Colorado Goes Live with Lawyer Self-Assessment Program

On October 24, 2017, the Colorado Supreme Court launched an online platform aimed at helping Colorado lawyers to practice ethically, avoid disciplinary actions, and reduce stress when dealing with rules of professional conduct. The new Colorado Lawyer Self-Assessment Program is the first online self-assessment program launched by a state for its lawyers, but Illinois will soon follow with its own similar same initiative.

A subcommittee of the Colorado Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee initiated the self-assessment tool, and a group of Colorado lawyers, professionals, and professors assisted in its development. The self-assessment program addresses 10 important areas-including conflicts, confidentiality, and fees-in which lawyers encounter common ethical obstacles when practicing law. Every area contains a list of objectives, requirements, and the best practices to follow. Then, the program asks the lawyer performing the assessment if he or she is following those guidelines and, if the answer is negative, the program provides ethics opinions and articles that explain the risks involved. Lawyers who complete the entire program also receive CLE credit.

Colorado lawyers are responding positively to the self-assessment program and the Colorado Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee expects to improve it considerably based on the assessment reports submitted.

View the Colorado Lawyer Self-Assessment Program here.

Bloomberg Law Trains Machine to Highlight Legal Points

On September 26, 2017, Bloomberg Law unveiled an AI program called “Points of Law,” a service that allows users to quickly identify and analyze language in a judicial opinion. The program uses a machine learning algorithm that indexes its opinions, making it easier for users to find legal points and precedents that strengthen their own legal arguments. When the feature is turned on, language is highlighted in the text, and citations are linked from the margin. The program is one of a wave of automated legal research and analysis engines that are raising significant ethical questions regarding attorney competence and confidentiality.

As reported by the ABA, attorneys are increasingly turning to AI-generated work product to increase their legal research and drafting efficiency. In fact, attorneys participate in training these machine learning algorithms, as each query entered into the system helps to expand and refine the legal analysis the algorithm returns. But, when delegating work to AI programs, attorneys should be wary of their ethical obligations under the competence rules. Significantly, lawyers must understand how AI programs function in order to fulfill their duty of technological competence.

This means that a lawyer using Bloomberg’s Points of Law service must understand how the program’s indexing works and how it selects which language to highlight. For example, though AI programs continuously “learn,” they may not find every supporting precedent for a client’s case. As such, a lawyer entering a query into programs like Points of Law must ensure the accuracy of the research returned in order to satisfy their duty under the ethical rules. AI programs likely pose concerns regarding lawyers ethical duties of confidentiality. Therefore, lawyers must take the appropriate steps to prevent inadvertent disclosure of confidential information by completely understanding the terms of service of the AI programs they are using, and ensuring there is a confidentiality agreement with the AI vendor.

Find the article discussing the unveiling of Bloomberg’s Points of Law here.

Alaska Bar Association: Use of “Web Bugs” is Unethical

Alaska Bar Association recently advised that the use “web bugs” to track e-mail communications with opposing counsel violates The Alaska Code of Professional Conduct. Opinion 2016-1, describes “web bugs” as Internet surveillance tools that may inform e-mail senders of the following information:

  • whether and when the e-mail and/or attachments were opened;
  • how long recipients reviewed the e-mail and/or attachments;
  • how many times the e-mail and/or attachments were opened;
  • whether and when the e-mail and/or attachments were forwarded; and
  • the rough geographical location of the recipient.

The Opinion explains that web bugs may allow the sending lawyer to determine the undisclosed location of the opposing party or to gain insight into which sections of a settlement draft are most important to the opposing side based upon how much time is spent on various pages of a document.

Concurring with New York State Bar Association’s Opinion, the Alaska Opinion concludes that “web bugs” “impermissibly and unethically interfere with the lawyer-client relationship and the preservation of confidences and secrets,” required by Rule 1.6- Confidentiality. Thus, the Opinion advises that the use of web bugs is unethical, dishonest, and a violation of Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct Misconduct Rules 8.4(a) and 8.4 (c). Moreover, the opinion states that “even the disclosed use of a tracking device when communicating with opposing counsel” is impermissible.

To read the full opinion, click here.

Storing Client Data in the Cloud is Ethical, With Safeguards

On September 11, 2015, the Tennessee Supreme Court Board of Professional Responsibility confirmed in Formal Opinion 2015-F-159 that a lawyer may ethically allow client confidential information to be stored in “the cloud.” In doing so, the lawyer must take reasonable care to ensure that client materials remain safe and confidential.

“The cloud” is a remote location controlled by a third party that provides storage or other computing services. Rather than having information stored on a server or personal computer, access to cloud computing technology allows lawyers to transmit, process, and manage their client’s data from a remote location. One benefit of cloud computing technology is that the cloud service provider takes on the responsibility for new technology and software updates.

Because technology is constantly changing, lawyers must stay abreast of these changes and ensure that they continue to comply with the rules of professional conduct. It must be noted that this opinion does not mandate any specific practices that a lawyer must follow when using cloud computing technology. Rather, the opinion provides guidance to lawyers on how to exercise judgment when using cloud technology in order to remain compliant with the rules of professional conduct. For example, when using cloud computing technology a lawyer must abide by several Rules: Rule 1.1, which requires a lawyer to act competently; Rule 1.6, which requires a lawyer to take practical measures to protect the confidentiality and security of the client information stored in the cloud technology; and Rule 1.9, which states that a lawyer has a duty to former clients to not reveal any client information relating to the representation except as the Rules permit or require with respect to the client.

This recent opinion follows several other states that have provided commentary on cloud technology and what lawyers in those jurisdictions should consider. The opinion provides commentary on the subject by different states, including Florida, Kentucky, and Alaska.

Although cloud-based services are available for use by lawyers, reasonable care must be exercised when storing client information in the cloud to ensure that it is stored safely. If the client’s information is at risk, this cloud could rain on the lawyer’s head!

To read our other posts on cloud computing click here.

Jurors Getting “Friendly” on Facebook

Jurors Getting “Friendly” on Facebook

A recent case from the Supreme Court of Kentucky provides insight into how courts view social media and the legal process. In Sluss v. Commonwealth, two jurors stated during the voir dire process that did not know the victim or the family of the victim. One of jurors also stated that she did not use Facebook. However, it later came to light that both jurors were “friends” with the mother of the victim on Facebook. The Court found that being Facebook “friends” is not dispositive of having an actual friendship, especially in this situation where one of the jurors had close to 2,000 Facebook “friends.” However, the Court found the jurors’ misstatements about not having a Facebook account and not having knowledge about the case foreclosed the Appellant’s opportunity to conduct a proper voir dire of the jurors.

After completion of the trial, the Supreme Court of Kentucky remanded the case to determine the extent of the relationships on Facebook and the potential issues with the false answers provided during the voir dire process. The Court also directed the trial court to determine whether the Defendant received a fair trial before an impartial jury. After review, the Supreme Court instructed the trial court to either issue a new trial or the findings of fact requested.

As social media becomes more widespread, issues potentially undermining the integrity of the adjudicative process become more prevalent. Lawyers have an increased duty to their clients to fully research and explore possible implications that arise via social media.