The Pennsylvania Bar Association Committee on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility released, what I believe to be the first guidance opinion related to working from home due to COVID-19. Since PBA’s opinions are behind a pay wall, I have uploaded this document so you may read it. As usual, I will ask PBA’s forgiveness for my copyright violation.
Ethical Obligations for Lawyers Working Remotely
As I have been stressing over the past few weeks, lawyers have substantial ethical obligations they must follow in order to keep client data confidential while working remotely. As such, the major focus of PBA Formal Opinion 2020-300, is confidentiality. The opinion refers back to a number of other opinions written by the Committee that provide additional guidance. It also “affirms and adopts conclusions of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility in Formal Opinion 477R (May 22, 2017).”
Major Conclusions of Formal Opinion 2020-300
The fundamental conclusions in PBA Formal Opinion 2020-300 are as follows:
- Attorneys who use the Internet or any other technology to transmit confidential data must take reasonable steps to secure that data.
- The remote workplace must be appropriately designed to avoid disclosure of confidential data. This includes paper, electronic data, and verbal information. (In other words, people overhearing or intercepting phone calls, video chat and so on).
- Appropriate backups must be kept and those backups must be properly protected for confidentiality.
- Remote staff must be properly educated and provided with the resources they need so they also may comply with confidentiality and security requirements.
Other Issues to Consider
The Opinion is 14 pages long, so there is a lot to it. This includes identifying relevant ethics rules, other ethics opinions to consider, and practical recommendations on securing remote offices, the Internet, video conferences, and more. Dan Siegel wrote the opinion, and as always, he did an excellent job. I recommend you take a look at it. If you are an attorney in a different jurisdiction, I imagine that many of the conclusions will hold for you all the same.