Writing for lawyers on technical topics must be a challenge. A reader might be aware of the technology and its significance and uses, and looking for practical implementation advice. And, of course, a reader might have nothing more than a desire to learn something she knows nothing about. Those readers would want very different things from the writer.
When I began reading Nicole Black’s Cloud Computing for Lawyers, I couldn’t tell if she had a target audience in mind, and if so, who it was. She points out that most people already rely on the cloud in some form, and introduces her book with a persuasive case in favor of incorporating (more) cloud computing, which suggested to me that it would be a more general primer on the topic, and I was afraid it would be boring.
But, she’s very entertaining in the introduction, so I was optimistic. And, rightly so. Nicole does pretty excellent work rounding out her first two, or two-and-a-half, chapters (what some would find quite basic information) with specific industry examples and pointed applications, so although we might be reading what we already know, in a general sense, she includes a bit of extended information, which is consistently worthwhile material.
I was particularly impressed by her third chapter, on risks and benefits. She identifies the benefits as cost savings, simplicity, scalability, flexibility for the user, flexibility for the developer, encrypted communication, and off-site data back-up. Violating ethical obligations, privacy, security, temporarily losing access to data, and permanent data loss comprise her list of risks. There isn’t anything particularly innovative in there, but I really appreciate how efficiently she addressed each, and again, with examples, and even blurbs, if you will, written by others.
Varying the perspective is a particularly smart move for a book on this topic. Like Nicole, I am convinced that, as time progresses, the role of the cloud (not just) in law practice will only grow. So, there is a real purpose for educating us. But, it’s still in a fairly nascent stage, and, perhaps inherent to the technology, definitive advice is hard to find on certain aspects, particularly any related to ethical obligations. Reading others confidently express their best practices and safeguards in using the cloud is, in a way, the best available help.
Although there are 14 ethics opinions on the subject (that’s what Jared told me, anyway), they do not always provide as much guidance as attorneys would like. Nicole provides the quick explanation, which is simply that the technology changes too quickly, often without anticipation, for rules and opinions to provide specificity. Combined with the reassurance from other attorneys who have figured out how to cover their bases, Nicole provides what seem to be the best answers available. And, while the shortcomings can be frustrating, she also explains why the full answers don’t exist (sometimes, yet). Those considerations run throughout the length of the book, but are very well organized and addressed in Stephanie Kimbro’s chapter on ethics (number four), which really seems to be exhaustive of the ethical implications for attorneys relying on the cloud.
Nicole’s subsequent chapter, on privacy and security, overlaps minimally in substance with Stephanie’s chapter, despite how similar they are. Nicole highlights the basic considerations that are among the web of ethics topics. She offers a very decent framework for making personal assessments to ensure best practices. She also includes the text of Tomasz Stasiuk’s guest post on The MacLawyer Blog, which is a great read.
Next, Nicole moves to implementation, which is a little simple, but, I think that mirrors reality. Apart from ethics, privacy, and security, the cloud is pretty simple and direct. There are, however, an overwhelming amount of options and service providers for each. Nicole gives a comprehensive rundown of various service providers, by category, in her final (well, second to the conclusion) chapter.
I realize now that the reason for the unspecified target audience is that it was unnecessary. Nicole does such a great job at speaking to them simultaneously. The book was a quick, but truly informative, read. Can’t go wrong.