Lawyers or paralegals are constantly at risk of accidentally breaking client confidentiality because of the fast-paced and challenging nature of the work at hand. That’s why it is very important to be organized, alert and cautious when handling client information. It’s not enough to just keep your mouth shut, especially in today’s world where it seems no information is secure.
1) Use common sense
It should go without saying, but it doesn’t. Overconfidence or carelessness can put your client’s information at risk. So at the risk of inciting ‘duh’ here are some no brainers:
- Don’t talk to your clients about their case in public places.
- Leave all the information pertaining to your clients and their cases in your office.
- Don’t be tempted to talk about it even with your closest friend, spouse or family members.
- If you received text messages from your clients, be sure to delete them right away so that your spouse, partner or any member of your family may not be able to see it.
- Never talk to clients on the phone when someone else is listening or can overhear your conversation. They may pick up some cues about the case and it can put your clients’ case at risk.
- And never brag about it on your social media accounts no matter how proud you are of the case.
Despite technological advancements, some rules will always apply: Keep your clients’ files in a safe cabinet. Use the shredding machine. Never leave documents where people can get them.
What about flying with document exhibits? Do you FedEx them, or check them on the plane? Either option has risks but lost documents are much more likely to happen during travel. The post at the link tells the true story of a litigator losing all her document exhibits when she checked them as luggage. Oops.
3) Data security
Your client’s data is at risk at several different times during normal business:
Sending files over the internet. Be mindful of the risks. Some methods of communication are more insecure than others, with social media, insecure networks, and unencrypted emails leading the list. Secure the transmission of important documents.
Storing files on local devices. Of course everyone knows they shouldn’t share passwords, but even storing files locally while keeping the password secret is dangerous. If implemented properly, keeping data in the cloud is actually the safest place for your clients’ data.
4) Proper Organization
Label folders containing confidential information, both physical and online folders. It will serve as a reminder that you have to take good care of the files inside. You can even make certain folders password encrypted, so that if someone does hack your computer, they then have to hack the confidential folders.
Obviously you must always make rational and moral decisions whenever you’re in a situation where the confidentiality of your client’s case is at stake. So, if you’re torn between two important choices, choose the one which puts your client’s interest on top. Carefully review and follow the suggestions above. You can also ask other lawyers and paralegals how they protect their clients’ information and adopt any helpful strategies that can help you and your client from issues of confidentiality breaches.
6) Don’t hire this guy to manage your IT
In other words, proper employee screening is an incredibly important step in ensuring your client’s security. Take a cue from the government, which screens for factors proven to make untrustworthy employees (and it obviously still makes mistakes).
- Criminal background check
- Drug test
- Credit check
- Radical views
- Other vices
Why does the government screen for these things? Someone that has a drug problem or sex addiction is much more likely to be vulnerable to ethical lapses or bribery. Your clients deserve the same type of people handling their documents that the NSA has handling its documents.
7) Don’t Get Overconfident!
The advice in this post may seem self evident now. But the challenge is to remain vigilant in maintaining confidentiality when it may be inconvenient or a hassle. The easiest way to commit malpractice is to make a mistake on the simple things because they seem so obvious.