Tech Competence: Tips and a Conference

As Olivia might sing, let’s get techical, techical.

Last week, the Professional Responsibility Board voted to recommend a series of amendments to the Vermont Rules of Professional Conduct.  The package will be forwarded to the Supreme Court for publication for comment.

Rule 1.1 requires lawyers to provide clients with competent representation.  Among other things, the Board will recommend that the Court amend Comment [6] to Rule 1.1 so as to add language that is highlighted & underlined:

  • “To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.”

As of September 2017, 28 states have adopted the amendment.

If you’re concerned about tech competence, fear not!

  • On May 16, 2018, the Vermont Bar Association will present its inaugural Tech Day. Save the date! It’s scheduled to take place at the Sheraton-Burlington and will include several practical seminars.
  • Yesterday, Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites blog posted tips related to tech security, including a suggestion to consider client portals.

Finally, I’ve blogged often on this topic.  Related posts include:

As Olivia might sing, let’s get techical, techical.

 

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Client Confidences: Again, it’s the simple things.

Rules 1.1 and 1.6 impose a duty to act competently to safeguard against the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of information related to the representation of a client.  I’ve blogged often on encryption, cloud storage, and other tech issues that impact the duty.

But I’ve also blogged that the most recent sanctions involving Rule 1.6 have nothing to do with hackers or technology.  As I wrote:

“To wit: the last three sanctions for violations of Rule 1.6 in Vermont were imposed:

My guess is that far more lawyers have put information related to a representation at risk by leaving files or computers in restaurants or airport waiting areas than by sending unencrypted emails or storing information in the cloud.”

The lesson: don’t forget about the “simple” steps you can take to safeguard against the inadvertent disclosure of client information.

Indeed, over the past few months, simple steps may have allowed various lawyers to stay out of the news. For example, the lawyer for the President who could’ve used his “inside voice” at lunch. Or the Big Law lawyer who could’ve disabled autocomplete . . . and avoided sending confidential information to The Wall Street Journal.

Here’s the latest simple step to take to guard against disclosing confidential information: don’t give job applicants confidential information as part of the interview process.

As reported by the Legal Profession Blog and the ABA Journal, a Massachusetts lawyer was sanctioned for providing job applicants with confidential client information.  It appears as if the lawyer wanted to assess applicants’ writing skills and asked for memos based on actual cases being handled by the firm.

Oops.

Again, yes, issues related to the electronic transmission & storage of client information can be daunting.  But it’s often the failure to use simple common sense that leads to a violation of Rule 1.6

Shhh

Related posts:

 

 

Comment Period on Proposed Sex Rule Closes on December 18

In October, the Supreme Court published for comment proposed amendments to Rules 1.7 and 1.8 of the Vermont Rules of Professional Conduct.  The comment period closes on December 18.

The Court published the proposed rule upon the recommendation of the Professional Responsibility Board.  31 states specifically prohibit client-lawyer sexual relationships. Vermont does not.  At least 18 of Vermont’s other licensed professions have adopted rules that specifically ban sexual relationships between a licensee and a client, patient, or person with whom the licensee has a professional relationship.

The Board’s position is that the imbalance of power inherent in the professional relationship between lawyer and client necessitates an absolute ban on a sexual relationship between the two. The Board supports a “bright-line” rule that recognizes the serious risk to a client’s interest in receiving candid, competent, and conflict-free legal advice that is presented when the professional relationship turns sexual.

A quick summary:

  • Proposed Rule 1.8(j) adds a specific prohibition on sexual relations between a lawyer and client unless a consensual sexual relationship existed when the client-lawyer relationship commenced.
  • Proposed Comment [17] to Rule 1.8 clarifies that the rule applies to all sexual relationships formed after the commencement of the professional client-lawyer relationship, including consensual sexual relationships and sexual relationships in which there is no prejudice to the client’s interests in the matter that is the subject of the professional relationship. In such instances, a lawyer would have to withdraw from continued representation.  See, Rule 1.16(a)(1).
  • Proposed Comment [18] provides guidance on sexual relationships that pre-date the commencement of the client-lawyer relationship.
  • If adopted, the conflict created by Rule 1.8(j) is personal and not imputed to other lawyers in the firm.  See, Rule 1.8(k); Rule 1.10(a).

