Keep Your Lips Sealed…and Keep Your Client’s Secrets

By Lindsay Anglin

Confidential image

Image by Flickr user naiadsspring

As many of you are now deeply entrenched in case files, briefs, and client intake at your summer internships, it is important to take a moment to remember your ethical responsibilities regarding client information. Last week the 5th Circuit approved $30,000 in sanctions against a firm for accidentally distributing an opposing party’s confidential client information after someone from the firm mistakenly copied the information onto compact discs that were given to other attorneys. (Source: ABA Journal). While confidentiality breaches like this can easily occur when sending electronic files or cc’ing the wrong person on an email, the greatest risk lies in a casual conversation with friends, family, or fellow students.

None of you want to be the employee who cost the firm thousands in sanctions for an inadvertent breach in client confidentiality. So check out these tips on how to maintain confidentiality this summer:

  • Do not talk about the firm’s clients outside of the firm. Period.
  • It may be tempting, especially if you have a funny story to tell, but don’t tell specific case stories or facts to friends and family. Even if you keep it vague, with a little internet research on your firm, agency, or judge, someone can find out what case you are working on and figure out who your client is.
  • Refrain from posting updates about your summer internship on social media sites. Though you (hopefully) withhold client names, postings with date and time stamps can easily be traced back to your dealings with certain clients, attorneys, or judges.
  • Along those same lines, do not blog about your summer experience. Giving you more space to air your thoughts certainly does not help your chances of breaching confidentiality.
  • Try not to trash talk your firm, the attorneys you work for, or other interns. While this does not violate a rule of legal ethics, you never know who might be behind you in the elevator or sitting at the next table.
  • Do not copy, download or distribute written work product without approval from your firm. If you are applying for a job later and want to use a brief you wrote at your firm as your writing sample, ask for permission from the firm. They own this work product, not you. And using it could breach client confidentiality.

Source: Above the Law, an expert recruiter and former firm hiring partner.

Most of your offices likely provided training on legal ethics, but for those of you who were still recovering from your post-finals celebrations that first week on the job and have forgotten some of the rules, the library has resources to help you out:

Good luck this summer and remember to keep your lips sealed when it comes to your clients.

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