With technology today, there are lots of electronic devices law firm employees can use to communicate and to complete legal work. From desktops, laptops, cell phones and tablets, all of these devices can be used to perform legal duties or communicate with clients.
Some law firms are tempted to let employees use personal devices to perform legal work or communicate with clients. Some might not even give their employees devices owned by the law firm to perform their job duties. This can leave law firm employees with no resort except to use personal devices.
The problem with using personal devices to communicate with clients and perform legal work are significant. First and foremost, lawyers and law firms have a duty to protect the confidentiality of clients and attorney-client privilege. When personal devices are being used by law firm employees, the law firm really has a duty to ensure that attorney-client privilege and confidentiality is protected. Below are some question you need to answer if you are going to allow employees to use their personal devices for law firm business:
- What steps must the employee take to protect attorney-client privilege and confidentiality?
- Additionally, what if the law firm employee leaves the firm?
- Is there a clause in your employment manual that indicates that the employee must return all communication and legal work to the law firm itself if the employee leaves?
- Is there a clause that requires the departing employee to provide their personal device to the law firm for cleaning?
- What if the employee is not leaving the firm, but they do not have enough security features on their personal device and they either (a) lose their device; or (b) it gets hacked?
The reality is that if you are going to allow employees to use personal devices, you likely need some policies and procedures to be put into place in your employment manual to address these issues. Otherwise, there can be serious issues for the lawyer and the law firm relative to confidentiality and attorney-client privilege.
There can also be problems relating to proprietary information within the law firm itself. In other words, there can be trade secrets on these personal devices. There could also be internal financial information, business plans, marketing information and a litany of other information on these personal devices. You likely do not want all this information floating around on personal devices.
Ultimately, the safer way to deal with this issue is to not let employees use their personal devices for law firm business in the first place. Instead, it’s a lot safer for the law firm to provide company devices to the law firm employees. If the employee departs, the employee is then to return the device to the law firm itself. The law firm can than ensure that all of this important information is protected.
Certainly this approach might cost the law firm more money because it results in the law firm paying the costs associated with these devices. But it is likely worth the cost for most law firms when considering the seriousness of the issues relating to confidentiality, attorney-client privilege and important proprietary information.
If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them below.