Comments can be emailed to me at michael.kennedy@vermont.gov

For further reading, here are my previous posts on the issue:

Ethics

Confidences, Conflicts & Electronically Stored Information

To answer ATCQ, this is the scenario:

  • Lawyer works at Firm and represents Kennedy.
  • No other attorney at Firm works on Kennedy’s matter.
  • Lawyer leaves Firm.
  • Kennedy decides to go with Lawyer.
  • Firm sends hard copy of Kennedy’s file to Lawyer.

Ok.  That’s the easy part and isn’t very complicated.  Since easy & uncomplicated make for boring blogs, let’s add this:

  • Lawyer represents Kennedy in matter against Brady.
  • Brady seeks to retain Firm.
  • Kennedy v. Brady is the same or substantially related to a matter in which Lawyer represented Kennedy while working at Firm.

Can Firm represent Brady?

The fact that the matter is the same or substantially related to a matter in which Lawyer represented Kennedy while working at Firm does not end the analysis.  Nor does the fact that Firm delivered the paper file to Lawyer.

Rule 1.10 applies.  Subsection (b) says:

  • “When a lawyer has terminated association with a firm, the firm is not thereafter prohibited from representing a person with interests materially adverse to those of a client represented by the formerly associated lawyer and not currently represented by the firm, unless:
    • (1) the matter is the same or substantially related to that in which the formally associated represented the client; and,
    • (2) any lawyer remaining in the firm has information protected by Rules 1.6 and 1.9(c) that is material to the matter.”

In the hypo, Firm will argue that none of its lawyers has information protected by Rules 1.6 and 1.9(c) because (1) none of them worked on Kennedy matters; and, (2) Firm delivered the file when Lawyer left.

But do they?

What if an electronic version of Kennedy’s file (or a portion of thereof) remains on Firm’s servers?  If the information is “material” to the matter, does Firm “have” that information as contemplated by Rule 1.10(b)?

Here’s an opinion from New Jersey.  The answer is “maybe.”  Essentially,  the court said that Firm “has” the information if a remaining lawyer has actual knowledge of the information and has accessed substantive portions of the electronic file.  The court, however, indicated that limited access made to investigate a potential conflict is not necessarily disqualifying.

If you’re interested, give the opinion a read.  Also, to avoid this dilemma, it might be worth a self-assessment as to how your firm handles electronically stored information when clients follow a departing lawyer.

By the way, if you missed it yesterday, here are the results of the poll question: Who is on your Mt. Rushmore of U.S. Supreme Court justices?  The post includes this week’s question: your top 3 fiction novels focused on the law or a lawyer/lawyers.

Laptop-and-computer-file-folders

 

 

Monday Morning Answers – T. Swift & T. Petty

Now I know what drives traffic – Taylor Swift!

Friday’s questions are here.   The answers follow today’s Honor Roll.

Honor Roll

Answers

Question 1 – American Girl

“Well she was an American girl
Raised on promises . . .”

Later, the American girl became a lawyer and is admitted to practice in Vermont.  By rule, she has essentially promised:

  • A.  Not to disclose information related to the representation of her clients.
  • B.  Not to disclose information related to the representation of her clients, unless the information is a matter of public record.
  • C.  Not to disclose information related to the representation of her clients, unless the information falls outside the attorney-client privilege.
  • D.  Not to disclose her clients confidences and secrets.

For more on this, please see this blog post in which I discuss Rule 1.6 and its interplay with matters of privilege & matters in the public record.

Question 2 – Refugee

Lawyer represents Client in a civil matter.  Trial is scheduled for next week.  Most of Lawyer’s strategy sessions with Client have focused on Witness.  Lawyer plans to have Witness testify and offer evidence in support of Client’s claim.

Yesterday, Client said to Lawyer:

  • “We got somethin’, we both know it, we don’t talk too much about it
    Ain’t no real big secret, all the same, somehow we get around it
    Oh listen, it don’t really matter to me, baby
    You believe what you wanna believe.”

Lawyer was somewhat confused, but, having thought about it, thinks that Client might have convinced Witness to offer false evidence.  Which is most accurate?

