Legal Issues & Considerations for a Client & Lawyer When Lawyer Works From Home

Lawyer Ethical Considerations When Working From Home
There are many ethical considerations for lawyers working from home.

Question: Are there any legal issues or considerations for either the client or the lawyer when the lawyer is working from home?


It is unlikely there are any legal issues for the client. There are some things the lawyer will need to do to make sure their office is both ethically and legally appropriate.

If the client is not certain whether the lawyer is aware of their ethical obligations and savvy enough to protect them, then that could be an issue for the client. Security of client data may be something the client wants to bring up, if they have any concerns.

Let me start with the legal issues because there are not many.

  1. Zoning. If you actually are running your business from home (as opposed to working from home from time-to-time) then you will need to make sure you follow the zoning requirements of your township. Most townships have no problem with a lawyer running an office from home, regardless of zoning. Zoning will impact whether the lawyer can hang a sign outside. Whether clients are coming and going, along with how many, will also have an impact on approval.
  2. Insurance. If you are running an office from home, and having clients in your home, you may be required to adjust your homeowner’s or rental insurance accordingly. The reason for this is that if you have people coming into your home for business purposes, especially if it is frequent, your insurance company may require you to have a different kind of policy. You may also need a different kind of insurance for certain types of office equipment, if you have them in your home-office.

There may be other legal issues, but these are the big two.

Lawyers have ethical rules they must follow. And those ethical rules have a large impact on making sure they set up their office(s) properly.

  1. Security. There are many kinds of security. But fundamentally, we can break them down to physical and electronic. Lawyers are ethically obligated to keep their client’s data safe. This means you need to keep your home office physically secure so that people cannot walk off with, or even see client data.
    1. You may need to have a security system of some kind, and you also, want to make sure you don’t leave client files around so just anyone can see them. You may need to put a lock on your office door, or on your filing cabinets. Basic things like that. There are many wireless security systems available these days. These systems will frequently suffice for your average home office. These articles cover two different wireless systems I used in the past. They are old articles, the newer wireless systems are even better.
    2. Speaking of wireless, moving to wi-fi, lawyers must make sure they use an appropriately secure Internet connection.
    3. Many lawyers use the cloud these days. This is especially likely to be the case if you have a home office, since you aren’t likely to have a server in your house. As such, it is critical to choose whatever cloud provider you use very carefully. This is a presentation I did back in 2015 on choosing a cloud provider. Not much has changed since then. You can find a variety of ethics opinions on the issue linked from the ABA’s website.
    4. You have to make sure you properly back up your data. This returns us to point b. I prefer people either use two cloud sources for backup, or one cloud source and one local source. Local sources should be encrypted.
  2. Tools
    1. Lawyers who have home offices and/or are solos, need to make certain they have access to appropriate tools.
      1. For example. If you perform legal research a lot, you need to make sure you have access to an appropriate electronic research platform. You should not have to go to the library and use books. Book research, on the whole, is no longer acceptable. It is out-of-date and not comprehensive the way electronic research is. Fortunately, many bar associations now offer a free research tool as part of membership. Otherwise, there are less expensive options than traditional Lexis and Westlaw subscriptions these days. Some lawyers rarely need to do legal research in their practice areas, and so this may not be as much of an issue for them.
      2. Lawyers need to make sure they are using appropriate email. They should not be using free gMail, AOL, and so on. A lot of solos insist on using these tools, whether they have an office or not. It is ethically inappropriate because these free tools are freely accessible by the providers. It is inappropriate as far as marketing, because these lawyers are branding the service provider. I simply would never hire a lawyer who insists on using one of these types of email accounts. It tells me a lot about them. None of it good.
      3. Another thing some lawyers do is use an inappropriate service to access their email. They are not syncing their emails, calendars, and contacts across devices. If the lawyer is not otherwise making sure to properly sync such things, they are leaving themselves open to missing meetings, failing to update addresses and so on. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen lawyers get in trouble (and cause their clients grief) simply because they do not keep a good calendar. I also see lawyers get in trouble because they send documents to an old address, even after they have been provided with a new one. The sad thing is that this problem is easily prevented and/or resolved by using an appropriate system.
      4. Organization is key for lawyers. Some lawyers still keep everything on paper. That is fine, but they still need to make sure they are using an appropriate system, as in point iii, to keep track of deadlines and to make it easy for them to find documents. Some lawyers do this with cards and a file. Such is their right. I do not recommend this kind of system system. If you have a home office, there are numerous tools you can buy, some local, some in the cloud, that serve as law firm management software. I am partial to Clio and Rocketmatter for solos and smalls. They are cloud based, and have everything you need, except for accounting. Most lawyers will add accounting with Quickbooks.

These are just a few things off the top of my head. There are many things that go into setting up a proper home office, but that is a different question entirely. I just focused on the areas where most lawyers can get in trouble.

Subscribe to This Blog