A lawyers confidentiality – who can you trust?

Lawyers are often seen working during their commute to work, during court recesses and even when they are on holiday!

Working in a competitive and fast paced legal environment means time is money and people are working longer hours whilst on the move.

All this relentless work of dealing with precious, demanding and difficult clients means that lawyers are often looking to share their experiences, it is human nature. They may be bursting to vent their anger or frustration or share that they are working on exciting top secret deals or cases with friends and family.

But for that split second of venting or sharing some exciting information, the lawyer has immediately breached the Code of Conduct on confidentiality. It can be so easily done.

Ask yourself: how many lawyers do you know who are guilty of doing it?!

So how could you end up breaching confidentiality? Whilst here are so many obvious ways, there are just as many that can go unnoticed. Think about how you may unintentionally have done the following things;

How many times have you worked on the trains whilst travelling or commuting?

What about venting to your friends or family – in a bar, pub, coffee shop or in your home?

Have you discussed work on your mobile in a public place or a taxi?

When have you carried files and documents in public places that are visible with client details?

It is so easily done, but the effects are long lasting and can cost you a client.

So, who can you trust? Well, the answer is no-one that doesn’t know about the matter in question. That means that you cannot directly or indirectly talk about the client to anyone or leave written communication where it is easily visible to other people. The rule is very strict – you have a duty of confidentiality to your client.

In the age of sophisticated digital technology – even with the best anti-virus software, you must make your clients aware of cyber-attacks and that their private and personal information can be compromised. The recent cyber attack on the NHS is evidence of how confidential data and information can be stolen or exposed.

For most clients, more unforgiving then cyber-attacks would be a breach of confidentiality by their own lawyers. This goes to the heart of trust. A client trusts you and you have breached that trust.

The famous case of J K Rowling is one to consider. The solicitor (partner) Christopher Gossage told his wife’s best friend, who he described as telling ‘in confidence someone he trusted implicitly”, that The Cookoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith was really a pseudonym for J K Rowling.

Remember, once you share any confidential information – no matter how much you trust the person – that information is then out of your control. So even if you are desperate to share some seriously exciting cases or details you must stop and think about the consequences of doing it.

Not only can you be sued by the client and disciplined by the SRA, but it also affects your reputation and credibility and in an industry that is so reliant on confidentiality, it’s possible that redemption may never come.

As the saying goes ‘ignorance is no defence’. In order to avoid ignorance a lawyer needs to adopt this analogy as early in their career as possible so that confidentiality and privacy is at the heart of their future practice. This is why every trainee solicitor is obliged to complete the Professional Skills Course in order to qualify. With a whole section on the area of confidentiality, it helps build the foundation for a successful career and gives a trainee the tools to practice confidentiality with confidence. For more information on the Altior’s Professional Skills Course, either visit the website or call us on 02920 451000 today.

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