  • A. If Lawyer reasonably believes that Witness will offer false evidence, Lawyer may refuse to offer Witness’s testimony. See, V.R.Pr.C. 3.3(a)(3).  
  • B.  Lawyer must offer Witness’s testimony.
  • C.  Lawyer must not offer Witness’s testimony.
  • D.  Lawyer must withdraw.

The key here is that Lawyer suspected, but did not know, that Client might have convinced Witness to offer false evidence.  A prudent course here would be to remonstrate with client & to make clear to Client (1) that “C” would be correct if Lawyer “knows” Witness will offer false testimony; and, (2) that if Lawyer discovers after-the-fact that Witness provided false evidence, Lawyer has a duty to take reasonable remedial measures, up to and including disclosure to the court.

Question 3 – Don’t Do Me Like ThatJammin’ Me

This is a different case than in Question 2.

Attorney informs Client that Attorney intends to file a motion to withdraw.  Client responds:

  • “Don’t do me like that
    Don’t do me like that
    Someday I might need you baby
    Don’t do me like that!”

Attorney replies “the ethics rules require me to withdraw.” Client retorts:

  • “You’re jammin’ me, you’re jammin’ me
    Quit jammin’ me
    Baby you can keep me painted in a corner
    You can walk away but it’s not over.”

Assuming that Attorney is correct and that withdrawal is mandatory, which of the following will Attorney be most likely to cite in the motion?

  • A.  Client has failed substantially to comply with the terms of the fee agreement.
  • B.  Attorney has discovered a non-waivable conflict of interest with a former client.
  • C.  The representation has been rendered unreasonably difficult by Client.
  • D.  Client insists on taking a course of action that Attorney considers repugnant.

Rule 1.16(a)(1) mandates withdrawal when continued representation will result in a violation of the rules of professional conduct.  Continuing despite a non-waivable conflict would cause Attorney to violate the rules.   Thus, B is correct.  Choices A, C, and D are instances in which withdrawal is permitted, but is not mandatory.  

Question 4 – Runnin’ Down A Dream

Continuing the scenario from the previous question, Attorney filed the motion to withdraw.  As it remained pending, stress & anxiety bedeviled Client.  Then, the court granted the motion.  Shortly thereafter, Client contacted the VBA’s Lawyer Referral Service and received a list of potential new lawyers.  Uplifted, Client called Attorney to schedule an appointment to pick up the file. Client said:

  • “I rolled on as the sky grew dark
    I put the pedal down to make some time
    There’s something good waitin’ down this road
    I’m pickin’ up whatever’s mine.”

When Client arrives, Vermont’s rule specifically requires Attorney to:

  • A.   Keep a copy of Client’s file.
  • B.   Surrender Papers & Property to which Client is entitled.
  • C.   A, B, and refund any unearned fee.
  • D.   B and refund any unearned fee.

This is Rule 1.16(d).  After complying with the rule by delivering the file, there is nothing in the rules of professional conduct that requires Attorney to keep a copy of the file.  Most carriers, however, have language in their policies that require lawyers to keep copies of a closed files for X number of years.

Question 5 – Free Fallin’

Continuing the scenario . . . Client followed through on her statement that Attorney could walk away, but it’s not over.  Before runnin’ down her dream elsewhere, Client posted a negative online review about Attorney, sued Attorney for malpractice, and filed a disciplinary complaint against Attorney.

Attorney intends to respond with:

  • “She’s a good girl, loves her mama
    Loves Jesus and America too
    She’s a good girl, crazy ’bout Elvis
    Loves horses and her boyfriend too
  • It’s a long day livin’ in Reseda
    There’s a freeway runnin’ through the yard
    And I’m a bad boy, ’cause I don’t even miss her
    I’m a bad boy for breakin’ her heart”

Assume the information in the response is true, but is not generally known.  Attorney would likely violate the rules by:

  • A.  Posting the information online, in response to the negative review.
  • B.  Incorporating the response into the defense of the malpractice complaint.
  • C.  Incorporating the response into his answer to the disciplinary complaint.
  • D.  None of the above.  No matter the forum, Client put the representation in issue.

Client is a “former client.”   Rule 1.9(c)(2) prohibits disclosure of information relating to the representation of a former client unless the rules otherwise permit disclosure.  Here, Rule 1.6(c)(3) permits B & C.  The rule is often referred to as the “self-defense exception” to the general prohibition against disclosure.  It is well-settled that the “self-defense exception” does not apply to negative online reviews.  For more, see my post Negative Online Review? What NOT to do.

swift and petty

Hey Lawyers! STFU!!!

