Monday, February 27, 2017

Judge finds party waived privilege by placing information on unprotected file sharing website

Earlier this month a federal magistrate judge in Virginia held that placing privileged materials on an unprotected file-sharing site waived a plaintiff's attorney-client privilege and work product protection for those materials.  The case is called Harleysville Ins. Co. v. Holding Funeral Home, Inc.  (also here).  For more details, go to 33 Law. Man. Prof. Conduct 76.  The ABA Journal has more information here.

Although some jurisdictions are divided on the issue of whether accidental disclosure automatically waives the privilege, in this case the judge held that the party's actions "were the cyber world equivalent of leaving its claims file on a bench in the public square and telling its counsel where they could find it. It is hard to imagine an act that would be more contrary to protecting the confidentiality of information than to post that information to the world wide web."

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Legal ethics professors file disciplinary complaint against Kellyanne Conway - UPDATED

If you saw the original story, scroll down to the end for an update:

I am sure you have heard by now that fifteen professors of legal ethics have sent a letter to the Washington DC Office of Disciplinary Counsel arguing that Kellyanne Conway has incurred in multiple violations of Rule 8.4(c) which recognizes as misconduct engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

The complaint has sparked a spirited debate among ethicists and other commentators. It certainly dominated the discussion for most of the day yesterday in the listserv of the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers.

Some of the debate has centered on whether the complaint has any basis in the rules [it does]; whether the rule is (or should be considered to be, rather) unconstitutional [it hasn't and there is precedent in many jurisdictions to suggest it wouldn't] and whether the bar has the authority to regulate Conway's conduct since it was not in the practice of law [there is precedent in many jurisdictions to support the view that it does].  Also, a separate question is whether the bar would (or should) spend resources on a complaint based on these types of allegations.

Given that the answer to that last question is that disciplinary agencies usually do not go after lawyers for relatively "minor" and or "private" instances of dishonesty, the issue depends on how important you think Conway's conduct (or alleged misconduct) really is. 

I am sure that if you "google" (a word that is now a verb) the story, you will find a lot of comments.  Here are just a few:

You can read the complaint itself here.

The Washington Post reports the story here.

Above the Law has a short statement that starts "It’s becoming increasingly likely that Kellyanne Conway isn’t a real person so much as a Professional Responsibility issue-spotter made flesh. Between making up terrorist attacks or shilling Ivanka’s crummy baubles or generally degraded political discourse by treating it like a criminal trial, Kellyanne’s had a busy month of run-ins with the generally accepted principles of legal ethics." 

Jonathan Turley argues the complaint is not justified and lacks credibility.

Attorney Paul Alan Levy criticizes the complaint on First Amendment grounds here.

The ABA Journal reports here.

UPDATE (2/27/17):  Professor Steven Lubet, a Legal Ethics professor at Northwestern, criticizes the complaint here

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Metadata Fair Game in Texas?

As reported in Legal Ethics in Motion, a recent opinion of a Texas bar panel concludes that there is no duty to inform opposing counsel that that opposing counsel sent a document containing metadata.   Moreover, Texas rules do not prohibit searching for and extracting metadata from documents. Of the nineteen jurisdictions that have issued opinions with specific requirements regarding attorneys’ obligation when transmitting or receiving documents containing metadata, Texas is only the third state to opine that its rules do not require notification to the sender of the document.

For a current survey of the state of the law regarding metadata, check out this page in the ABA's website.  For more on the opinion in Texas, go here.

Illinois State Bar Association issues Opinion on using cloud services to store client information

Back in October, the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) issued a Professional Conduct Advisory Opinion stating that a lawyer may use cloud-based services to store client information as long as the lawyer takes reasonable measures to ensure that the client information remains confidential and is protected from breaches.

