Pennsylvania Bar Association – Formal Opinion 2020-300 “Ethical Obligations For Lawyers Working Remotely”

April 10, 2020, the Committee on Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility of the Pennsylvania Bar Association issued, Formal Opinion 2020-300 “Ethical Obligations For Lawyers Working Remotely”

The Committee noticed that

When Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf ordered all “non-essential businesses,” including law firms to close their offices during the COVID-19 pandemic, and also ordered all persons residing in the state to stay at home and leave only under limited circumstances, many attorneys and their staff were forced to work from home for the first time. In many cases, attorneys and their staff were not prepared to work remotely from a home office, and numerous questions arose concerning their ethical obligations.

The Committee emphasized the continuity of ethical obligations despite the crisis: “An attorney working from home or another remote location is under the same obligations to maintain client confidentiality as is the attorney when working within a traditional physical office.”

  • The Committee analyzes lawyers’ working from home under Rule 1.1 (“Competence”), Rule 1.6 (“Confidentiality of Information”), Rule 5.1 (“Responsibilities of Partners, Managers, and Supervisory Lawyers”) and Rule 5.3 (“Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistance”)

The Committee gives very good and detailed “Best Practices When Performing Legal Work and Communications Remotely’ noting that these applies also to “traditional law offices” and that failure to comply with these “best practices” would not “necessarily constitute a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that would subject an attorney to discipline” but complying with these rules would constitute “reasonable conduct”.