Category Archives: Lawyer technology competence

ABA Formal Opinion 477 addresses lawyer ethical duties when transmitting client information over the internet

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss ABA Formal Opinion 477, which was issued on May 11, 2017. The opinions addresses a lawyer’s ethical responsibilities to secure client confidential information when transmitting the information over the internet.  The Formal Opinion is here: ABA Formal Opinion 477.

ABA Formal Opinion 477 is an update opinion which specifically addresses “securing communication of protected client information” over the internet.

The Formal Opinion states:  “(i)n Formal Opinion 99-413 this Committee addressed a lawyer’s confidentiality obligations for e-mail communications with clients.  While the basic obligations of confidentiality remain applicable today, the role and risks of technology in the practice of law have evolved since 1999 prompting the need to update Opinion 99-413.  Formal Opinion 99-413 concluded: ‘Lawyers have a reasonable expectation of privacy in communications made by all forms of e-mail, including unencrypted e-mail sent on the Internet, despite some risk of interception and disclosure. It therefore follows that its use is consistent with the duty under Rule 1.6 to use reasonable means to maintain the confidentiality of information relating to a client’s representation.’ (footnote omitted).”

“Unlike 1999 where multiple methods of communication were prevalent, today, many lawyers primarily use electronic means to communicate and exchange documents with clients, other lawyers, and even with other persons who are assisting a lawyer in delivering legal services to clients.”

The opinion concludes: “A lawyer generally may transmit information relating to the representation of a client over the internet without violating the Model Rules of Professional Conduct where the lawyer has undertaken reasonable efforts to prevent inadvertent or unauthorized access. However, a lawyer may be required to take special security precautions to protect against the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of client information when required by an agreement with the client or by law, or when the nature of the information requires a higher degree of security.”

Bottom line:  This ABA opinion addresses the ethical issues related to securing client communications when transmitting confidential information over the internet under the Model Rules of Professional Conduct and is for guidance only and is not binding; however, the analysis would be applicable in most, if not all jurisdictions, including Florida.  Lawyers should consult the rules and ethics opinions of their jurisdiction for further guidance.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this ethics alert 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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19, N., Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

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Florida Supreme Court adds three hours of technology to lawyer’s mandatory CLE requirements and increases total hours from 30 to 33

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent opinion of the Supreme Court of Florida which approved proposed changes to Florida Bar rules mandating three hours of continuing legal education in technology related areas/courses.  Florida will become the first state to mandate technology CLE.  The opinion is In Re: Amendments to the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar 4-1.1 and 6-10.3, No. SC16-574 (September 29, 2016) and is here:  http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2016/sc16-574.pdf. The rule amendments will become effective on January 1, 2017.

The opinion adopted the recommendations of the The Florida Bar’s Vision 2016 Commission’s Technology Subcommittee.  The revision to rule 6-10.3 increases the CLE requirements for Florida lawyers from 30 to 33 hours of credit every three years and three hours must be in technology related areas/courses.

The opinion also amended the comment to rule 4-1.1 (Competence) “to add language providing that competent representation may involve a lawyer’s association with, or retention of, a non-lawyer advisor with established technological competence in the relevant field. Competent representation may also entail safeguarding confidential information related to the representation, including electronic transmissions and communications. Additionally, we add language to the comment providing that, in order to maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should engage in continuing study and education, including an understanding of the risks and benefits associated with the use of technology.”

Bottom line: Beginning in January 2017, lawyers will be required to obtain 33 hours of CLE every 3 years (up from 30) with a minimum of three hours in technology related areas/courses.

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.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

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Oklahoma Supreme Court publicly censures lawyer who had been permanently suspended by bankruptcy court for disobeying order

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss recent Oklahoma Supreme Court opinion censuring a lawyer who had been permanently suspended from practicing before the bankruptcy court for disobeying a bankruptcy judge’s order.  The case is State ex rel. Oklahoma Bar Association v. Oliver, case number Case Number: SCBD-6268 (Oklahoma Supreme Court, March 29, 2016).  The disciplinary opinion is here:  http://www.oscn.net/applications/oscn/DeliverDocument.asp?CiteID=477506

According to the opinion, the lawyer was suspended for 30 days by a bankruptcy judge in the Western District of Oklahoma on October 29, 2014, he was reinstated on December 1, 2014, and he was suspended again for 60 days on January 14, 2015.

