Email has become a communication staple for all businesses, including law firms. Law firms, however, often need more sophisticated and secure business tools than most.
Is Regular Email Service Good Enough for Law Firms?
To answer this question, first we must review the unique obligations of law firms to their clients.
- The ethical obligation to keep client’s information safeguarded and secure.
- The obligation to avoid intended or accidental disclosure of sensitive information.
- The inherent obligation to maintain copies of relevant communications with or regarding a client or case, including email in its original form.
Clearly, the conclusion to the question is regular email service good enough for law firms is: No.
Email Tools Required by Attorneys
So if a garden-variety email service isn’t acceptable for the practice of law, what is? What extra functionality does a law practice require? Let’s evaluate the specific tools a law firm and how each one maps back to our list of legal obligations.
1. Email Archive.
By default, using “standard” email, users send and receive email, and delete emails when they don’t want them anymore. Once a deleted email goes past the backup retention policy, that email is gone forever. For a law firm that potentially needs to access old email records indefinitely, this does not suffice.
Email Archive is a system that effectively creates a copy of every email sent or received by the law firm (and any person within it) and saves this email in a separate, searchable database. This gives the firm’s administrator or partners the ability to search the database and find every email ever sent or received, regardless of what the end-user ultimately did with the email.
Email archive is a critical feature for any law firm, regardless of practice area.
2. Email Encryption
Email is inherently unencrypted (and unencryptable). The fundamental nature of the Internet protocols used to transport email (namely: SMTP) precludes the ability to encrypt email messages. Theoretically, emails can be intercepted in transit, creating a serious problem for the privacy and security of email messages sent and received by law firm personnel.
Email Encryption is a system whereby sensitive email sent by the law firm is encrypted before sending to the end-user. But didn’t we just state that email is unencryptable? Yes–so to get around this limitation, Email Encryption solutions essentially bypass regular email transit altogether. When the law firm sends a sensitive email, the Email Encryption system intercepts the message before it enters the public Internet, and in its place sends an email message to the recipient, informing him of a secure message that he must click a (secure) link to read. The link take the recipients to a web page via HTTPS (which is encrypted), once authenticated by some means (often a password or CAPTCHA code).
Email Encryption systems are typically policy-based, which means the system will intelligently deduce which emails should be considered sensitive due to the content, including credit card numbers, social security numbers, healthcare/HIPAA related information, and so forth.
3. Legal Disclaimer
Most law firms have adopted a policy of appending a legal disclaimer to outbound email. A disclaimer typically includes language such as “content in this message is protected by attorney-client privilege” and “if you are not the intended recipient of this message, please discard it and notify us”, and so forth.
Adding a legal disclaimer as part of your email signature is easy enough, but many law firms have found leaving this to the discretion of individual employees (and hoping they remember to always add it) is an unreliable means of ensuring every email sent by the law firm contains the appropriate disclaimer.
Legal Disclaimer is a simple but effective service in which the company’s universal legal disclaimer is appended to every outgoing message, every time, no matter what.
Moving to Legal-Grade Email
If you’ve reviewed these requirements and realized your current email platform doesn’t measure up, you may be thinking ahead and wondering about how to move to a legal-grade email system? The good news is with a reliable and reputable provider the transition to legal-grade email can be nearly seamless.
The right provider will set up your email service and migrate each employee’s email and other data (calendars, contacts, etc.), assist in setting up your computers and mobile devices, and even ingest historical email archived data if necessary.
Sidebar: Email Management
As a matter of practice, and in the spirit of effective case management, we recommend that every law firm employ a reliable Email Management System. Email software and services such as Microsoft Exchange and Outlook govern how you send and receive email; the three tools discussed above ensure email is uses in a secure and compliant way, but none of them helps you manage email.
An Email Management System, which can be thought of as an extension to a Practice Management or Document Management solution, is a system where email messages can be saved within a particular matter, allowing the practitioner to store and review email messages alongside other documents pertinent to that particular matter. It allows you to keep matter-specific emails grouped, organized, and searchable within your Practice Management or Document Management solution.
The Uptime Verdict
We’ve reviewed the unique obligations lawyers and law firms have to their clients and the information relating to their clients. We’ve identified the specific tools law firms should employ to meet these obligations. Law firms are encouraged to hold their current email platform up against these requirements, and if appropriate, make the move to legal-grade email.