YourABA May 2012 Masthead

Lawyers must heed dangers in using the technologies they love

Do you check Facebook every chance you get? Do you use an iPhone or Android device—or both? Do you download apps and play games? Do you store files in the cloud?

If so, you know that emerging electronic technologies can be exciting, fun and useful. But you may not realize that lawyers need to be especially careful when using them.

That's the advice imparted at an ABA TECHSHOW 2012 presentation by Ivan Hemmans and Antigone Peyton. Hemmans is a technology adviser with O'Melveny & Myers in Los Angeles. Peyton is founder and CEO of Cloudigy Law, an intellectual property and technology law firm based in Alexandria, Va.

Privacy and security are main concerns for lawyers who use smartphones and log onto file-sharing or information-sharing websites or apps, the panelists said. While services such as Google have been relatively upfront about changes in their privacy policies, many others are not as forthcoming, they noted

The risk of intermingling confidential client information with personal material—and having it exposed to the outside world—is greater than ever before, the panelists said.

"We find it hard, even as much as we work with technology, to keep up with those changes and to understand what's happening with our data, where it's going and where it's being stored," Peyton said.

A significant challenge for law firms is the advent of stated or informal BYOD—bring your own device—policies. Hemmans noted that many members of his firm bring their own smartphones and other devices to their practices, but they need to be vigilant in protecting the integrity of the firm's data and clients' confidential information.

This can be especially true when users mix business and personal activity on one device. Several years ago, Hemmans said, it was easy to have a designated "work" phone and "personal" phone, but those days are long gone. He carries at least two smartphones wherever he goes, and he readily acknowledges that both contain a combination of work and personal information.

The risk of intermingling confidential client information with personal—and having it exposed to the outside world—is therefore greater than ever before, the panelists said.

"You may be sharing information in ways you don't understand," Peyton warned. Social media services like Facebook and apps may download your personal information such as contacts without your permission or with vague notice, so it's important to read the fine print before downloading any app, she said.

Peyton related how she once played a popular game app on her smartphone and was prompted whether she wanted to share her scores with her online friends. Had she not been careful, she pointed out, she could easily have had messages about her gaming activity sent to her business contacts.

A similar situation arises with "like" buttons that accompany online articles, the panelists noted. If you're logged into a social media site like Facebook while reading an article on the same browser, even if it's on another site, you will publicly announce what you have read. This may be OK for innocuous reading, but if you're researching confidential material for your client, it may not be. Hemmans suggested an easy fix to this is to use a separate browser when on social media sites, or better yet, to log out of any social media sites altogether while conducting business.

File sharing is another area of potential danger, the panelists said. Each app developer has his or her own terms of use and privacy policies, so, again, they said it's important to read the fine print. A popular file-sharing service, Dropbox, is attractive for many personal uses, but it's not such a good idea to use it for storing client data, the panelists said, as a number of privacy and security concerns have been raised about the service.

A good shield against privacy and security breeches is information and awareness, Hemmans and Peyton said. Research apps before downloading them. Check your privacy settings on Google and Facebook regularly. And if you notice someone at your firm who is up on the latest technologies, consult with them and empower them to be tech gurus for others.

"We both love technology, but we want to use it responsibly," Peyton said. "If you love using technology, you should also be responsible."

ABA TECHSHOW is organized by the Law Practice Management Section.

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