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Lawyers Practicing at Home Should Remember Alexa Is Listening

Aug. 15, 2020, 5:52 PM

Among the ethical dilemmas posed by attorneys working from home full time due to Covid-19: what to do with Alexa or other voice activated devices that could impinge upon attorney-client confidentiality?

Devices like Alexa or Google Home present “low-level” risks for confidentiality breaches, said speakers at an online ethics panel Saturday at the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers’ annual meeting.

It’s a concern because they’re always listening to know when you say something to prompt it, said Brian S. Faughnan, a lawyer with Lewis Thomason in Memphis.

To be safe, fellow panelist Joseph A. Corsmeier, a solo practitioner in Palm Harbor, Fla. recommended unplugging voice-prompted smart devices when they’re not being used.

What to do with smart devices is just part of the challenges - and opportunities - technology presents to lawyers working from home during the pandemic.

Law firms are notorious for being slow to embrace change, including new technology, but panelists agreed during the Saturday event that, for the most part, their firms had been prepared when they were told to work from earlier this year.

“We had things in the works that got ramped up pretty quickly,” at the onset of the pandemic, said Faughnan.

Two-step authentication for online accounts was still on the “to-do” list, he admitted, and was promptly put in place.

Technology can help lawyers with their ethical duty to supervise and can also help them feel connected and allow them to stay in touch.

A 2016 study on attorney substance abuse and mental health concerns concluded that lawyers experience more significant mental health distress than other professionals.

Frankfurt Kurnit Klein Selz monitors whether everyone’s gotten their time in on a daily basis, Nicole Hyland, a lawyer in the firm’s New York office, said, addressing the question posed by moderator Christopher B. Hopkins on how firms can supervise from afar.

But the firm takes others steps to stay connected, like the managing partner’s weekly updates, which make us feel “more cohesive,” she said.

Working from home can present other challenges, such as navigating new software or apps.

Lawyers have a duty of technological competence, and the panelists gave tips on what they do to stay informed.

Google it, Corsmeier said. You can’t rely 100% on your firm’s IT group, he said, so you have to learn some things yourself.

When using video platforms, you should learn their “kinks” before your meeting or virtual trial, said Faughan. And practice using it beforehand, said Hyland.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; Tom P. Taylor at ttaylor@bloomberglaw.com

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