A New Ethics Standard for Client Email?

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.)

With secure cloud-based solutions Enlocked, Virtru, or Delivery Trust, Ambrogi concludes:

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: What Is it and Why Should I Care?

ABA Blueprint.combp 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

If this sounds good to you, check out ABA membership here.  Dues are pro-rated based on your date of original bar admission.  Membership is free for 2016 and 2017 admittees.

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 costsgetting the most out of online forms, and state data breach notification laws.

Universal Solutions

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
Projected
Annual Savings
Start a Firm Now Office 365

Clio

$222.00-$363.84
Help Me Get Paid Clio

LawPay

QuickBooks Online

$361.60-$595.00
Help Me Grow Lexicata

MailChimp

LexBlog

$169.90-$578.80
Help Me Build a Team Ruby Receptionists

Fancy Hands

$833.28-$1440.88
Help Me With eDiscovery eDiscovery Assistant

PageVault

 

$714.00-$1394.00
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:

  1. Select a Firm Builder topic (technology, virtual assistance or marketing).
  2. 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.)
  3. 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

I Say Of Counsel You Say…

Of Counsel relationships remain a strong area of interest for lawyers who are drawn to the idea of creating a professional affiliation. In that quest, there are many misunderstandings about what an of counsel relationship is:

 

To better understand of counsel relationships, start here.  Also see this excellent post from Solo Practice University.

If you decide to pursue an of counsel relationship, enter into a written agreement to avoid misunderstandings.  See the American Bar Association publication, The Of Counsel Agreement, 4th EditionIf you are an Oregon lawyer, save money at checkout by using our ABA Books for Bars discount code, OSBPLF.

Of counsel arrangements may also implicate your professional liability coverage.  If you are an Oregon practitioner, please contact our coverage experts at 503.639.6911 or 800.452.1639 – particularly if you carry excess professional coverage liability with the PLF.

If you are forming an of counsel relationship and have any uncertainty whatsoever about how to craft a proper agreement, consult with outside counsel. Lastly, Don’t confuse being of counsel with being an independent contractor. See Mission Impossible? Working as an Independent Contractor in Oregon and this post.  [Pertaining to contract lawyers, but providing a good review of the issues surrounding independent contractor status.]

All Rights Reserved [2014] Beverly Michaelis

Protect Yourself with Security Software

Interested in tech trends?  Software recommendations for PCs and Macs?  Your best bet is to invest in The 2014 Solo and Small Firm Technology Guide.  To whet your appetite read The Best Security Software of 2014, courtesy of Law Technology Today.

This post features the best stand-alone, enterprise, and integrated security options for legal practitioners.  Learn why Kaspersky is the better choice for security, while McAfee is a good choice for anti-spam protection.

Read about other tech topics, including:

  • Best smartphones for lawyers
  • Secure cloud implementation
  • Ethical use of social media
  • Upgrading to Windows 8
  • Favorite utilities and apps

Purchase your own copy of the 2014 Solo and Small Firm Technology Guide – $89.95 for regular ABA members, $54.95 for Law Practice Division members.  (In either case, save even more using the Professional Liability Fund’s ABA Web store discount code at checkout:  OSBPLF.)

2014 ABA TECHSHOW

The PLF is a proud promoter of the 2014 ABA TECHSHOW. Learn and network with legal technology experts from across the country, March 27-29, 2014, at the Hilton Chicago.  Save money on registration with our discount code EP1416.  Visit www.osbplf.org > News for details.