New York State Bar Opinion 939

Committee on Professional Ethics

Topic: Maintaining confidentiality of client information as between independent lawyers sharing office space and computer

Digest of the Committee:

“Independent lawyers sharing office space may share computer for client-related information if they exercise reasonable care to assure that confidential information is not disclosed.”

Rules: New York Rules of Professional Conduct 1.6(a) and (c)


The full text is available at…


Comments from the editors of this website:

The use of a particular technology to store or transmit confidential information requires a degree of care that depends on factors (e.g. security of technology and sensitivity of the information). Further, reasonable security measures may be required when the technology “does not provide a reasonable expectation that confidentiality will be protected; if circumstances put the lawyer on notice of a heightened risk that confidentiality may be compromised; or if the information is extraordinarily sensitive”. See Rule 1.6 Cmt. [17]; N.Y. State 842; N.Y. State 709; A.B.A. 11-459.

Example: if two lawyers not part of the same law firm share a computer, having separate  “computer passwords is certainly an appropriate precaution” but “Whether it is sufficient would depend on further factors”, such as the “resistance” of the type of password that is used, the protection of the password. The fact that because of some “extraordinary efforts” it is possible to hack a “well-secured computer” , does not mean that the precautions were inadequate. “The lawyer’s obligation …; is not to guarantee preservation of confidentiality at all costs; it is to protect confidentiality by taking reasonable care.”