Communicating with clients is an essential part of every law practice, but figuring out how to do it in a way that complies with the ABA Model Rule requirements can prove difficult.
Technology and online usage have made it easier to stay in touch than ever before, but the traditional methods of communicating with colleagues, friends, and family aren’t always acceptable when it comes to clients. Many lawyers struggle with knowing exactly what is required as to protecting confidential information and how to fulfill their ethical obligations without creating a process that’s time-consuming for both them and their clients.
ABA Formal Opinion 477 allows for the sharing of client communications through online means, but is very specific as to a lawyer’s responsibility for due diligence in ensuring those communications are secure, stating: “A lawyer generally may transmit information relating to the representation of a client over the internet without violating the Model Rules of Professional Conduct where the lawyer has undertaken reasonable efforts to prevent inadvertent or unauthorized access.”
So what do these reasonable efforts mean? Here’s a look at the two most commonly used communication methods and how you can use them to securely contact your clients.
An ABA Tech Survey showed that only 26% of lawyers were using encryption when sending and receiving sensitive information to clients through email. The consequences of client data being intercepted are not insignificant, with many state bar associations issuing opinions clearly stating lawyers are responsible for adequate due diligence in the prevention of intercepted client data. The ramifications extend beyond an ethical sanction and can even result in a revocation of license.
If you are going to send information to clients through email, it should be through an encrypted message. There are a number of third-party programs designed to encrypt emails, such as CloudStar and ShareFile. Also, be sure your software is regularly updated to avoid any vulnerabilities that could lead to a data breach.
A client portal is one of the most effective ways to ensure your client communications are secure. Many practice management programs offer this, creating a way for you to send privileged and confidential information without worrying about its interception.
With a client portal, you can upload a message or document to the system. The client will then receive an email notifying them of the awaiting message, where they can then log into the system to securely retrieve the message. These portals are protected and designed to be extremely secure, with encrypted login and data storage meaning you can trust your messages are only being read by your client.
Not only are client portals secure, but they’re also efficient, tracking all conversations and notes in one easy-to-view screen.
Communicating with clients isn’t just an ethical obligation – it’s good for business, too. Consistent communication and status updates help clients feel confident their case is being handled effectively and increases the likelihood of a referral. You need to stay in touch with your clients, but make sure to do so in a way that’s reasonably sufficient to prevent a data breach or inadvertent disclosure of confidential client data.
For detailed ways you can make sure you’ve done your due diligence in protecting client communications, check out How can I secure communications with my clients?