In a show cause hearing on May 6, 2015, the bankruptcy judge told the lawyer that he had errors in nine documents that she had assigned for him to complete and required that he show cause as to why he should not be permanently suspended from practicing in that court. The lawyer stated that he had an attorney friend who would be willing to assist him with his filings.  The judge told the lawyer that he had 30 days to have a bankruptcy attorney who was well-versed in the local bankruptcy rules and guidelines to assist him and file a document confirming that attorney’s assistance. The judge also required the lawyer to resubmit the documents without any substantive or typographical errors.

The judge issued an order on May 7, 2015 confirming her instructions at the show cause hearing. The lawyer was required to refile the nine documents and, “(i)n doing so, (the lawyer) may not seek or obtain assistance from this Court’s law clerk, the staff of the Court Clerk’s office or any other person.”  The order also confirmed that the lawyer was required to file a document under oath from a bankruptcy attorney who was “well versed in the Local Rules and Guidelines of the court and the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure” and agreeing to assist in the preparation and filing of documents with the court.

On June 15, 2015, the judge permanently suspended the lawyer from practicing in the court after concluding that he had disobeyed her order by contacting a bankruptcy attorney who was admitted in that court and paying him $1,000.00 to prepare and provide the nine documents that she had required in the show cause order.

The bankruptcy attorney testified at the disciplinary hearing that the lawyer had only asked him to review the nine documents that he had already completed and that the $1,000.00 was for the attorney to continue to help the lawyer in his bankruptcy practice. The attorney submitted the agreement which stated that part of the $1,000.00 was to be credited to future months, and provided the amounts of future payment.  He also testified that he had contacted the clerk to obtain guidance on the court’s requirements and he not been asked to prepare the documents for the lawyer nor had he written them.  The opinion stated that the evidence did not support any discipline related to that issue.

The Bar trial panel recommended that the lawyer be publicly reprimanded for failing to provide notice to the Oklahoma Bar regarding his bankruptcy court suspensions. The panel also found that the lawyer did not deliberately conceal his suspensions and that he had admitted that his oversight resulted from his ignorance of the rule.  The lawyer had notified his clients of the January 14, 2015 sixty day suspension on April 21, 2015 and he admitted that he should have provided more timely notice of his suspensions to his clients.

The Bar prosecutor’s office recommended that the lawyer’s discipline be in the range of a public censure to a 6 month suspension.  After hearing the mitigating evidence and the witnesses, the trial panel recommended that the lawyer receive a public censure and found that “(t)here is no evidence of a deliberate effort at concealment.”  The panel also noted that the lawyer continued to attend bankruptcy CLE seminars even though he was no longer required to attend them.

The disciplinary opinion stated that the lawyer acknowledged his lack of expertise in computer skills and his frustration in trying to meet the federal court’s expectations in filing electronic pleadings and that he also admitted that he had failed to report his suspensions to the Oklahoma Bar and that he did not timely notify his clients of the suspensions.  The lawyer received a public censure; however, two justices dissented and stated that they would suspend the attorney for two years plus one day.

Bottom line:  This is an unusual case.  The lawyer was permanently suspended by a bankruptcy judge from practicing in (after being suspended on two previous occasions) and then failed to report his suspensions to the general counsel of the Oklahoma Bar Association and failed to “timely” notify his bankruptcy clients of the suspensions; however, he received only a public censure of his license to practice in Oklahoma.  This is an example of how discipline imposed by a federal bankruptcy court (or other federal or administrative court) does not automatically result in the same discipline by the state court, unlike state court discipline, which typically results in reciprocal discipline of the lawyer’s license to practice in other states.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert  is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice, 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.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

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Colorado lawyer suspended for 18 months for disclosing confidential information in response to client internet criticism

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent disciplinary opinion suspending a Colorado lawyer for 18 months for disclosing confidential client information in response to their internet criticism.  The disciplinary opinion is People v. James C. Underhill Jr. Case No. 15PDJ040 (consolidated with 15PDJ044 and 15PDJ059) (August 12, 2015) and is here: http://www.coloradosupremecourt.us/PDJ/ConditionalAdmissions/Underhill,%20Conditional%20Admission%20of%20Misconduct,%2015PDJ040,%2015PDJ044,%2015PDJ059,%208-12-15.pdf.

The opinion approved the conditional admission of misconduct and suspended the lawyer from the practice of law for eighteen (18) months which will begin after his current suspension ends.  The lawyer admitted that he disclosed client confidential information in response to clients’ internet complaints about his fees or services in two client matters.

In the first matter, a married couple retained the lawyer to assist with the husband’s ongoing post-dissolution dispute with his former spouse. The clients could not pay all the fees up and the lawyer verbally agreed to monthly payments, with an initial $1,000.00 deposit; however, “he did not explain that he reserved the right to demand full payment at his sole discretion.  He collected an additional $200.00 for a ‘filing fee,’ though he took no action that required such a fee.”

