Last week the American Bar Association reminded us about the lack of rural lawyers:
In 2017, NPR aired Lawyer Shortage In Some Rural Areas Reaches Epic Proportions.
The “legal desert” in America’s rural areas is not going away. For the last eight years, Pacific Northwest legal publications have worked hard to encourage lawyers to consider a rural practice:
- Outside the Urban Box – Oregon State Bar Bulletin – October 2015
- Opportunity Knocks in Rural Oregon – Oregon State Bar Bulletin – August/September 2013
- The Only Lawyer in Town – Oregon State Bar Bulletin – April 2008
- Friday 5: Advantages of Being a Rural Attorney – WSBA NW Sidebar April 10, 2015 (and to be fair: Friday 5: Disadvantages to Being a Rural Attorney).
Ask Any Practice Management Expert
Practice management experts have been telling lawyers to consider rural law practices for over 25 years. Why?
- Significantly lower overhead
- Greater sense of belonging in the community
- Less (or no) competition
Subjectively, rural lawyers seem to have greater overall job satisfaction. And clients prefer their presence – 71% of people looking for a lawyer think it is important to have a local attorney.
Read more about this issue in April Simpson’s article, Wanted: Lawyers for Rural America.
All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2019
New Podcast on Law Student Mental Health –
Law students may experience significant stress in law school without much to access in the way of resources. This new podcast addresses that need.
If you have students working in your office, encourage them to listen to the podcast. Point them to our own Oregon Attorney Assistance Program, which serves students in addition to lawyers.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away the ABA issued Formal Ethics Opinion 99-413, the gist of which was to give law firms a free pass when it came to email encryption. Since 1999, technology has evolved by leaps and bounds, the ABA has updated its model rules, and cybersecurity is a national concern. Therefore, it should be no surprise the ABA chose to revisit its 18 year-old position on email and electronic communications.
The New ABA Standard
Is email encryption required by the new ABA opinion? Yes and no.
As Bob Ambrogi reports in his blog:
In this new opinion, the committee declined to draw a bright line as to when encryption is required or as to the other security measures lawyers should take. Instead, the committee recommended that lawyers undergo a “fact-based analysis” that includes evaluating factors such as:
- The sensitivity of the information.
- The likelihood of disclosure if additional safeguards are not employed.
- The cost of employing additional safeguards.
- The difficulty of implementing the safeguards.
- The extent to which the safeguards adversely affect the lawyer’s ability to represent clients (e.g., by making a device or important piece of software excessively difficult to use).
However, special security precautions may be required “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.” ABA Formal Opinion 477.
The Oregon Standard
The last bit of ABA Formal Opinion 477 may sound familiar to Oregon lawyers. In this article written by Helen Hierschbiel in 2010, the bar gave us some insight on the topic of electronic communications, including email:
Although use of electronic communications is not a per se violation of the duty of confidentiality, special precautions may be necessary in particular circumstances. For example, if information is particularly sensitive or subject to a confidentiality agreement, a lawyer may need to implement special security measures. Also, if a client requests it, a lawyer may be required to avoid, or be allowed to use, a particular type of electronic communication notwithstanding expectations of privacy in the communication method.
While the article cites to a model rule that was later amended, the parallels between Hierschbiel’s language and that of the new opinion are hard to miss. Bottom line? Email encryption is required if the circumstances warrant it.
Choosing an Email Encryption App
Fortunately, Bob Ambrogi has come to our rescue yet again. In his article, Encryption so Easy a Lawyer Can Do It, Bob discusses three incredibly simple solutions that allow lawyers to send encrypted messages. No more clunky interface requiring the sender to transmit keys before the recipient decrypts the message. No more need for both parties to use the same software. (Although a simple plug-in may be needed, depending on the software you choose.)
What all three programs have in common is that they make encryption as easy as the push of a button. If you use email to communicate with clients or colleagues about sensitive matters – and what lawyer does not? – you have no excuse not to encrypt.
What To Do Next
- Encrypt all client email, not some client email. Why? Mainly to eliminate guesswork, reduce risk, and preserve your sanity. Not convinced? Consider how clients might view on again/off again encryption: some messages are worth protecting and other’s aren’t? Hmmm….
