ABA Issues Formal Guidance on Remote Work

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility has released a formal opinion that catalogs the relevant model rules and technological considerations for lawyers when they practice virtually.

Coming near the one-year anniversary of when most attorneys departed their offices because of the emergence of COVID-19, Formal Opinion 498 identifies some minimum requirements under ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and suggests several best practices to meet ethical obligations in a virtual setting, according to an ABA news release.

“When practicing virtually, lawyers must particularly consider ethical duties regarding competence, diligence, and communication, especially when using technology,” the opinion said. “In compliance with the duty of confidentiality, lawyers must make reasonable efforts to prevent inadvertent or unauthorized disclosures of information relating to the representation and take reasonable precautions when transmitting such information.”

The opinion also noted the “duty of supervision” requires that lawyers who supervise others “make reasonable efforts to ensure” their direct reports comply with the rules, particularly if they still are working virtually.

The best practices cover hardware devices and software systems; accessing client files and data; using virtual meeting platforms, videoconferencing; and virtual document and data exchange platforms.