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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    April 01, 2015

    So You Want To … Share Files with Clients and Colleagues

    The key to safely sharing electronic files with other lawyers and with clients is to keep those files locked up in a secure portal or cloud-based repository or encrypted in email.

    Tison H. Rhine

    cloud computingThese days, most lawyers find it necessary and convenient to share files digitally – with their clients and with internal coworkers and external colleagues (outside counsel, title companies, and so on). Unfortunately, many lawyers share their files, unencrypted, using email. This is not a good idea and might even violate ethics rules.

    Not to worry: there are easy-to-use ways to share files that are more secure, including secure portals (built into cloud-based practice-management software), encrypted email, and cloud-based file-sharing services such as Citrix ShareFile, SpiderOak, Dropbox, Box, Microsoft OneDrive, and Google Drive (ideally, with added encryption for the last four). Let’s walk through the options.

    Practice-management Software

    If you already use cloud-based practice-management software, such as Clio, Rocket Matter, or MyCase – just to name a few of the many options – it likely includes file sharing. When you send a file, the recipient will get a notice that there is a file available and then will have to log in (using credentials you and the recipient set up earlier) to access it. This is a great option if you share files with certain individuals regularly, although it does necessitate keeping track of each recipient’s login credentials.

    Cloud-based File Storage and Sharing Services

    You have probably heard about Dropbox or its competitors, and how convenient such services can be – not just for file storage, but also for file sharing. Typically, these services allow you to view files from any PC, Mac, or mobile device and share them with other users of the service directly or by using a public link (not recommended).

    Tison RhineTison Rhine is the advisor to the State Bar of Wisconsin Law Office Management Assistance Program (Practice411). Reach him at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6012, or by email.


    Fortunately, most of these services have password protection and permissions options (sometimes requiring a paid upgrade), but for some users, such as lawyers, further encryption is necessary. Sookasa ($10 per month) and Viivo ($4.99-$9.99 per month) are relatively inexpensive additions that allow you to keep an always encrypted folder in your Dropbox account. Viivo also works for Box, OneDrive, and Drive. As an alternative, if you don’t want to pay for two separate subscriptions, you could use SpiderOak, which works similarly to Dropbox and includes better native encryption.

    Whether such added security is truly needed to protect your clients’ data (or to protect yourself from violating ethics rules) is still being debated. Ultimately, it might depend on each client’s security needs, so you may want to talk with them about computer security and even include such topics in your fee and representation agreements.

    Citrix ShareFile ($16-$100 per month), which works a bit differently than the above cloud-based services, is another product that makes it easy to share files – just click on the Send a File link (directly from ShareFile, your email, or your file’s print menu) and enter an email address. Used throughout the business world, ShareFile is highly customizable, allowing you to integrate it more easily into your firm’s existing workflow. Its features include configurable permissions and security settings, Outlook integration, file version management that helps you track changes to files, and receipt confirmation. You can even have one of ShareFile’s graphic design specialists customize your portal to match your company logo and website (at no extra charge). If you are serious about file sharing, take a look.

    Encrypted Email Attachments

    If you really want to use email, or if you rarely need to routinely share more than one or two files with someone, you can manually encrypt your attachments before sending them, typically by using options built in to your productivity software (Word, Adobe Acrobat). The encrypted file can be opened only by someone who knows the encrypted file’s password, so don’t forget to provide the recipient with that information (you can do this over the phone, but do not leave the information in a voicemail message).

    You can easily find instructions for how to encrypt a Word or PDF document online (or see “Encryption Made Simple for Lawyers,” Wisconsin Lawyer, Dec. 2013). Remember to use a secure, unique password.

    Test Drive a Service Before You Subscribe

    Most, if not all, of the services mentioned above offer free trials (or free versions). Sign up for a few, send some test files to yourself (try both large and small files of the types you typically would send), and then try accessing them using a variety of devices and methods, such as the service’s downloadable computer program (if there is one), different Web browsers, and phone and tablet applications. This will give you a better idea of what works for you and also what will be easiest for your clients.

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