The lawyer also “failed to adequately communicate with the clients and did not inform them of opposing counsel’s objections to their discovery responses. Underhill later threatened to withdraw in two business days unless the clients made full payment of all fees. When the couple terminated the representation, (lawyer) declined to refund the $200.00 ‘filing fee.’”

The clients posted complaints about the lawyer on two different websites. The lawyer responded with “internet postings that publicly shamed the couple by disclosing highly sensitive and confidential information gleaned from attorney-client discussions.”  The lawyer then sued the couple for defamation and communicated directly with them, although “he knew that the couple had retained counsel, (lawyer) communicated with them ex parte on several occasions, even though their counsel repeatedly implored him not to do so.”  When that suit was dismissed, the lawyer filed a second defamation action in a different court, “alleging without adequate factual basis that the couple had made other defamatory internet postings.”

In a second matter, the lawyer represented a couple  to renegotiate a lease for their business. The couple eventually became dissatisfied with the lawyer’s services and terminated him. The clients posted a complaint about the lawyer on the Better Business Bureau’s website. The lawyer responded by providing an attorney-client communication and making “uncomplimentary observations about and accusations against the couple based on confidential information related to the representation.”

The lawyer’s 18 month suspension will begin after he serves a current suspension of 3 months and one day for communicating directly with his former clients who were represented by counsel while on disciplinary probation. That disciplinary order is here: http://www.coloradosupremecourt.us/PDJ/OpinionsAndSummaries/Underhill,%20Revocation%20of%20Probation,%2012PDJ071,%206-29-15.pdf.

The suspension takes effect on October 1, 2015.  After the suspension period, he must apply for reinstatement and prove by clear and convincing evidence that he has been rehabilitated, that he has complied with the disciplinary orders and rules, and that he is fit to practice law. 

The lawyer was also suspended for one year and one day for trust account violations in 2012.  That disciplinary order is here:  http://www.coloradosupremecourt.com/PDJ/ConditionalAdmissions/Underhill,%20Conditional%20Admission%20of%20Misconduct,%2012PDJ071,%2010-1-12.pdf

According to the Colorado Supreme Court’s website, the opinions of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge are final orders and may be appealed to the Supreme Court; however, since the opinion approved an agreed conditional admission of misconduct, it will not be appealed.

Bottom line: This is yet another cautionary tale for lawyers practicing in the digital age.  As all lawyers know, attorney/client confidences must be preserved unless the client authorizes disclosure (preferably be in writing) or there is an exception to the confidentiality rule, such as defending a Bar complaint or malpractice action.  A client’s criticism of the lawyer on internet websites is certainly not one of those exceptions and revealing confidential information in response to criticism on those platforms is a violation of the Bar rules.

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.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Florida Bar’s Board of Governors approves increase in CLE hours and revision to the comment to Rule 4-1.1 to require technology competence

 

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent approval by The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors of amendments to the rules related to technology and increasing the required CLE from 30 to 33 hours, with 3 hours of technology.

The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors (BOG) met on July 24, 2015 and approved a proposed amendment to the Bar Rule 6-10.3, minimum continuing legal education standards, which would increase the minimum CLE requirements from 30 to 33 hours and also require 3 CLE hours in, inter alia, technology related education for each three year cycle. The proposed amendment would maintain the 5 hour minimum requirement for legal ethics, professionalism, bias elimination, substance abuse, or mental illness.  The BOG also approved an amendment to the Comment to Bar Rule 4-1.1 of the Florida Bar rules to emphasize that a lawyer must be competent in the use of technology (or hire someone who is), and understand of the risks and benefits associated with the use of technology.

The approved rule amendments will be submitted in an omnibus petition to amend The Florida Bar Rules, which will be filed with the Florida Supreme Court in the fall of 2016.  Florida lawyers will be solicited to comment on the revisions and those comments will be sent to the Florida Supreme Court with the proposed rule amendments.

Bottom line:  If the rule amendment is approved by the Supreme Court, the minimum CLE hours required of Florida lawyers will increase from 30 to 33 hours every three (3) years, with 3 hours of technology related CLE.  The comment to Rule 4-1.1 will also put lawyers on notice that they must be competent in the use of technology (or hire someone who is).

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.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Attorney Ethics, joe corsmeier, Joseph Corsmeier, Lawyer ethics, Lawyer Ethics and Professionalism, Lawyer lack of competence, Lawyer technology competence