Carefully choosing an internet cloud space provider is, of course, the first step a lawyer must take in order to comply with the duty.  But, it is important to note that the opinion clearly states that a lawyer does not comply with the obligation to protect the client information by merely selecting (however carefully) a reputable provider.   Thus, the opinion concludes that lawyers must conduct periodic reviews and regularly monitor existing practices to determine if the client information is adequately secured and protected.  This means lawyers can not simply rely on the providers, the lawyers themselves must do something.  And to do something, the lawyers must know what it is they are dealing with.  As I say to my students, lawyers must become personally knowledgeable in computer science of employ someone who is.

States continue to adopt the ABA's suggested language on a duty of competence related to "technology" and this opinion, obviously, follows the trend.  All lawyers are now expected to know about, and understand, the advantages and the risks of using technological advances such as cloud storage.  As reported recently, Florida lawyers are now required to take CLE credits on technology issues.  As technology advances, lawyers are expected to keep up.

You can read the ISBA opinion here.  For information on the current state of the law regarding ethical issues and cloud computing, check out this page in the ABA's website.

Thanks to Ethics in Motion for the update and the link.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Florida adopts duty of technology competence and a requirement regarding technology CLE -- Updated

October 1, 2016. 
Last week the Supreme Court of Florida became the 25th state to adopt the duty of technological competence that the ABA adopted in its recent amendments to the Model Rules.  That's not terribly surprising as the language of the Model Rules usually eventually finds its way into state rules.

However, the Florida Supreme Court did go a bit further.  As explained by the court, the amendment "add[s] language to the comment providing that, in order to maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should engage in continuing study and education, including an understanding of the risks and benefits associated with the use of technology.

Go here for more information and a copy of the Court's order.   The ABA Journal online also has the story here.

Interestingly, once it is decided that having knowledge about technology is part of the duty of competence, it follows that it will become an element of the standard of care for malpractice cases. 

UPDATE 2/12/17:  The ABA Journal has a story here.

A recently launched company helps consumers find lawyers based on their win rates

Law Sites has a story and a critique of a recently launched company helps consumers find lawyers based on their win rates.  The ABA Journal also has the story here.  Although I believe the company is genuinely trying to provide access to lawyers for people who don't necessarily know how to find a good lawyer, I think this approach is, to put it mildly, dumb.  Maybe with some major changes they can come up with something that will provide better information for consumers, but the initial idea does not make much sense to me.

The first time the idea was discussed, about a year ago, when a different company proposed the same approach, it was received with negative reviews and the company abandoned the idea.

There are many reasons why using "winning records" as a measure of attorney quality.  First, not all legal services can be measured in terms of wins and losses.  Second, the vast, VAST, majority of cases don't go to trial, so any win-loss records based on trial results only measures a minimally small number of litigated cases.  Third, in those cases that settle, both clients can easily feel they got a "win" when their lawyers exceed their expectations as to the terms of the settlement.  An approach to measuring skill based on winning records does not take into account negotiation skills which, needless to say, are important in litigation. A defendant's lawyer who gets a settlement that saves the client a lot of money may be much more skilled than a plaintiff's lawyer who claims to have "won" the settlement. Simply stated "winning" or "losing" if it can be identified as an actual result to begin with, is not a reliable measure of lawyering skill. Providing consumers with such limited and misleading information may actually be counterproductive. 

Ethical Considerations When Switching from Criminal Defense to the Prosecution

Here is a new short article on ethical considerations when switching from criminal defense to the prosecution published by the New York Legal Ethics Reporter.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Ethical Implications of Emergent Technologies

Last week I discussed the comment to Model Rule 1.1 which makes it an element of the duty of competence to understand, and stay current on, issues related to "technology."  As if on cue, yesterday the New York Legal Ethics Reported posted a short article with an update on some of the issues.  So, to help you comply with your duties under MR 1.1, here is the link.  You are welcome!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

ABA approves new rule on CLE

Just a few days ago, the ABA House of Delegates adopted a new Model  Rule  for  Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE).  You can find the text of the rule and the report in support of the proposal here.