Lawyer/Client Confidentiality and The Panama Papers

If you’re reading this Blog and not sure what “The Panama Papers” are, please do a quick Google Search and then return to this Blog. I’ll wait.

O.K. Everyone on the same page then? Good.

I’m bothered by The Panama Papers, for reasons other than the outrage people have about the Tax Avoidance (which is legal) that has been brought to light. I’m bothered by the fact that these are files that were presumably stolen from the Panamanian law firm. Why does mainstream media think it is o.k. to publish stolen documents?

While some people seem absolutely fine with this because it is “fat cats” who are the targets of these leaks, I wonder how good those same people would feel if the details of their discussions with their divorce lawyers were splashed all over the world’s papers?

Lawyer/client confidentiality is a very important part of the lawyer/client relationship. It allows the client to be completely honest with their lawyer so that the correct legal advice can be provided. When clients start to tell their lawyers only part of the story, the lawyer cannot do the job they are being retained to do.

In this digital age, clients need to ask their lawyers: how are you protecting my confidentiality? Who has access to my physical files? Who has access to my electronic files?

Our firm has always ensured our backups are backed up to computers physically located in Canada. This avoids the scrutiny of the USA Patriot’s Act, which otherwise can go through your lawyer’s data which is stored in the USA. Does your lawyer use DropBox for your files? That is based in the USA? Does your lawyer use a Cloud Based Accounting System? That is probably based in the USA.

It’s time for lawyers to understand their technology so they can protect their clients’ confidentiality and it’s time for clients to ask questions about how their data is stored.

Lawyer/client confidentiality matters, particularly in the digital age.

Inga B. Andriessen JD
iandriessen@andriessen.ca

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