The global pandemic has transformed the way we work. States across the country implemented stay-at-home and shelter-at-home orders. Most employers rapidly transitioned their entire workforce to allow for remote working. While law firms in most states are classified as essential businesses, many lawyers and their staff are working from home and may continue to do so as companies start reopening.
Lawyers who rapidly transitioned to remote working operations face a host of employment, operational, and ethical issues that include managing on-going business operations and coordinating and communicating with staff, clients, and courts.
Despite the pandemic, lawyers and their staff must still do a number of the following:
- Adhere to applicable ethical requirements to protect their clients’ legal interests.
- Communicate relevant information.
- Maintain client confidence.
- Comply with filing deadlines.
- Appear remotely for court appearances.
- Fulfill fiduciary responsibilities when it comes to safeguarding client funds and property.
The American Bar Association has recommended that law firms take the following steps to mitigate risk during this time of uncertainty:
- Create internal and external messaging regarding the firm’s ability to continue operations.
- Coordinate with a records management company to ensure documents are stored securely and that records are accessible as necessary.
- Ensure that attorneys are appropriately prioritizing urgent matters, including docketing deadlines, court appearances, closing dates, and other important matters.
- Identify firm leadership who is responsible for answering questions about essential firm functions.
Maintaining Client Confidentiality During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Client confidentiality remains of the utmost concern, even when lawyers and staff are working away from the office. The possibility that a confidential client communication could be compromised increases when lawyers and staff are working remotely. Lawyers must ensure that computers, tablets, phones, and other electronic devices are password protected and encrypted so that others, including the lawyer’s family members, will not have access to confidential information.
Ensuring Confidentiality of Client Communications
Lawyers must communicate with their clients to keep them informed about developments in their legal matters and to help clients make informed decisions. This obligation doesn’t lessen during the current pandemic. Lawyers must advise their clients on how they can be reached, such as by telephone, email, or text message, and ensure that client communications remain confidential. Lawyers Working from home need to keep phone calls private, which means conducting meetings away from other people at home. Lawyers using video platforms to communicate with clients must ensure that communications are secure, that confidentiality is protected, and that everyone who needs access to the communications platform has it.
A lawyer should also make a contingency plan for handling illness and communicating this to any clients who would be affected. Doing so may require working with another lawyer in the firm, working with an outside firm, or, in severe circumstances, withdrawal from representation.
Securing Computers, Devices, and Networks
Attorneys should avoid using a public internet connection or free Wi-Fi service while performing work for clients or transmitting sensitive information. Instead, lawyers should be using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
When depositions, court appearances, or other hearings take place using via Zoom meetings and other teleconferencing solutions, lawyers should be mindful of whether these conferences are secure. Meetings should not take place in public and should always require a password and a link sent directly to meeting participants.
Attorneys working on home computers should ensure that their computers have up-to-date anti-virus software, avoid websites that could corrupt their networks, and take care not to use USB or flash drives from unknown sources. Devices used for communications with clients and to store client files should use multi-factor authentication.
When confidential client information also includes anything stored on the cloud or transmitted over the internet. Data must be stored securely and backed up, and lawyers and staff must ensure that work performed remotely remains compliant with applicable Rules of Professional Conduct.
Protection During Uncertain Times
McGowan Program Administrators tailors insurance programs to the unique needs of individual lawyers and law firms. Brokers who partner with McGowan can ensure that their clients have the right protection when they need it most. Learn more about McGowan Program Administrators’ LPL insurance policies and talk to one of our experts today to ensure you have the proper coverage in place to prosper in your law practice.