So, for those of you still adjusting to the interwebs, that headline is what we call “clickbait.”

And here you are.  Keepers, I hope.

But, seriously lawyers, shut up!

I’m talking about client confidences and the duty not to reveal “information relating to the representation” of a client.

The rule is Rule 1.6. For those of you averse to clicking on the hyperlink due to my repeated warnings about scams inviting you to do so, I applaud the effort, but frown upon your tech competence. Anyhow, here’s the language you need to remember:

  • “A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized to carry out the representation, or the disclosure is required by paragraph (b) or is permitted by paragraph (c).”

Let’s look at it a bit differently.  Per the rule, a lawyer may “reveal information relating to the representation of a client” if:

  • the client gives informed consent to disclosure; or,
  • disclosure is impliedly authorized to carry out the representation; or,
  • disclosure is required by paragraph (b); or,
  • disclosure is permitted by paragraph (c).

Now, please click on this and review paragraphs (a), (b), and (c).  As you do, I want you to think of, and be prepared to tell me, the two things that you will raise as defenses to a disciplinary complaint and that I will tell you DO NOT APPEAR in either paragraph.

Are you ready?

Here they are:

  1. But Mike, the information I revealed wasn’t privileged.
  2. But Mike, the information I revealed is a matter of public record.

My responses:

  1.  Did you read the rule? It says that you “shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent [or] the disclosure is impliedly authorized to carry out the representation . . . ”  As made clear by Comment [3], the duty not to reveal “information relating to the representation” encompasses far more information than is covered by the attorney-client privilege. It encompasses “all information relating to the representation, whatever its source.” (emphasis added)
  2. Where in paragraph (a), (b), or (c) does it say that a lawyer may reveal “information that is public record?”  Hint – you don’t need to go back and look.  The answer is “nowhere.”  In other words, “it’s public record” is not the same as:
  • the client providing informed consent; or,
  • information that is impliedly authorized to be revealed in order to carry out the representation; or,
  • one of the disclosures mandated by paragraph (b); or,
  • one of the disclosures permitted by paragraph (c),

Rather, it remains “information relating to the representation” that a lawyer “shall not reveal.”

Lawyers seem to get hung-up on the “public record” thing.  No need to get hung-up.  As I just said, the rule makes it very, very clear: “it’s public record” is not one of the exceptions to “a lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation.”

Of course, this almost never comes up with “current clients.” In my experience, lawyers seem to think that they can disclose information relating to the representation of a former client if the information is in the public record.

Nope.

Please look at Rule 1.9(c)(2).

Still click averse? Fine.

  • “A lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter . . . shall not reveal information relating to the representation except as these rules would permit or require, or when the information has become generally known.”

The rules do not require or permit lawyer to reveal information merely because it has become a matter of public record.  Further, the fact that information is “public record” does not necessarily mean that it has become “generally known.”  There is plenty of authority for the proposition that “public record” does not equal “has become generally known.” I’ve listed a few cases at the end of this post.  For now, I’ll start with this:

Vermont’s Rule 1.6 is derived from ABA Model Rule 1.6.  The model rule expresses “the basic principle of professional ethics that all information `relating to’ a lawyer’s professional relationship with a client is presumptively confidential and must not be disclosed unless an exception applies.”  1 Hazard & Hodes, The Law of Lawyering (3d Ed.2001) 9-52, Section 9.15.

Or, think about it this way:

  1. 25 years ago, you represented me in a divorce. The case went to a trial and the evidence, including my own testimony, established that I had an affair.
  2. Now, in 2017, I’m running for public office, or, applying for a job and I listed you as a reference.  You tell a voter or my prospective employer “i’d never support someone who had an affair.”

Good luck with your “but it’s in the public record!” defense to my ethics complaint.

I’ve mellowed since I typed the headline.  So, I’ll conclude with this:

“Hey Lawyers! Be Quiet.”

But . . .

