slides: Secret Emails: How Top Portland Attorneys Protect Attorney-Client Privilege
Thursday, April 09, 2015
The continuing saga of former governor John Kitzhaber and his fiancee, environmental consultant Cylvia Hayes, has brought the standard of attorney-client privilege into focus in Oregon.
Slides below: How Top Portland Attorneys Protect Attorney-Client Privilege
Firms throughout Portland take varying degrees of caution when it comes to data protection is required for electronic communication between attorneys and their clients. The gamut runs from from private servers and personalized email accounts, encrypted messaging and secured mobile devices, to old school common sense.
Related Slideshow: How Top Portland Attorneys Protect Attorney-Client Privilege
The continuing saga of former governor John Kitzhaber and his fiancee, environmental consultant Cylvia Hayes, has brought the standard of attorney-client privilege into the Oregon limelight.
Some communication covered under the standard -- a scarcity of sacred holdings in the realm of attorneys -- were shared publicly throughout developments in the unfolding story.
But what about those emails you exchanged with your lawyer?
Oregon attorneys take varying degrees of caution, ranging from practical advice to data lockdowns, in order to protect the privileged information shared by clients.
As a standard, the firm encrypts all text and email communication between lawyers and clients, and encrypts devices such as cell phones, laptops, flash drives and computers used by attorneys.
“You have to make it a priority of the business,” said Chief Innovation Officer at Stoel Rives LLP Ryan Schlunz.
Although Schlunz said the firm's biggest safeguard to protecting attorney-client privileged information is educating lawyers and staff on protocol, there are a range of technological measures Stoel Rives attorneys can employ, including mobile device management and secure file systems.
Schlunz said clients are advised not to send privileged communicaiton via pubic email accounts, such as gmail.
"If we’re dealing with something that’s going to contain sensitive information, gmail is not an appropriate communication method," he said.
Miller Nash Graham and Dunn
"In the world we live in, email is not a secure medium but most people prefer to use it," said Erich Merrill of Miller Nash Graham and Dunn.
Aside from basic confidentiality rules, the firm offers a wide variety of data protection services depending on the requirements of the client.
Even so, Miller Nash's engagement letter with clients includes an option to receive all or some communication with attorneys in an encrypted form, meaning only the intended recipient can read it.
Company devices, such as laptops, smart phones and other portable devices belonging to attorneys are encrypted, and can be wiped clean if stolen or lost. "If it's encrypted, it's literally impossible to get the information out," said Merrill.
But the simplest rule prevails.
"Don't talk where someone who may have an interest in the information can hear you -- on the phone, elevator, in public."
Jordan Ramis PC
"In the legal community, the attorney client privilege is almost sacred, almost sacrosanct," said Jordan Ramis PC attorney Ed Trompke.
Protecting privileged communication comes down to where and when that communication is made.
Jordan Ramis advises clients to use private email accounts, and to refrain from opening correspondence from attorneys if using a computer or server owned by an employer.
After that point, the information may no longer be privileged.
"Emails can be routed around the world even if they're going across town," Trompke said. To maintain complete confidentiality?
"Come talk to me about it in person," Tromke said.
Stahancyk Kent and Hook
In addition to email encryption, the firm offers clients an email account on a private server for privileged communications.
"It's an issue of old rules keeping up with new technology," said Stahancyk Kent and Hook shareholder Laurel Hook.
She said the firm anticipated the issue of data security, which has become part and parcel of electronic communications, and for years has hosted client email accounts on a private server.
If a client sends an email with privileged information from a public account, the communication line is shut down, Hook said.
Clients are also advised to meet with attorneys in person, and to use disposable cell phones.
Tonkon Torp LLP
"Communication in writing is what we do," said Tonkon Torp LLP attorney Stephen Wilker.
The firm uses encrypted emails, ensures devices are secured and trains staff on confidentiality measures.
"Whatever you say in public, someone could belistening," Wilker said.
Clients are advised to be careful about autofill and autoforwarding settings in email correspondence, and to avoid replying all recipients, and copying attorneys on communications to the other side.
"This has made discovery litigation a nightmare, all of a sudden you waive the privilege because you shared it with someone outside," he said.
"In the old days this came up with people eavesdropping," said criminal defense attorney Timothy Bowman, "If you’re just sitting there yapping at the top of your lungs in Starbucks."
Bowman, who has been practicing for 30 years, said he opts for standard firewalls in digiatal communication, along with common sense, over elaborate safeguards.