In this age of increased technology, attorneys are turning to “virtual law offices” (VLO) and cloud technologies to maintain office files and information. There have been concerns raised about whether maintaining files online still complies with an attorney’s ethical obligations. Cloud computing is accepted by the Business and Professions Code and the Rules of Professional Conduct, but attorneys may be required to take additional steps to confirm that he or she is fulfilling ethical obligations with the cloud. There are no new or greater duties imposed on VLO, but attorneys are asked to be more cautious when taking this approach.
In a VLO, attorneys are able to communicate with clients through a secure internet portal. The attorney’s website can store information regarding the client’s case. The information on the client matters are password protected and encrypted. The State Bar of California understands the flexibility and convenience of legal services provided through VLO. However, this does not mean a client’s confidentiality could be sacrificed. Every lawyer, they believe, has a duty to “maintain inviolate the confidence, and at every peril to himself or herself, preserve the secrets of his or her client.”
Whether or not an attorney violates his or her duties to confidentiality when using technology will depend on the particular technology being used. Before using an technology in the course of representing a client, an attorney must evaluate:
- The level of security attendant to the use of that technology, including considerations of whether reasonable precautions may be taken using it.
- The legal ramifications to a third party who intercepts or accesses the electronic information.
- The degree of sensitivity of the information.
- The possible impact on the client of an inadvertent disclosure of confidential information.
- The urgency of the situation.
- The client’s instructions and circumstances.
We hope both our clients and other attorneys found this post useful in understanding the changing nature of the legal field. While the State Bar does not impose additional rules or restrictions on VOL, attorneys are asked to be more cautious when using a cloud. The information provided above comes from specific ethical guidelines from California’s State Bar. Opinions by other Bar Associations may vary.