Five Basic Technology Tips Without Glazing Over

January/February 2016

By Richard K. Herrmann, Esquire

I have always been a strong advocate of technology. However, it never occurred to me how addicted to technology some people have become. Like anything else, nothing is good when taken to extremes. Any use of technology and the practice of law should be done safely. There is little question in my mind that smart use of technology creates efficiencies. There is also no doubt that the uneducated use of technology can compromise the quality of our practice. It can even create ethical issues many don’t even consider. Here are 5 basic tips to make your practice better.

I always believe in starting with the low hanging fruit. If you already practice these, give yourself an “A”. If you haven’t yet, but will now, you can thank me later.

1. Password your computer and all electronic devices. We tend to follow the most efficient path as we work. It makes sense. Why do something in three steps if it can be done in one? Unfortunately, that is what all too many lawyers think of passwords. They are often viewed as an encumbrance—a barrier to be worked around and avoided. The bottom line is “the risks of breaching client confidentiality trumps maximum efficiency”. Password everything. It is important to password the desktop computer at the office and at home. Set the computer screen to lock after a comfortable time of inactivity ( 10 or 15 minutes ). Select a password that is not too complicated or long so that you actually use it. Remember, we are talking about a desktop computer at your office or your home and not a laptop or mobile device. Chances of someone walking into your home or office and trying to hack your password are slim.

2. Send important communications via a password secured Word or pdf document. The Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct do not read that all client communications can be freely sent by email. When you read Rule 1.6 and it’s commentary, you will see there is a balancing test—weigh the sensitivity of the information against the risk and means of transmission. If you are using email, important confidential information should be sent as a password secured PDF or Word attachment. Arrange a password with your client in advance for all of these kinds of communications. It is easy to lock the document in PDF or Word and the client will know the password.

3. Do not give family members access to your work electronic devices. Obviously, we all trust our family members. However, it is not a good practice to leave your client files laying around your house. It sends the wrong message to your children regarding confidentiality; and to the extent they have friends, confidentiality may no longer exist. If you want to share an iPad or other mobile device or a computer with your family, have a separate one dedicated for work. There is no reason to place your family or friends in a compromising position.

4. Assume someone is virtually looking over your shoulder when you are using a public Wi-Fi. Public Wi-Fi is just that—public. If you have ever heard of the old telephone “party line” back in the day, that is public wifi. Assume someone is listening. What you type when you are connected to public Wi-Fi may be secretly captured by someone else before it actually goes to the internet. It is easy to do. If you are not set up with a secure connection (VPN), next time you are at Starbucks, just enjoy your coffee and read the paper.

5. If you don’t know about “Track Changes” in Word, make it a point to learn. Almost everyone has seen a red-lined document—an edited draft with deleted words stricken and added words underlined. The easiest way to create such a draft is in Microsoft Word using the “Track Changes” feature. When a Word document is attached to an email, ensure that the changes have been accepted and the document saved as a final version. Otherwise the document recipient might also be able to see all of the prior versions of it. There are some easy solutions, but I am out of space. We will just have to wait until next time.

Let me know if these are helpful and we can do five more.

Richard K. Herrmann, Esquire is a partner in the firm of Morris James in Wilmington, Delaware. He is a Master in the Richard K. Herrmann Technology AIC.

© 2016 Richard K. Herrmann, Esq. This article was originally published in the January/February 2016 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the express written consent of the American Inns of Court.