June 29, 2020 5 minutes to read ∙ 1200 words

TAPAs: Using Technology to Stay Safe During the Pandemic

By Jeffrey Allen and Ashley Hallene

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As the country falters in and out of a state of alarm respecting the status of the coronavirus, it seems both reasonable and logical to devote this column to the question of using technology to minimize the risk of your exposure to the current iteration of the plague. The pandemic should have pushed all of us to learn to live more comfortably with technology and use it in the course of our work. Here are some tips to help keep you healthy and allow you to continue to work.

Tip 1: Avoid Meeting People Face-to-Face

Face-to-face meetings have grown increasingly less important to our practices. Over the years we have had many clients that retained us long-distance using telephones and correspondence as the primary means of communications. We represented some of these clients for many years having very few face-to-face meetings. Some people take issue with this approach, expressing a strong desire to meet face-to-face with clients. Technology offered a solution to that problem, but we had not taken it up seriously prior to the current pandemic. We have started to use videoconferencing extensively for client meetings to enable us to continue to meet with clients, talk to them, and have a virtual face-to-face meeting without either the attorney or the client incurring a risk of exposure to the coronavirus (or anything else for that matter) by the interaction. You have many videoconferencing tools available to you. We have used Zoom as our primary vehicle. While the platform had some security issues in the past, they seem to be in the rearview mirror now. The platform works reliably and well in our experience and has proven quite easy to learn and use. Many courts have also moved in recent years to allowing telephone appearances and in the present pandemic to video appearances using various platforms. This process has worked pretty well, and we expect it to continue, even after the COVID-19 threat has receded or we have solved it with a vaccine. We have seen mediations, arbitrations, court hearings, depositions, and client meetings moved to videoconferencing in the last few months. We expect this to continue in the foreseeable future for health and safety as well as economic reasons. It saves considerable time and effort to not leave your home or office and travel to wherever an event would occur but still have the ability to appear at the event.

Tip 2: Use Appropriate Security Measures

While it seems that we will never get security perfect, we keep getting better. Using a firewall and a virtual private network (VPN) to protect your online communications will help keep you and your client communications secure. We like the idea of VPNs so much that we no longer limit our use of them to situations when we travel. We employ them whenever we go online to protect our communications, especially client communications. While you can set up your own VPN, we have found some of the commercially available VPNs very decent and choose to rely on them. Some of the VPNs we like include NordVPN, CyberGhost, ExpressVPN and Surfshark.

Tip 3: Keep Your Devices Protected from Viruses and Other Malware

The coronavirus does not pose the only virus threat that should concern you. Your electronic devices (computer, tablet, smartphone) all have their own susceptibility to attacks by viruses and malware. Just as you try to protect yourself from catching a virus, you need to protect your devices. Protection of your devices comes in several forms. You should get at least one anti-malware program installed on each of your devices. Some of our favorites include offerings from Malwarebytes, Norton, Bitdefender, McAfee, and Kaspersky. Conventional wisdom says pick one, install it, and leave it on all the time. We actually like having more than one, leaving one on all the time and running the second from time to time as insurance that the primary program did not miss something.

Tip 4: Devote a Work Device to Work

We recommend using different devices for work and personal use. Some people use the same devices for both purposes, especially with respect to smartphones and tablets. This approach comes with some risk that you may wish to avoid. In our personal lives we might choose to go to a website that has some risk associated with it. We might also choose to take a chance by clicking on a link provided in a particularly enticing e-mail from a stranger. While we do not recommend or encourage such risky (or risqué) conduct due to the potential exposure it can create, we strongly recommend against it on any device that you use for work. The bottom line: If you share a device for work and personal uses, always follow the work rule with that device and don’t go exploring on the seamy side of the Internet or click links on questionable sites or offered in suspicious e-mails. Keep your device as safe as possible. The rest of this story: We encourage you to follow the same advice with respect to your personal devices to keep them and your personal information safe.

Tip 5: Dealing with Live and In-Person Meetings

While we can use technology to help us avoid live interaction with clients and others in many cases, sometimes you just cannot avoid having to appear in a location where you have exposure to others, sometimes clients, sometimes other attorneys, sometimes third parties. To reduce the risk of people making each other sick, our advice is that in those situations, all parties wear appropriate masks and maintain a minimum distance of six feet between people at all times. This may not prove convenient, but it reflects recommendations from appropriate authorities. As an added precaution, you can wear gloves to avoid your skin coming in contact with a contaminated surface. Medical-grade gloves have not always been available, so we have used food service-grade gloves when necessary. Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you and use it regularly and liberally on your gloves. We also like to use it on the outside of face masks before we take them off. We recently acquired a pulse oximeter and an infrared thermometer both to check ourselves and to check others with whom we will have meetings. While a fever and a low oxygen reading are not always indicative of the virus, we stay away from those with either symptom.

Nothing will guarantee that you do not catch the coronavirus, but these measures can enable you to continue to serve your clients while reducing your risk of exposure. For whatever value you may find in this reassurance, we have followed our own advice, and to date we have not caught the coronavirus.

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Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California, where he has practiced since 1973. He is active in the American Bar Association (particularly in the GPSolo and Senior Lawyers Divisions), the California State Bar Association, and the Alameda County Bar Association. He is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus and Senior Technology Editor of GPSolo magazine and the GPSolo eReport and continues to serve as a member of both magazines’ Editorial Boards. He also serves as an editor and the technology columnist for Experience magazine. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is a former member of the ABA Standing Committee on Information Technology and the Board of Editors of the ABA Journal. Recently, he coauthored (with Ashley Hallene) Technology Solutions for Today’s Lawyer and iPad for Lawyers: The Tools You Need at Your Fingertips. In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, he has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He is on the faculty of California State University of the East Bay. He may be reached at jallenlawtek@aol.com.

Ashley Hallene is a petroleum landman at Macpherson Energy Company in Bakersfield, California. Ashley is Editor-in-Chief of the GPSolo eReport and is the coauthor of the technology overview Making Technology Work for You (A Guide for Solo and Small Firm Attorneys) along with attorney Jeffrey Allen. She has published articles on legal technology in GPSolo magazine, GPSolo eReport, and the TechnoLawyer Newsletter. Ashley is an active member of the American Bar Association’s General Practice Solo & Small Firm Division, ABA’s Young Lawyers Division, and the Bakersfield Association of Petroleum Landmen. She frequently speaks in technology CLEs. She may be reached at ahallene@hallenelaw.com.

Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 9, Number 11, June 2020. © 2020 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.