Fake Mustaches In Court & Other Confidentiality Issues For Law Firms

Hipsters can go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief into their handlebar mustaches. Faux facial hair and other physical disguises were ruled admissible for witnesses testifying in criminal cases.

Now, before you start buying your clients Ryan Gosling masks, the U.S. 9th Cricuit Court of Appeals upheld a trial judge’s decision allowing a police informant to wear a wig and a false mustache because the witness was testifying in a drug case, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The defendant in the rug case was convicted, but argued in an appeal that the witness’ disguise violated his constitutional right to confront his accuser.

“Despite his disguise, the jury was able to hear his voice, see his entire face, including his eyes, and facial reactions to questions, and observe his body language,” the court said, according to the  Los Angeles Times.

“These are all key elements of one’s demeanor that shed light on credibility.”

The ruling will affect cases in Arizona, California, and other Western U.S. states.

Secrecy—of information or people—is often associated with danger, not safety. However, law firms understand better than most the value of confidentiality.

Besides a prominent nose and underbite, here are a few other things law firms should keep hidden:

Surveillance and monitoring devices

No, it’s not illegal. But, your law firm should consider hiding their use of surveillance and monitoring devices of employee computer activity.

Advertising your use of monitoring software sends the wrong signals—that employee’s should fear, not for their physical safety, but the security of their jobs. Intra-office surveillance sends the signal that your firm is un-trusting and out for blood.

If you must monitor, do so discretely. And, keep in mind, that unless you’re prepared to terminate 87 percent of your workforce (the proportion of employees who recently admitted to personal use of Internet at work), this equipment or service may not be the best use of your firm time and money.

Client information

A March 20, 2010, article titled “Law Firms Are Lucrative Targets of Cyberscams,” in the San Francisco Chronicle discussed recent attacks on law firms (via ABA), saying:

“Security experts said criminals gain access into law firms’ networks using highly tailored schemes to trick attorneys into downloading customized malware into their computers. It is not uncommon for them to remain undetected for long periods of time and come and go as they please, they said.”

Wired Magazine also discussed the following example of a 2008 attack on a law firm that was representing a client in Chinese litigation (via ABA):

“The attackers were in the firm’s network for a year before the firm learned from law enforcement that it had been hacked. By then, the intruders harvested thousands of e-mails and attachments from mail servers. They also had access to every other server, desktop workstation and laptop on the firm’s network.”

Certainly lawyers are aware of their ethical obligations to maintain case and client confidentiality. However, are law firms aware of the security measures necessary to maintain this confidentiality?

Invest in software, services, or even manpower that patrol and protect your clients’ proprietary information.

Ask your IT Department to keep you updated with their latest security measures. Have a “check-out” system for firm laptops. And, be sure your associates are aware of policies and procedures in place when it comes to taking confidential documents outside the office.

E-mail address or direct phone number

Finally, the quickest way to get no work done is to advertise your work contact information. This means, a direct line to your office for solicitors and an e-mail address for spammers.

Look around the office.  Your firm may be beautiful and its personnel accomplished. Still, sometimes more than any other attribute, safety and secrecy can lead to success.

-WB

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