STFU

UPDATE – OCTOBER 5, 2017 

A few cites:

Most recently, take a look at, Dougherty v. Pepper Hamilton LLP, 133 A.3d  792 (2016), 2016 PA Super 23.  A thorough and relevant analysis begins on page 798. The court quotes the Restatement 3d, which includes the following language: “the fact that information has become known to some others does not deprive it of protection if it has not become generally known in the relevant sector of the public.”  Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers § 59, cmt. d.

Akron Bar Ass’n v. Holder, 102 Ohio St. 3d 307 (2004). The case was decided under the Ohio rule that prohibited the disclosure of a client’s “confidendences & secrets.”  Some of you might remember that “confidences & secrets” are what we were required to keep confidential when Vermont followed the Code. We switched to the Rules in 1999.  In any event, after noting that its standard was “less encompassing than that in [ABA] Model Rule 1.6(a),” the Ohio court stated that “[t\here being an ethical duty to maintain client secrets available from sources other than the client, it follows that an attorney is not free to disclose embarrassing or harmful features of a client’s life just because they are documented in public records or the attorney learned of them in some other way.” 102 Ohio St. 3d (306, paragraphs 38-39). Again, the Ohio rule is encompasses less than the rule on which Vermont’s rule is based.

Here’s another: Lawyer Disciplinary Board v.McGraw, 461 S.E.2d 850 (W.Va. 1995).  The Moutaineer Supreme Court stated that “[t]he ethical duty of confidentiality is not nullified by the fact that the information is part of a public record or by the fact that someone else is privy to it.” Id. at 861-862.

Finally, I concede that the Restatement is not as restrictive as my take in the blog post.  Here’s more language from the Restatement:

  • Whether information is generally known depends on all circumstances relevant in obtaining the information. Information contained in books or records in public libraries, public-record depositaries such as government offices, or in publicly accessible electronic-data storage is generally known if the particular information is obtainable through publicly available indexes and similar methods of access. Information is not generally known when a person interested in knowing the information could obtain it only by means of special knowledge or substantial difficulty or expense. Special knowledge includes information about the whereabouts or identity of a person or other source from which the information can be acquired, if those facts are not themselves generally known.”

Still, as a lawyer, I’d be wary.  Arguably, “special knowledge” includes “I’m the only person who knows or remembers that there’s something in the public record about my former client.”

 

Protecting Data: Cybersecurity Tips

For those of you pressed for time, the tips are in this post from the ABA Journal.  For the rest of you, I will now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

The phishing scam I warned about yesterday turned out to be a false alarm; a case of the school that conducted a fire drill without notifying the fire department.

Still, I’ll channel my inner Dwight Schrute:

FACT: lawyers and law firms are frequent targets of phishing scams & malware/ransomware attacks.

Some readers asked what the perpetrators of a phishing scam hope to gain by targeting lawyers and law firms.

Access to information.  Either yours or your clients’.

For example, be wary of an unsolicited e-mail that asks you to click on a link and confirm an account number or password.  This is obvious, correct?  If you respond, what have you done?  That’s right – you’ve given out an account number and its password.

Lately, there’s been a rash of well-publicized phishing scams designed to release malware or ransomware. In some instances, the malware provides the scammer with access to data – account numbers, passwords, secure client information.  In other instances, ransomware encrypts an office’s data.   And by “encrypts” I mean “prevents the office from accessing the data unless or until a ransom is paid.”  Think I’m exaggerating?

The Providence Journal has this story about a firm that was locked out of its data for three months earlier this year.  The firm paid a ransom, then paid another, lost $700,000 in billings, and is in litigation with its cybersecurity carrier.  Oh yeah, and how about being in the news for  having had confidential information breached?  Probably not the marketing campaign most of us would choose.

Or, from the FindLaw blog: last year, a prosecutor’s office in Pennsylvania paid a ransom to release files that had been locked after an employee clicked on a link in an e-mail that the employee believed to be from another government agency.  Sound familiar?  It should – that was yesterday’s pseudo-scam: an invitation for lawyers to click on links in an e-mail that appeared to be from the “ethics board.”

It’s not just small firms and state agencies that are at risk.

DLA Piper is one of the largest firms in the U.S. and has offices all over the world.  Last June, DLA Piper issued this cybersecurity advice in response to a global ransomware attack.  Unfortunately, and as reported by Above The Law, DLA Piper fell victim to a similar attack shortly after issuing the warning.

