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   March 2002


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Privacy? It Is Your Business

Privacy has emerged as the pressing issue of the decade. And with it comes the attendant clash of opinion, law and emotion. Like amateur debaters, self-righteous and dogmatic in our black and white positions, we bellow past each other.

" I. Me. I’m a person. A private person. I am not a number. Leave me alone. Who I am, what I do, where I go? That’s none of your business. I want to be left alone. I insist on it. Anonymity is my right. Deal with me on my terms. Or I’m outta here. I can pack up and go. Leave not a trace. I like being a nobody. I want privacy. It’s my right!"

And, from the other side, equally uncompromising:

" You. You at the cash machine. On the filling station camera. You with the credit cards. With the footprints all over cyberspace. You are our customer. Our market. We know who you are. What you buy. Where you’ve come from. Where you’re going. We own your information. You have no privacy. Get over it. If you want the benefits, you must accept the trade. If you want security, that requires a sacrifice. How much is your privacy really worth?"

We know so little about the ultimate impact of the steps our society may take today. What we do know, however, is that as lawyers, we stand among those called on to bridge the gap between the strident and the reasoned. Yes, it is a business opportunity. (If you haven’t checked into the emerging market for privacy lawyers, you should.) But it presents a tumultuous array of practice management challenges, too.

With the help of a wonderful group of privacy and practice management experts, in this issue we take apart and examine pieces of the privacy puzzle for lawyers: employee records, client communications, attorney-client privilege, Web site management, ethics issues involved in using ASPs, and even privacy concerns in the shared office setting. This issue is rich with challenging content, to provoke— and possibly even annoy— our readers.

May this be only the beginning of an ongoing conversation about the impact of changing social and legal privacy standards. Not just how they’ll affect black-letter law, but how they’ll change the way you manage your practice. Let it be a dialog—not a debate between dogmatists—bound for greater understanding and, ultimately, new solutions that really work.

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton, lpm-editor@abanet.org