Home » Uncategorized » Blog Post 4 for 10/28: How Lawyers can Safeguard Clients’ Information on Smartphone Devices

Blog Post 4 for 10/28: How Lawyers can Safeguard Clients’ Information on Smartphone Devices

Because of their mobility and portability, smartphones, tablets, and other “pocket” computer electronic products are becoming increasingly popular. In this era of technology, many lawyers are also using these devices in their law practices. By effectively utilizing computer technology, lawyers can spend more time working on other tasks, such as developing arguments and strategies for their cases and meeting with their clients, rather than wasting time on basic secretarial and administrative tasks. These products give lawyers an edge in this competitive world (http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/the_compleat_mobile_lawyer).


Smartphones provide many convenient functions. For example, with smartphones, lawyers can be in close contact with their clients and colleagues at law firms when they are traveling or after normal business hours. Lawyers can use their smartphones to promptly respond to emails. Lawyers can also store their schedules and their clients’ contact information in their smartphones and have this information readily available when they are away from their offices. Additionally, lawyers can use their smartphones to connect to the Internet and search for information pertinent to their clients’ cases when they do not have computer access. However, the convenience brought by technology does come at a price, as lawyers have an ethical obligation of safeguarding their clients’ confidential information (http://www.americanbar.org/publications/ law_practice_magazine/2013/march-april/hot-buttons.html).


Emails between attorneys and clients may contain sensitive and privileged information. For example, in a divorce case, the client may tell the attorney some secrets about the client’s personal life. The client will definitely not want other people, especially the spouse, to see these confidential communications. If the spouse gains unauthorized access to these communications, such as through email, the spouse may be able to use the privileged information to prepare for arguments to refute the client’s claims at trial. Thus, to fulfill the lawyer’s ethical obligations and to prevent other people from gaining access to these privileged communications, a lawyer needs to take steps to protect the content in these emails. The best way to protect sensitive emails is to encrypt them. As such, even if someone accesses the email, she will not be able to view it, and the privileged information shared between the client and the lawyer will be protected from the third-party. Although many lawyers are reluctant to encrypt emails, encryption is actually a simple task and is often already built into smartphones as a security feature. In many cases, the user just needs to enter a personal identification code before encrypting and retrieving an email, yet this simple action will protect sensitive email communications from inadvertent disclosure (http://www.americanbar.org/publications/law_practice_magazine/2013/march-april/hot-buttons.html).


Another simple task that lawyers can do to protect the contents in their smartphones is to lock their smartphones with passcodes so that third parties cannot access or view the information stored in the phones. It is also recommended to set a stronger and more complex passcode with alphanumeric characters that people cannot easily guess. Another recommended tip is to adjust the settings on the smartphone to lock the phone after a few minutes of inactivity. Since the phone will only be reactivated if the user reenters a password, the phone will be locked and its content will still be secure even if the lawyer leaves the smartphone idle. Although it may seem inconvenient, this is a far better option than having the content of the smartphone compromised and accessed by an unauthorized party. Lawyers can also use a security app that allows them to remotely lock their phones or remotely wipe the information from their phones in case their phones are lost. These methods can be instrumental in safeguarding the confidential information, which is of paramount importance to the lawyers. If confidential client information is leaked, the lawyer faces the possibility that she may lose the lawsuit. In the worst case scenario, the lawyer may be found in violation of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, and the client may sue the lawyer for malpractice (http://www.americanbar.org/ publications/law_practice_magazine/ 2013/march-april/hot-buttons.html).


Furthermore, it is helpful for lawyers to remain vigilant while using their smartphones. For example, lawyers should be wary of clicking on external links in emails, especially if the lawyers do not know the senders of the emails. If lawyers want to connect to the Internet through a wireless network, it is important to select a secure WPA2-encrypted wireless connection rather than an open network without encryption. This is especially the case in public places. Lawyers should also be careful about downloading apps. Most importantly, they should protect their smartphones from virus or malware threats. Fortunately, it is not too difficult for lawyers to fulfill this objective because many smartphones already come standard with security software packages, such as Lookout for Android phones. These simple strategies can minimize the chance of virus infection. Thus, lawyers can protect their data and valuable and confidential client information from corruption and save the hassles in cleaning up a virus bug (http://www.americanbar.org/publications/law_practice_magazine/ 2013/march-april/hot-buttons.html).


One final tip is to backup information stored on the smartphones. It is also a good practice to store important information in secured platforms, such as the Google Cloud platform, where lawyers can retrieve the information using their smartphones and share the information with their colleagues. Otherwise, if the smartphones suddenly crash or are lost or stolen, the lawyers will lose a significant chunk of their information and their clients’ communications (http://www.americanbar.org/publications/law_practice_magazine/2013/march-april/hot-buttons.html).

Clarence Ling