As technology evolves, family law practitioners are relying more and more on mobile devices for business and personal use. However, the mobile way of doing business has pitfalls as well as benefits. Here are 5 things you should be doing right now to protect client data.
By Jessica Hoffman, Lawyer and Law Firm Strategy Officer
Family lawyers rely heavily on smartphones, tablets, and laptops to maintain their practices. While the increasingly mobile and text-friendly way of doing business has its benefits, it also has pitfalls. Knowing how to comply with state/federal regulations and fiduciary duties when it comes to client information received via email or text is critical.
Personal financial and health information must be safeguarded at all times to reduce risk if lost or stolen. HIPAA HITECH and similarly directed state laws subject lawyers to additional standards to protect that information and ABA Model Rule 1.1 requires that “competent representation to a client” includes understanding “the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology”. Thirty-one states have adopted this standard. In fact, Florida requires additional CLE to understand the risks and benefits of the use of technology, and California requires lawyers to be competent in e-discovery or to work with someone who is.
The Mobile Lawyer: 5 Tips to Protect Client Data
1. Add a passcode and a timeout.
Require a code to unlock your device (preferably six digits) and set your device to automatically lock after a period of inactivity.
2. Employ a remote data wiping function.
Companies such as Air Watch and SOTI can erase information on your device remotely.
3. Back up data.
Don’t store items locally on your phone or laptop unless you are regularly backing up to a secure location. Files stored on a laptop hard drive or smartphone are at higher risk of being inadvertently disclosed and more vulnerable to a single point of data loss failure. Cloud-based mobile applications such as iDrive are handy. Apple’s iCloud will offer some protection or you can use Google Drive for storage of particular information/documents, but neither do a complete back-up of your hard drive. Make sure you are aware of what is backed up and what is not.
4. Adopt a text message alternative.
Clients sending important information via text message is commonplace. Here are a few alternatives to receiving sensitive information – such as message screenshots between a client and the opposing party – that reduces the risk of unauthorized disclosure and maintains it for use as evidence.
- Request that clients email screenshots and other sensitive information to you so that it can be backed up on your network.
- Subscribe to a file management system where clients can upload screenshots to a secure file site. File sites such as Box are HIPAA compliant and encrypted.
- Ask clients to download text messages using one of several desktop services that connect to their smartphone. Have them deliver the results to you via your preferred method (hard copy, email, upload, flash drive etc.).
- Use a secure service like FamilyDocket that automatically tracks and aggregates text messages in real-time between the (ex)spouses/co-parents. Messages are saved in an encrypted format and can be accessed securely on your mobile device or computer. This provides more context than a single screenshot and avoids the expense of a subpoena to a cell phone carrier.
5. Set a consistent data policy for your clients.
Once you have decided what text-message alternative works best for you and anticipate what is most convenient for your clients, be consistent across your practice. Set the stage during your intake session regarding how you prefer to receive sensitive information. Owning this process is a competitive advantage that makes managing client data easier for you and, because it saves you time, ultimately saves the client money.
As technology evolves, family law practitioners will continue to find themselves in a unique position at the intersection of how they communicate in their personal lives and how they communicate in their professional lives. Getting in front of these with your clients will be critical to an efficient legal practice – and may soon be required in every state to maintain your license.
Jessica Hoffmann is the Founder and CEO of FamilyDocket, a software application that helps family law attorneys and their clients automatically track and aggregate text messages, maintain expense reimbursement requests, and securely store and access documents. She is also a lawyer, former law firm COO, and currently serves as Chief Strategy Officer of a large national law firm. www.familydocket.com
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