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Electronic mail is fast becoming a common way for professionals to communicate with each other, but lawyers apparently are wary about putting confidential information in their e-mail. Maybe that means you should be careful, too.
A recent survey shows that 60% of U.S. attorneys contact clients by e-mail several times a week, and 42% contact clients by e-mail on a daily basis. But 59% of those same attorneys are wary of putting any confidential information in their e-mail messages, and some of them never do.
The survey was conducted by The Affiliates, a legal staffing and consulting firm in Menlo Park, CA. They had an independent research firm survey the nation's 1,200 largest law firms. The survey revealed that 33% are "very unwilling" to put confidential information in e-mail, and another 26% are "somewhat unwilling." Twenty-six percent said they were "somewhat willing," and only 9% said they were "very willing" to put confidential information in e-mail.
E-mail represents a new frontier for confidentiality concerns, and the risk could be greater in the health care arena because so much information about a person's care automatically is "confidential," says Kathleen Call, executive director of the firm. The survey suggests that attorneys are taking a conservative approach until the legal system provides more guidance on what is acceptable.
She points out that the confidentiality of e-mail can be breached intentionally by someone accessing the mail fraudulently, and most attorneys seem to doubt the dependability of encryption systems intended to thwart those attempts. But perhaps a higher risk is posed by misdirected e-mail, in which the item is simply sent to the wrong person either through human error or a computer glitch.