Cloud-based storage service provides storage, backup and syncing for free or for a monthly fee

Dropbox logo

By Geri L. Dreiling, Esq.

Editor’s note: After this article appeared, Dropbox revised its terms of service and a complaint has been filed with the Federal Trade Commission against Dropbox over data security practices. Please read, “Dropbox in the Hot Seat.”

For lawyers, having instant secure access to files and documents anywhere — in the office, during a deposition, at the library, at home or even on vacation — is a necessity rather than a luxury.

To achieve that end, many lawyers are turning to cloud computing. One popular cloud-based storage service that allows law firms and attorneys to back up, sync and even allow client access to documents is Dropbox, a service that likens itself to a secure magic pocket for all of your files.

Lawyer Tech Review recently surveyed attorneys who are using Dropbox to find out what makes the service attractive in the legal setting.

Dropbox offers free accounts.

Tasting samples and test drives are just a couple of ways in which we try before we buy. With technology, the way to test a service before making the investment is to experiment with a free version — and Dropbox does just that, providing users as much as 2 gigabytes of storage for free.

Download Dropbox for free

Cameron Dardis, a sole practitioner in Portland, Oregon who works in the areas of real estate law and criminal defense, began using Dropbox about seven months ago, beginning with the basic free account.

“I started with personal files,” Dardis explains. “I wanted to try it out, figure out how it works and see if I could make it effective for my law practice before I signed up for the paid service.”

Dardis says, he discovered that Dropbox was “easy to use and intuitive.” From a practice management standpoint, he says, Dropbox made sense.

For those interested in more than 2 gigabytes of storage, Dropbox offers pricing for 500 gigabytes of storage of $9.99 per month and $19.99 per month for 1,000 gigabytes.

Access files from anywhere and sync them.

Many lawyers still in practice can remember carting physical files back and forth. When you wanted to work on a matter at home, you had to pack the paperwork into your briefcase and carry it with you. Later, lawyers began saving documents to discs or thumb drives or just emailing the documents to themselves.

Dropbox app for iPhone

Richard Russeth, vice president and general counsel at Denver-based Leprino Foods and blogger at The Last Generalist, has been using Dropbox for about eight months and says he wishes he would have learned about it sooner. He has two accounts, one for personal use and one for work. His assistant has access to the work account. Russeth likes the cloud-based storage service because it allows him to both back up his documents and retrieve them.

Russeth notes, “I can work from multiple computers — from my IBM at the office to my Mac and my iPad — and I can work from anywhere in the world.” He can do all this without having to worry about losing a thumb drive, misplacing a file or, because of Dropbox’s sync feature, keeping track of updated versions on various computers.

Favorites in Dropbox app

Oregon Social Security lawyer Max Rae uses Dropbox as a backup for his firm’s client database and calendaring system. “We have several linked machines in the office,” Rae explains. “On one of those machines I keep the files in a Dropbox folder so we have offsite storage of this critical data.”

Dropbox asserts that it offers military-grade encryption methods for both transferring files and storing them. Access to files requires a username and password, and Dropbox employees do not have access to users’ files.

Although Russeth avoids putting extremely sensitive confidential documents in the cloud, he also notes that such documents are few and far between. Russeth views Dropbox as secure —more so, he says, than email.

Dardis agrees: “The servers and machines many lawyers are currently using in their offices are less secure than what is offered on Dropbox.”

Share files with clients using Dropbox.

Dropbox offers users the ability to share files with clients through either an invitation-only system or a public file folder. With invitation-only sharing, the lawyer selects the clients he or she wishes to share a folder with; this information appears in the client’s Dropbox account.

Dropbox At-a-Glance

  • Free accounts offered for small storage amounts
  • Allows lawyers to access files from anywhere using Mac, PC and mobile devices
  • Files can be updated and synced
  • Offsite backup and storage
  • Folders can be shared with clients by invitation

A separate feature is the public file folder. As the name implies, it is not a secure folder, though a client needs the link to access it.

Dardis has found the public file folder a convenient tool that allows him to share checklists and forms that have been created by the Oregon State Bar Association and are offered to the public on the group’s web site. “I use the public file folder as a mobile document center,” Cardis says.

Whether he’s using it for backup, file retrieval or sharing files, Russeth says, he’s found Dropbox “extremely easy to use and convenient.”

Dropbox public folders screen

Have you used Dropbox? What did you think of the cloud-based storage service? Would you recommend it to other lawyers?

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