Risk Update

Covid-19 and Law Firm Risk Management — Experts Weighing In

With my living room transformed into the Bressler Academy for Precocious and Mischievous Young Ladies (who have been known to suggest clip art while watching over my shoulder during evening risk blogging sessions), I note, more seriously, that today many of you are working remote, managing personal and professional challenges, and waiting to see what the days ahead bring.

On a professional front, I’ve noted an expected and increasing crop of general stories of how organizations are adapting to this new landscape, and advice about the same ranging from the generic to the incredibly astute. Here are some specifically focused on law firm risk:

Client Service Continuity Strategies for Law Firms Responding to Coronavirus Pandemic” —

  • “During this period of uncertainty, the health and welfare of your lawyers, staff, and clients is a top priority. However, attorneys must also be prepared to continue to provide legal services to clients regardless of measures taken by any government or oversight organization. In addition, the need to potentially self-quarantine has to be taken seriously. The best and only time to prepare for an interruption in practice—whether self-imposed or by a third party—is before it happens.”
  • “One of the primary risks for law firms in a quarantine situation are missed deadlines… Immediately review upcoming deadlines for the next 60 days and consider how you will meet those deadlines should you be quarantined.”
  • “Consider arrangements to have mail delivered to your home or scanned and sent to you if you are out of the office. Again, do not rely strictly on your legal assistant in the event he or she is unavailable for any reason. Identify a backup for that task.”
  • “Review and consider the privacy and security of any client records and documents, as well as your ability to meet the requirements of outside counsel guidelines when working remotely. This typically means client information should not be placed or stored on home computers, personal storage devices, or in the cloud, which violate most—if not the majority of—standard outside client guidelines.”

COVID-19: How to Maintain Regulatory Obligations While Working Remotely” —

  • “Remote working increases the risk of data breaches and loss of confidential information through hard copy documents being transported and kept at home, rather than in offices with the necessary systems and controls in place. Colleagues should work digitally wherever possible and be advised against working from hard copy documents and minimising the need to make handwritten notes of calls or virtual meetings they attend – typed notes should be encouraged.”
  • “Colleagues should be reminded to work in private environments where conversations of a confidential nature cannot easily be overheard and computer screens cannot be easily seen by third parties. The importance of locking computer screens when unattended (even within one’s home) should be reinforced.”
  • “Being away from the office should not lead to a relaxed attitude to the importance of one’s regulatory obligations. Individuals should be aware that they are responsible for the professional judgement they exercise when working at home and that the various discussions and decisions taken on a particular case, for example around disclosure or potential conflict points, should be carefully recorded. This should include reasoning for why they have chosen to act in a certain way, so that they can justify their decisions, should they need to, in the future. The SRA’s Enforcement Strategy recognises, however, that mistakes do happen; clear record keeping will help the SRA decipher between honest mistakes and those that are less excusable.”