My mission to be sure all law firm employees receive complete, thorough and ongoing ethics training has just been reinforced and fortified..
Confidentiality of client's information is of utmost importance in a law firm. There are many ways to breach the duty of confidentiality (talking, email to wrong party, etc) but even used paper can be a problem.
If your firm doesn't have a shredder, get one NOW and put everything through it. DO NOT DONATE IT TO ANYONE!
A paralegal in Minneapolis learned this the hard way when she donated her firm's used paper to her child's school, Hale Elementary. The paper was then used as scrap paper for an after school program at the elementary school. One of the school's students took his drawing home and his mother, Jennifer Kane, found it as she was straightening up the dining room.
When Mrs. Kane turned the drawing over, she discovered confidential information on the back: the name, birth date and detailed medical information for a 24-year-old St. Paul woman named Paula White. This sent Minneapolis school officials scrambling.
WCCO-TV located White, who was shown the record.
“The more I read it, the more alarmed I became about the amount of information I had about this person,” said Kane.
After WCCO-TV made a phone call to the school, faculty searched and found more pieces of paper with other people’s personal information. The school is now holding those papers in a secure place.
“It’s got my account number, my birth date, my job,” said White. “I’m outraged. I am embarrassed. I don’t want anyone to know my personal information.”
On White’s medical record, there was a logo of the law firm, Sawicki and Phelps, which she hired after she was in a car accident.When asked to comment, the law firm first said they had no idea how the school could have gotten the papers. However, Attorney Paul Phelps later told WCCO-TV a paralegal had donated the firm’s old paper to her child’s school.
Phelps said the donation was a violation of the firm’s privacy policies.
Now, Hale Elementary is sending out a message to every child in the after school program to check if any other medical records have ended up in students homes, asking students to return those papers.
“It was a mistake,” said Phelps. “The employee did not believe there was any personal information on the papers.”
This is a "mistake" that should not be made. Attorneys have a duty to ensure all employees (not just paralegals) are aware of the attorney's ethical responsibilities. Confidentiality should be at the top of the list, but there is so much more. Bottom line is that everyone in the office should have this training and often it is lacking.
And, apparently, shredders are not used as often as they should be!