Today, I came across a post in the ABA Journal: Practical cybersecurity for law firms: How to batten down the hatches.  Give it a read.  It’ll be worth your time.

Remember: the Rules of Professional Conduct impose a duty to act competently to safeguard client information.  I understand that some of you worry that your unfamiliarity with technology will make you look silly if you ask for help.  Stop worrying. Doing nothing other than hoping that it doesn’t happen to you is not a reasonable alternative.

Safeguarding data

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Protecting Client Data

Next week, the Professional Responsibility Board will review several proposed amendments to the Vermont Rules of Professional Conduct, including proposals to change the rules that relate to the duty to act competently to protect client data.

I’ve blogged often on this issue.  Nevertheless, it bears re-visiting.

Rule 1.1 requires a lawyer to provide a client with competent representation.  I’ve asked the Board to recommend that the Court follow the ABA’s and add the underlined & bolded language to Comment [6]:

  • [6] To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education and comply with all continuing legal education requirements to which the lawyer is subject.

Per Robert Ambrogi’s Law Sites Blog, 28 states have adopted a duty of tech competence.

Rule 1.6 prohibits the disclosure of information relating to the representation of a client.  A few years ago, the ABA amended Model Rule 1.6 to include the following language:

  • “A lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.”

I’ve asked the Board to recommend that the Court do the same.

I view Rules 1.1 and 1.6 as creating an affirmative duty to act competently to safeguard client information, including client information that is transmitted or stored electronically.

Now, if the proposals are adopted, will a lawyer need to know how to create an encryption key? Of course not.  Just like, right now, a lawyer does not have duty to know how to build a lock, a file cabinet, or a fob that opens & closes a keyless door.  But, a lawyer probably has a duty to understand the risks and benefits associated with leaving client files in a box that’s in a shared hallway, as opposed to in a locked file cabinet that’s in a room behind a keyless door to which only 2 firm employees have fobs.

Similarly, will a hack or data breach automatically lead to a disciplinary sanction? No. Again, if a lawyer has taken reasonable precautions to protect client data, whether by encrypting e-mail or exercising due diligence in choosing a cloud vendor, the fact of a breach likely is not a violation.

However, I believe we’re rapidly approaching, if we haven’t passed, the day when it will no longer be considered reasonable not to have encrypted email.  Further, if you’re considering a move to the cloud, while you don’t know how to build your own cloud server, the duty of tech competence includes a duty to know what you don’t know.

For example, let’s say you ask a potential cloud vendor whether your clients’ data will be encrypted.  The vendor replies “yes, we use a BTTF flux capacitor to encrypt data at rest.  For data in transmission, we guarantee it will make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs or less.”

What’s your response?

To read more about a BTTF flux capacitor click HERE.  An update on the Kessel Run and parsecs (which are units of distance, not time) is HERE.

Finally, if adopted, my hope is that the new language in Rules 1.1 & 1.6 leads us away from re-evaluating the ethical duty with each technological advance that gives us a new method of transmitting and storing data.

As I’ve written, today’s cloud-based practice management systems are not much different than the businesses that lease storage units on the outskirts of damn near every town.  Before storing client information on or at either, a lawyer must review whether each affords reasonable precautions against unauthorized access and disclosure.

No, the question should not be “is this new way of storing information ethical?”  Nor should it be “is it okay to use smoke signals to communicate with my client?”  Rather, whenever the next big thing comes along, the question should be “does this means of transmitting and storing client information provide reasonable precautions and safeguards against unauthorized access and disclosure.”

For related posts:

cyber-security

 

Monday Morning Answers #83

Friday’s questions are HERE.

Spoiler alert: the answers follow today’s Honor Roll in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1……if you don’t know, now you know.

Honor Roll

Answers

Question 1

There’s only ONE thing that the rules require Vermont lawyers to keep for a period of years.  What is it?

  • A.   Copies of advertisements for 2 years after they first run.
  • B.   Client’s file for 7 years following the termination of the representation of Client.
  • C.   Trust account records of funds held for Client for 6 years following the termination of the representation of Client.  Rule 1.15(a)(1).
  • D.   Client’s confidences & secrets for 7 years following the termination of the representation of client.

