I was touring the Internet and saw a couple of interesting Ethics articles that I thought ought to be brought to the attention of all criminal defense lawyers. I know you all find them boring. Well these aren't and either way it is good for you...
The first was written by my good friend Tom Mighell. Tom for those of you who do not read "tech" blogs is one of the grandfathers of the "Tech for Lawyers" revolution. Tom, Dennis Kennedy, Marty Swimmer, and Denise Howell among others are really the inspiration for my blogging.
Anyway, now that I have dropped a few names, Tom's article is a primer for how to keep your e-mail and computer files private and protected. It is simple to read and simply following a few of the suggestions will keep you out of a grievance or malpractice action. For those of you who want to find interesting sites and a few fun ways to waste a little time while on line (as if we needed more ways) Tom is the Author of the very popular "Inter-alia" blog and you can sign up for a weekly digest of the best stuff he has found on the Internet by going to the link I gave you above and finding the sign up for the Mighell Marker.
Now the second article is a news piece about a lawyer who evidentially was unaware she was moving a "hit list" from the jail to a hit man on behalf of her long time client. Often we are asked to make third party calls and get mail to other people without going through prison system security. I will usually refuse the former and always refuse the latter. I will allow my office phone to be used to contact a mother of a kid under 21 or a call to a therapist. I will let a guy call his young kids (often they cannot afford the collect bill) but I always monitor the call. Further I usually contact the facility there after to make arraignments for non-collect calls to be available. If the facility is being stupid about it, I go to the judge and ask him to order the calls be allowed. Usually the jails and prison make arraignments (after all most of them are parents too.)
Vigilance is the key. Clients do not generally care about your license to practice. They have an agenda and see you as part of it. You are not part of their agenda, you are a "legal" representative. You do not represent the crime or the plan or scheme, you represent the client in his pursuit of his rights. There is a large difference but often we get caught up in the action and forget what and who we are. You must protect yourself and your practice. Never pass mail through your privilege as an attorney. Ever.
Do not carry messages. Even the most benign could be encrypted. It is simple, although many of the rules seem heavy-handed and inconvenient, they are there for usually good reason's other than sloth or avarice. Find out the reason for the rule and then seek a solution to help your client. Self-help holds way to many pitfalls.
Hattips: Inter-alia and ABA Journal Law News Now