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"Cloud storage and file synchronization for attorneys." DR, March 2013:21 [2013] DEREBUS 40

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Cloud storage and file synchronisation for attorneys

By Anthony Pillay

At its broadest level, cloud computing is the provision of computing as a service over a network, typically the internet.

Cloud data storage is the access of a computer over an internet-based network that is used to complement a local network or computer.

As these services and data are stored on a server elsewhere in the world (and sometimes on more than one server), this server is referred to as a ‘virtual server’.

It is important for practitioners to understand the relevant terms and conditions when using internet storage and other services. It is recommended that practitioners read the Law Society of South Africa’s guideline document ‘An introduction to cloud computing – legal implications for South African law firms’, which informs of the risks associated with cloud storage and any other ‘virtual service’ (the guideline is available at, accessed 5-2-2013).

An important associated risk is that all data that is stored on the cloud in the United States (US) or uses any US registered software or services is subject to US regulations, which may prejudice a firm’s clients (for many firms this risk may be acceptable based on the nature of their practice and/or client profile).

Other risks include:

Loss of internet connectivity, which may prevent the timeous retrieval of documents.

The service provider being hacked and the data stolen.

Where a local back-up of documents has not been made, this may impact on regulatory compliance and/or failure to retrieve documents if cloud storage is unavailable, for whatever reason.

Staff may disclose the password and link or may allow their mobile device to be used by unauthorised persons.

Legal compliance relating to the governance of information and communications technologies, and its management and use, requires due diligence, as well as consideration of professional obligations.

An attorney is therefore required to ensure that the implications of cloud computing are properly considered and that appropriate agreements are concluded governing an attorney’s use of the technologies.

Dropbox is one of the most popular file-hosting services that offers cloud storage, file synchronisation and client software. Dropbox enables users to create a special folder on their computers, which Dropbox synchronises so that it appears to be the same folder (with the same content), regardless of the computer it is viewed on. Files placed in this folder can be accessed via a website and multimedia platforms (tablet devices and mobile phones).

Further, security is advanced and files are encrypted with the advanced encryption standard.

Dropbox offers users 2GB of free data storage (which can be upgraded), which should suffice for small firms. Users are able to upgrade by paying a registration fee and thereafter a monthly fee. Storage capacity can be managed by deleting old files (which must be saved elsewhere before deletion for future reference).

For a simple file synchronisation with others, for example staff, the relevant PCs/laptops/tablets must have the Dropbox application installed (this can be downloaded from, after the terms and conditions are accepted). A folder called Dropbox will then open under ‘My documents’ on the PC/laptop/tablet and all files that are to be shared must be copied to this folder.

To share files with other users, right click on the file in Windows Explorer or another file management utility, and select Dropbox, then ‘Share link’ from the Dropbox menu. This will open up an internet browser that will direct to the relevant file (URL link) on the Dropbox website. To share this file, the URL link can be e-mailed or smsed.

n addition to the above, practitioners may register with Cubby ( Cubby users are able to share files and folders and similar conditions to Dropbox apply. On registration, 5GB of free data storage is made available.

Firms with the necessary financial resources should consider using Huddle ( Huddle is relatively expensive, however it offers high security and is best suited to firms that have security and protection of sensitive data as a priority. Huddle allows full-function information technology administration with customisation (user access and limitation) for all employees.

Anthony Pillay is the finance director of the Law Society of South Africa.