- Put sensitive content behind a secure client portal. Many practice management programs have this functionality, but if yours doesn’t, consider Slack.
- Discuss electronic communication policies with clients and reiterate them in your fee agreement or engagement letter.
All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2017
ABA Blueprint.com is a new tool designed to help solo and small firm lawyers find what
they need to run their firm. Any lawyer may browse the website for resources and information. Technology, marketing, insurance, retirement, and practice management services are available to ABA members only. Here’s an overview:
Services for ABA Members at Blueprint.com
- Discounts on products and services
- Access to free practice management consultants
- Firm Builder (see below)
- Ability to save solutions to your Blueprint account so you don‘t lose your research
Resources Non-ABA Members Can Access at Blueprint.com
Informative BLOG Posts
At ABA Blueprint, click the logo (upper left) to visit the Home page. Scroll to the bottom to find a feed of the latest posts from the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center blog. Examples include using email newsletters, trends in legal technology, website costs, getting the most out of online forms, and state data breach notification laws.
Anyone can visit the Universal Solutions page to look at the curated list of products for starting a firm, growing a firm, getting paid, building a team, mastering eDiscovery, and insuring your family and future. Keep in mind the listed discounts are for ABA members only. The ABA expects to add more products in the future. Here are the highlights:
|Universal Solution Category||Discount Offered
to ABA Members
|Start a Firm Now||Office 365
|Help Me Get Paid||Clio
|Help Me Grow||Lexicata
|Help Me Build a Team||Ruby Receptionists
|Help Me With eDiscovery||eDiscovery Assistant
|Help Me Insure My Future||ABA Insurance
ABA Retirement Program
|No data available|
What is Firm Builder?
Firm Builder is available to ABA members only. Online modules provide help for technology basics, virtual assistance, and marketing. This is also the place where ABA members can connect to a practice management consultant. Here’s how the modules work:
- Select a Firm Builder topic (technology, virtual assistance or marketing).
- Answer a series of questions. (Don’t worry, there are plenty of options for “I don’t know, or I’ve done some research, but tell me more.)
- Once you’ve answered all the questions, Firm Builder proposes a set of solutions, i.e., products that fit your needs. The product list is curated from the Universal Solutions page of ABA Blueprint.
Long story short
Firm Builder is a fancy tool that ends up replicating the information already available under Universal Solutions. While this is redundant, don’t let it dissuade you from using the tool as it may help you focus more specifically on the products that fit your needs. In addition, Firm Builder gives you the option of contacting a live practice management consultant. Thirty minute consultations are available at no charge via phone or email, and users are promised a 24-hour turnaround time. Live chat is available for quick questions from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time, presumably 7 days a week as no limitation is noted on the website.
Who are these consultants? For now, most or all of them will come from CuroLegal, a private consulting firm working with the ABA. In the future, the expectation is that practice management advisors – like those associated with your bar or liability coverage provider – will sign on as ABA Blueprint consultants.
Endorsements and Ethics
Does the ABA endorse the products listed on their site?
No, as a matter of ABA policy. Products featured on the site were selected based on “suitability for solo/small firm practitioners, the stability of the vendor, the availability of integrations, and the standing of the product in the market.”
Do the products on the ABA site meet ethical requirements for all states?
The ABA does not certify the ethical suitability of a given product or service. The website recommends consulting your local ethics body for advice or guidance. Oregon lawyers can speak to private ethics counsel or contact the Oregon State Bar General Counsel’s office.
Speaking of Oregon Lawyers
If you need help, please take advantage of the abundance of resources available to you through the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund, including access to free and confidential practice management advisors. You are also welcome to call or email me. I dedicated the last 20+ years of my professional career to helping Oregon lawyers. Thirty minute emails and calls are always free. Turnaround time is next business day.
On the CLE front, it’s not too late to sign up for Unclaimed Client Funds this Wednesday. Or start the new year off right with “Fee Agreements – Ethical Dos and Don’ts.” This live, online webinar is scheduled for January 18, 2017. Registration is open now.
All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis