October 25, 2011 Articles

Tips for Using Technology While Keeping Client Information Confidential

By Lisa O'Connor

The practice of law, while rich in tradition, is a constantly evolving profession. Perhaps now more than ever, lawyers are facing an increased demand from managing partners and clients alike to be more economically efficient. Innovative technology—everything from email to cloud computing—offers appealing and practical options for lawyers to increase their productivity while lowering their costs.

With the use of new technology, however, comes unchartered ethical territory for lawyers to navigate. The unfortunate reality for solo practitioners and lawyers at small firms is that they often face higher rates of bar complaints than their colleagues at larger firms. See, e.g., Ted Schneyer, On Further Reflection: How "Professional Self-Regulation" Should Promote Compliance with Broad Ethical Duties of Law Firm Management, 53 Ariz. L. Rev. 577, 603 n.132 (2011). And, as leading legal ethics scholars explain, "[N]ew trends in law practice may be putting solo practitioners and small firms at even greater risk." Id.at 627 n.265 (citing Michael Downey, Solos, Smaller Firms, and Technology Risks 1 (Oct. 15, 2010) (unpublished manuscript) (presented to ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20)). Likely due to both lack of resources and lack of time, scholars believe that "technological change . . . is felt most severely by those lawyers, often solos or smaller firms, who provide cost-sensitive services primarily to consumers." Id.Given this background, consideration of a question recently posed by Roberta Cooper Ramo, a current ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 member and former ABA president, seems particularly appropriate: "How do we resolve our ethical duties to our clients and the system, our need to be economically efficient, and our duty to be competent in this swiftly changing world?" Roberta Cooper Ramo, Ethics for American Lawyers in the Age of Twitter and the Cloud, 72 Mont. L. Rev. 227, 230 (2011).

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