Guide helps with professional electronic practices
With the pandemic’s greater emphasis on electronic communications and perhaps more pressure to keep all such communications professional, the Bar’s Standing Committee on Professionalism and its Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism are reminding lawyers of the Bar’s updated Best Practices for Professional Electronic Communication.
The committee and center staff discussed the guide, its recent updates, and other assistance available under the Resources tab on the center’s website at the committee’s recent gathering during the Bar’s Fall Meeting.
Center Director Rebecca Bandy said the guide was originally prepared about five years ago and updated late last year.
“Then COVID hit and the quarantine hit and suddenly we had to update it again,” she said. “It can be downloaded as a PDF. It’s a document with really quick, good tips on how to deal with electronic hearings, how to be a professional electronically. We are all learning, we all need grace, things happen, but there are some steps we can take to make the best of this.”
The last section of the guide deals with the digital courtroom, with sections devoted to addressing the special issues for both lawyers and judges.
Along with normal tips, such as being familiar with the platform being used for the hearing and making sure evidence and exhibits can be shared, there are some perhaps unexpected reminders. Like making sure Amazon Alexa or Google Home devices, which respond to verbal commands and can record some conversations, are muted or turned off when discussing client matters at home.
And being careful who can overhear your appearance at an online proceeding; just because the proceeding is public does not mean the lawyer can otherwise share the content of the hearing because the duty of confidentiality “extends to all information learned in the course of representation.” The lawyer should find a place that respects the court’s decorum and the client’s privacy expectations, according to the guide.
Other sections of the guide are devoted to email etiquette, security, and technology, security on portable digital devices, and using social media (be careful about “friending” or other social media contacts with a supervisor or other high-ranking person in a business or organization you are suing).
An update is in the works, Bandy said, to encompass remote jury trials, which are starting to be used around the state.
“If you need any refreshers on how electronics should be used professionally, this document is it,” she said.
The guide also has other links to help lawyers with related questions.
Aside from the electronic best practices guide, Bandy said the resources page (www.floridabar.org/prof/presources/#ecomm) includes a link to the best practices recommendations from the Supreme Court’s Workgroup on Continuity of Court Operations and Proceedings During and After COVID-19; a video by committee Chair Ita Neymotin on being professional while using Zoom; mentoring; the center and committee’s Professionalism Handbook; the Family Law Section’s Bounds of Advocacy; the Trial Lawyers Section Guidelines for Professional Conduct; and the ABA’s Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers.
Neymotin said the resources and the committee and center’s work now have an added importance.
“Our world had been flipped upside down since March,” she said. “It’s helpful for us to remember professionalism still has to exist and for us to reach out to others with that message…. The more we reach out with professionalism and civility, the more people will feel reassured.”