Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recently published Pennsylvania Bar Association Formal Opinion 2020-300, which provides guidance to lawyers working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. The formal opinion is here: https://www.pabar.org/members/catalogs/Ethics%20Opinions/formal/f2020-300.pdf
As we all are acutely aware, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many lawyers to work from home and also rely even more on electronic and digital devices and methods to communicate and practice law.
The opinion addresses multiple issues related to remote practice, including the duty of technological competence when handling sensitive client confidential information in a home/remote environment and provides guidelines for lawyers and their employees on how to comply with their obligation to comply with the Bar rules and preserve client confidentiality.
The opinion states that it is intended to provide global guidance to lawyers working from home, not only during the pandemic, but also for those who will continue to work remotely after there is a return to “normal.”
The opinion states as follows:
At a minimum, when working remotely, attorneys and their staff have an obligation under the Rules of Professional Conduct to take reasonable precautions to assure that:
All communications, including telephone calls, text messages, email, and video conferencing are conducted in a manner that minimizes the risk of inadvertent disclosure of confidential information;
Information transmitted through the Internet is done in a manner that ensures the confidentiality of client communications and other sensitive data;
Their remote workspaces are designed to prevent the disclosure of confidential information in both paper and electronic form;
Proper procedures are used to secure and backup confidential data stored on electronic devices and in the cloud;
Any remotely working staff are educated about and have the resources to make their work compliant with the Rules of Professional Conduct; and,
Appropriate forms of data security are used.
Bottom line: The pandemic has greatly accelerated the use of digital platforms and methods of communication in providing legal services, which creates challenges for lawyers. Lawyers must meet these challenges by taking steps to comply with the evolving ethical standards and rules related to technology, including preserving client confidentiality.
Be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2999 Alt. 19, Suite A
Palm Harbor, Florida 34683
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670