This morning I read a blog post from a great resource for lawyers published by legal marketing veteran Merrilyn Astin Tarlton and colleagues Joan Feldman and Mark Feldman, "Attorney at Work." It reminded me of two recent experiences. Today's Attorney at Work post is called "Wireless Hot Spot Safety Tips" and was written by Sheila Blackford, an attorney and Practice Management Advisor for the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund.
The article advises readers to beware of logging into your various accounts on public wi-fi networks, such as those at Starbucks, airports, etc.
Now, the two experiences I referenced above . . .
I was having a wonderful dinner in New York at a popular Manhattan restaurant, where the tables are arranged barely six inches apart. White paper was carefully laid on top of the linen tablecloths. Seated next to me were two well dressed gentlemen that I ignored until the one facing me, clearly a lawyer, started outlining his case strategy for a piece of litigation on the white paper. His client, a Toyota executive, was in the banquette beside me, carefully following the diagram as it expanded. So was I, as much as I tried to ignore this ameobic artwork. This conversation started when the wine was poured and continued through dessert and espresso. The lawyer paid the bill and left, leaving the diagram and all his notes under his now empty wine glass.
I don't know how this trial turned out, but I was stunned at how relaxed and uncareful both the lawyer and the client were. Privileged and confidential?? Not so much.
The second story involves my seatmate on an airplane. Sitting on an American Airlines coach flight, I worked for the first hour of the flight, ignoring the passengers around me. Taking a breather, I glanced at my seatmate's computer screen and he had the black screen/white type that programmers and system administrators "read" when they are trying to fix your errant computer. I asked him if he was a programmer; he said he wasn't - he was a director of network security for Motorola. He was essentially browsing "inside" the airplane's unsecured wi-fi network and could see what everyone on the airplane was doing on the Internet - from paying bills and Facebook-friending to observing company emails and conversations.
He advised me never to use public wi-fi to transmit anything confidential. Ever.
Given the proliferation of smart phones and tablets, we are conducting business and managing client relationships increasingly on the fly. Lawyers beware -- take precautions to ensure that you aren't unwittingly broadcasting confidential details about your clients to interested bystanders with spurious motives.
And avoid confidential conversations with your clients and colleagues in crowded restaurants.