Having previously relied on paper files and consumer-grade file sharing, BPP University Law School has deployed SaaS collaboration solution Intralinks VIA to support its students working pro bono in legal advice clinics, giving them the freedom to host and share sensitive legal information without exposing BPP to any compliance risk or data loss.

BPP runs several clinics as part of legal charity LawWorks network of more than 200 free legal advice clinics, where volunteer students provide pro bono legal advice under the supervision of qualified academic staff and volunteer solicitors from the UK’s largest law firms.

Pro bono clinics handle sensitive legal matters for clients in vulnerable situations who cannot afford the fees of legal counsels. Many of the documents involved in each case include private personal information such as names, addresses, emails, phone numbers and financial information.

Prior to using Intralinks, all BPP University Legal Advice Clinic client files featuring personal information were paper files stored in physical file folders and physical cabinets and only accessible by law students physically coming into the clinic. The students used Google Docs, a consumer-grade free document creation and storage application, to share template letters and guidance.

Clients would, in sending documents electronically, use a variety of methods such as Google Drive and Dropbox, leaving BPP potentially exposed to the 1998 UK Data Protection Act and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in the event of a data breach.

“Clinics must be extremely careful when handling client private personal information, especially if sharing it over consumer-grade file sharing services,” said Tony Martin, supervising solicitor at BPP University Law School. “If this information accidentally fell into the wrong hands, it could be used for nefarious purposes such as identity theft. Aside from the emotional hardship that clients would suffer, such an occurrence would cause reputational damage to BPP University Law School and any affiliated solicitors, leaving each party open to potential claims for damages.”

Intralinks VIA is an enterprise-grade content collaboration tool which operates within and beyond the organisation’s firewall. Solicitors and clients can set permissions to control access and apply security at the content level, reassuring all involved that private personal information is protected from data breaches. As information is centralised on Intralinks VIA, no knowledge is ever lost when students leave the school after graduating.

“The legal world is slowly coming out of the paper age but, given the nature of the field, the entire sector needs to give employees the freedom to share confidential information electronically without any security and compliance issues. When handling sensitive private personal information, it’s crucial that law firms, pro bono organisations and others are equipped with the right tools to meet the required levels of security, compliance and controls,” said Richard Anstey, chief technology officer EMEA at Intralinks.

Other pro bono organisations using Intralinks VIA include Lawyers Without Borders, a global non-profit organisation dedicated to helping to establish the rule of law in some of the world’s most troubled regions.

Comment: It was almost two years ago, in May 2014 that Sheffield Hallam University became the first in the UK to purchase dedicated legal software for use by its students. The University’s Department of Law and Criminology has its own student-led law firm, known as the Law Clinic, which is authorised and regulated by the SRA, with students working under supervision on a range of personal injury, housing, holiday, consumer and small claims cases on a pro bono basis. The department signed a deal with SOS Connect legal software from Solicitors Own Software (SOS) for workflow, time recording, document and email management – the first time a university bought a practice management system for students.