The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt all aspects of everyday life. As the virus spreads throughout the United States and around the globe, the number of those infected will rise, as will the death rate. Governments have issued quarantines and shelter-in-place orders in an effort to combat the pandemic, and, as a result, several businesses, including law firms, have closed offices temporarily and instituted work from home measures for lawyers and support staff.
In this challenging environment with circumstances changing on a continuous basis, law firms must remember the fiduciary duties owed to clients and their ethical duties as defined by rules of professional conduct in the relevant jurisdiction. Law firms may limit their exposure to professional liability and other claims by identifying and responding to key issues that may arise during the crisis.
During these stressful times, clients may require more reassurance from their lawyers than usual, which may lead to an increased need for communication between lawyers and clients. In addition to promptly complying with reasonable requests for information, lawyers must keep clients reasonably informed about the status of their matters. If law firms have closed their physical law offices on a temporary basis, such information should be communicated to clients, including any updates contact information for the law firm. Law firms may be required to ensure that phone numbers and voicemail messages are routed to the appropriate law firm personnel working remotely. The same concern applies to regular and certified mail as well as packages sent to the law firm’s office.
Security in Remote Working Situations
Attorneys must be vigilant in maintaining the security and confidentiality of data/client files while telecommunicating. Working remotely presents certain cybersecurity risks such as accessing/sending information through unsecure WIFI networks, use of unsecure personal devices, phishing attacks, and many others. Recent media reports indicate a surge in cybercrimes against law firms as criminals attempt to exploit cyber security vulnerabilities with so many lawyers working remotely. It is important to follow firm security guidelines and policies, and review data breach response plans to ensure that each practice setting is prepared and able to respond quickly to any incident.