Confidentiality is at the heart of all aspects of the attorney client relationship. Clients are able to fully confide in the attorney they hire knowing that the attorney has an obligation to protect their information. The importance of confidentiality is emphasized in the American Bar Association along with all State Bar Association’s confidentiality rules in their Rules of Professional Conduct. Protection of client information is so critical. It protects the client before, during and long after the relationship is terminated.
What is a confidentiality agreement?
A confidentiality agreement is a detailed outline of the rules of confidentiality, employee actions that violate confidentiality and consequences, should the employee violate the rules. By signing the agreement, the employee creates a contract by which they agree not to disclose privileged information. By having an employee agree to be bound by confidentiality rules, it protects the attorney from having a situation arise whereby they are in violation of the rules of professional conduct. Rule 1.6(c) under the The Model Rules of Professional Conduct specifically put an obligation on attorneys to make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.
Confidentiality agreements important for non-lawyer employees
While most attorneys understand the importance of confidentiality, a law firm usually employs a number of non-lawyer employees who may not. Most of the employees will have access to protected information and it is vital to ensure they keep it protected. To safeguard your client’s information, it’s wise to require employees to sign a confidentiality agreement.
Breaching a confidentiality agreement
The most thorough confidentiality agreements leave the attorney and employee confident they understand their legal obligations. The confidentiality agreement may even list examples of what types of actions constitute disclosure. For example:
- The employee may understand they cannot speak about the clients’ personal information to someone outside of employment, but may not realize that they can violate confidentiality by providing information to someone close to the client whom they think is entitled.
- The employee may accidentally send client information to the wrong person.
- The employee may not understand that speaking about privileged client information in a public place can violate confidentiality.
Confidentiality agreements can and should have harsh consequences. By signing the confidentiality agreement, which outlines consequences for violation, the employee understands what is at stake. Should the violation result in termination of employment, the attorney has evidence that they sufficiently explained the importance of confidentiality in the workplace and that the employee was aware of the consequences.
How can Virtual Paralegal Services help?
In addition to creating confidentiality agreements, the paralegals at VPS can:
- draft thorough firm policies and employee handbooks
- assist in continuing education training on various HR topics including confidentiality
- help to safeguard your client information
If you are interested in discussing how Virtual Paralegal Services can contribute to your firm’s success, contact us today.