Notes:  A is incorrect because the rule was repealed years ago.  B is NOT CORRECT.  The file must be delivered upon the termination of the representation.  See, Rule 1.16(d).  It’s a good idea to make a copy for yourself, but the rules do not require you to do so.  Your carrier probably does though.  Finally, D is not correct.  We stopped using the word “secrets” in 1999.  Also, information relating to the representation of a former client is governed by Rule 1.9(c) and is not subject to a 7-lear limit.

Question 2

Attorney called.  Among other questions on a single topic, she asked me whether the rules define “person of limited means.”  What general topic did Attorney call to discuss?

The pro bono rules.  Per rule 6.1, a majority of the 50 hours should go to providing representation to persons of limited means, or, to organizations that primarily address the needs of persons of limited means.  For more, including the definition of “persons of limited means” see this blog post.

Question 3

Speaking of encrypting email, if there is a duty to encrypt, it flows from two duties set out in the rules. One is the duty to maintain the confidentiality of information related to the representation.  What’s the other?  The duty to:

  • A.  Safeguard client property & funds
  • B.  Provide a client with diligent representation
  • C.  Provide a client with competent representation.  See, Rule 1.1.  Also, the link to my blog on encrypting email was included with the questions.  It outlines how the duty of competence dovetails with the duty to maintain confidences to include a duty to act competently to safeguard information relating to the representation of a client.
  • D.  Communicate with a client

 

Question 4

Lawyer represents Client.   Shortly before trial, opposing party discloses Witness. Lawyer determines that he has a conflict that prohibits him from representing Client in a matter in which Witness will testify for Opposing Party.

Lawyer moves to withdraw and discloses the conflict in both his motion and the argument on the motion.  The court denies the motion and Lawyer represents Client at trial.  Witness testifies, Lawyer cross-examines Witness.

True or False: Lawyer violated the Vermont Rules of Professional Conduct by representing Client at trial and cross-examining Witness.

False.  Rule 1.16(c).  (“When ordered to do so by a tribunal, a lawyer shall continue representation nothwithstanding good cause for terminating the representation.)

Question 5

I’m not making this up.

In Vermont, V.R.Pr.C. 3.1 is the equivalent of civil rule 11.  It prohibits lawyers from asserting a position unless there is a non-frivolous basis for doing so.

I’m not making this part up either.

In 2014, a New York lawyer was sued for allegedly helping a client to fraudulently transfer assets.  Let’s call the lawyer “Defendant.”

In 2015,  Defendant filed a motion in which he requested the he and plaintiff either have a duel or “trial by combat.”  When questioned by the media, he responded that “”I have a good-faith belief that this is still part of our state constitution. I want the law to be clear on this issue, and I have every right to ask for this.”

What’s Defendant’s favorite television show?

Game of Thrones.

The lawyer’s request was denied.  In an article on the denial, Staten Island Live has a fascinating quote from Attorney Richard Luthmann:

  • “I believe that the court’s ruling is based upon my adversaries’ unequivocal statement that they would not fight me,” said Luthmann, who’s based in Castleton Corners.  “Under my reading of the law, the other side has forfeited because they have not met the call of battle. They have declared themselves as cowards in the face of my honorable challenge, and I should go to inquest on my claims.”

Trial by Combat

 

 

 

Legal Ethics, Cloud Storage, and . . . Game of Thrones?

So, you want to store client data in the cloud? Excellent! Odds are it’ll make you more efficient.

What are your duties under the rules of professional conduct?  Good question.

In my view, a lawyer has a duty to take reasonable precautions to protect client information from unauthorized access or disclosure.   The duty applies no matter the “place” that the information is stored.  That is, the cloud is a “place to store client information” in the exact same sense as a storage facility out on the old county road.

For more, here’s my post The Cloud: What Are Reasonable Precautions?

Now, about that headline.

Jeff Bennion has a great post over at Above The Law: How Are Lawyers Supposed  To Have More Security Than HBO?  It’s well-worth the few minutes you’ll need to read it.  A summary of his tips:

  • Know your duties
  • Don’t make unnecessary copies of things
  • Know that some client data is more sensitive than other data
  • Secure all devices & places where client data is stored.

Only 109 hours, 44 minutes until The Dragon & The Wolf.  Until then, just as I’m sure you’ll take reasonable precautions to avoid spoilersdo the same to avoid the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of client information.

Thrones