Calif. Bar to attorneys: Disable Alexa when working from home

4 minute read

REUTERS/Emily Elconin

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  • A new State Bar of California draft opinion clarifies that attorneys working remotely must abide by the same rules of professional conduct as those in an office
  • Protecting client information is especially important in a remote work environment

(Reuters) - Working from home under emergency circumstances isn’t an excuse for attorneys to slack off on their ethical obligations.

That’s the takeaway of a draft opinion from the State Bar of California’s Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct released Thursday for public comment. The opinion clarifies that attorneys have the same ethical duties under the California Rules of Professional Conduct when working remotely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic or other disasters as they do when they are in the office. The state bar is accepting public comment on the opinion through Nov. 12.

“Lawyers and law firms should implement reasonable measures, policies, and practices to ensure continued compliance with these rules in a remote working environment, with a particular focus on the duties of confidentiality, technology competence, communication, and supervision,” the opinion reads.

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When working from home, attorneys should ensure other household members can’t access confidential client information. Separate accounts should be created for anyone else who uses a lawyer’s computer.

“Other reasonable security measures include implementing two-factor authentication, strong passwords and auto-logoff after the computer is inactive,” the opinion says.

Physical files should also be stored and disposed of securely, and lawyers should consider disabling the listening capabilities of smart speakers and virtual assistants unless they are needed to help with legal services. Lawyers should also remind clients who are working remotely to take steps to protect confidentiality as well, the opinion says.

“Lawyers should also stay abreast of new court rules and procedures relating to COVID-19 and other disasters, including the closure or limited hours of courts, and be adequately prepared to render competent legal representation at remote court hearings and conferences,” it reads.

A lawyer’s responsibility to communicate with clients and adequately supervise subordinates and manage staff remains in place even when they are working remotely, the opinion notes. Firms should have “bring your own device” policies when attorneys and staff use their own devices to handle confidential client information. Those policies should include employees’ consent to remote locking or wiping should the firm experience a security breach, theft, loss of device or the departure of an employee.

Lawyer mobility is another issue that has cropped up during the pandemic, requiring attorneys to navigate different jurisdictional requirements.

“The committee recognizes that lawyers working remotely may temporarily or permanently relocate to another state where the lawyer is not licensed to practice law,” the opinion reads. “California licensed lawyers practicing California law remotely in another state where they are not licensed should consult the multijurisdictional practice and unauthorized practice of law rules and authorities of the state where they are physically present.”

Read more:

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com