minutes from the October 31st, 2014 meeting I presume Ms. Lindsay had referred to. While the topic of cloud computing is addressed (see pp51-118), the proposed amendments to the Law Society rules appear to make cloud computing more acceptable for BC lawyers by altering Rule 3-59 and 3-68 to accommodate electronic (cloud-based or otherwise) record-keeping, and adding rules 10-4 and 10-5, to offer guidance on the duties a lawyer needs to meet when using cloud services. I could find no reference to the prohibition of non-BC-based cloud providers.
There are several redacted sections of the Bencher’s Agenda and Minutes, so it is possible the ruling Ms. Lindsay referred to is a private ruling. I have asked Ms. Lindsay to provide more information on this new ban on non-BC-based cloud providers, but have yet to receive a reply; I will post an update if or when I receive a response.
If this is indeed the path the LSBC has chosen, it means BC lawyers will be effectively banned from using the cloud:
All web-based e-mail services, including Gmail, Google Apps, Hotmail, Outlook.com, and Yahoo Mail are off-limits.
Cloud-based storage providers like Dropbox and Box are likewise prohibited.
Lawyers cannot use cloud-based practice management systems like Clio, Rocket Matter and MyCase.
Every one of the ABA’s Top 10 Cloud Apps for Lawyers as listed by Bob Ambrogi — Dropbox, Google Docs, iCloud, Evernote, Clio, Bill4Time, RocketMatter, Zoho, Verve and Nextpoint — are verboten.
And make no mistake: no major cloud provider would open a BC-based data center solely to address the LSBC’s requirements — the 10,000 lawyer market in BC simply doesn’t move the needle for companies that have millions of users. This ruling would have the effect of relegating BC lawyers to a pre-cloud technological backwater, which does not serve the public’s interest nor the LSBC’s own principal strategic goal of becoming a “more innovative and effective professional regulatory body.”
Ms. Lindsay is an authoritative voice on behalf of the LSBC, and the broad reaching impact of her statement at the end of my CBABC talk is worthy of documentation, explanation and dialog. If accurate, Ms. Lindsay’s declaration stands to hamper the entire BC legal profession from participating in one of the most important and sweeping technological changes since the advent of the internet. More than that, I find it concerning that such a profoundly impactful decision could be made out of view of the public and the membership that the LSBC is mandated to serve.
My genuine hope is that the alarm expressed above is the result of either misinterpretation or misinformation, however, without benefit of further commentary from Ms. Lindsay and the LSBC, BC’s lawyers are right to be deeply concerned about their technological future.