If your office is anything like the office where I work, the end of the year is when we take a minute to look at what needs to be fixed or improved as we move into the next year. So, as we move towards the end of the year, I recommend to each of you to take an inventory of your office computer systems and, most importantly, your security. It should come as no surprise that as attorneys, and more specifically as criminal defense attorneys, our office computer or network security is paramount. The information that we receive and likely maintain on our networks or computers is not only protected by the attorney-client privilege, but also by privacy laws like HIPAA, FERPA, and other statutory protections. Accordingly, ethically we must do everything we reasonably can to protect all of that information, including our email communications. However, how do any of us have the time to maintain such an area of technical knowledge on top of our work as lawyers?
Despite the desire by many lawyers to do so, we cannot simply avoid technology all together in order to avoid this ethical requirement, as was seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of our fellow criminal defenders across the State scrambled to catch up and figure out what they needed in order to attend Zoom hearings and keep their practices going. So, the questions arise: 1) what virtual office technology should every criminal defense attorney have, at a minimum, to ensure that he or she can continue to work in the hyper-evolving age while maintaining the safety of the privileged information they possess; and 2) how does each criminal defense attorney gain the necessary knowledge to answer question number one? I don’t believe there is a single answer to the over-arching question of what technology each of us needs, but the answer to the second question is relatively simple; hire an information technology (IT) company to assist in developing, maintaining, and securing your office computer system. It is clear that the age of defying technology and remaining entirely in paper is gone and every criminal defense attorney must incorporate technology safely into their practice. Zoom hearings are here to stay in some form or fashion and the transfer of information will forever be almost entirely electronic.
Below is a starter checklist that I have developed in working to secure our office that I give each of you to consider and to speak with an IT advisor about as you modernize your office technology.
Top 10 Office Technology Checklist:
- What are the hardware tools (computers to servers to scanners) I need to run a technologically efficient law firm?
- What is the minimum internet speed I need to support Zoom or other videoconferencing services? Do I need increased internet capabilities to support a virtual office, which would allow me to be able to work remotely?
- Should I utilize cloud computing for my virtual office or should I work entirely over a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?
- What safety measures need to be in place in order for me to work remotely and not unethically expose my privileged materials to an attack?
- How do I ensure that my email remains privileged and beyond the reach of a subpoena, especially email communications with clients?
- How do I organize my virtual office so that it is easy for me to use? (I recommend setting it up to match your paper office).
- Where is my network backed up, either to a local server or to the cloud?
- What level of support is needed to assist and protect me as I move forward with my virtual office?
- What programs should I utilize to integrate calendaring, email, and document production?
- What are the best programs for me to utilize in order to review electronically produced discovery?
This checklist may lead to more questions, but the questions above are what led me to modernize our office and the answers to the questions allowed us to continue working, even at the worst of the pandemic. We always want our clients to ask for a lawyer before it’s too late, please use the same thought in developing your office technology.