Reminder of Attorneys’ Ethical Obligations When Practicing Remotely
The Pennsylvania Bar Association recently issued an Opinion that gives some reminders of our ethical obligations as attorneys as we adjust to practicing from our home offices. This is, perhaps, the first written opinion that provides ethical guidance for home practice in the context of stay-at-home orders in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The primary focus of the opinion is on maintaining the confidentiality of client information and communications with clients. Our traditional office environment is carefully set-up to keep confidential documents and information secure, but we are now working from home offices that are often not intended, or equipped, to be the sole location for our practice. There are perils with the internet as well as communicating by phone in ad hoc locations.
Some of the key bullet points identified in the Order insist that attorneys and staff take reasonable precautions to assure that:
1. All communications, including telephone calls, text messages, email, and video conferencing are conducted in a manner that minimizes the risk of inadvertent disclosure of confidential information;
2. Information transmitted through the Internet is done in a manner that ensures the confidentiality of client communications and other sensitive data;
3. Their remote workspaces are designed to prevent the disclosure of confidential information in both paper and electronic form;
4. Proper procedures are used to secure and backup confidential data stored on electronic devices and in the cloud;
5. Any remotely working staff are educated about and have the resources to make their work compliant with the Rules of Professional Conduct; and,
6. Appropriate forms of data security are used.
The Opinion elaborates on these points in further detail. We urge all those continuing their practice remotely to read the Opinion for a refresher on our ethical obligations and how best to adhere to them during these uncertain times.