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Can You Trust a College Student to Work in Your Law Firm?

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on April 12, 2013 11:01 AM

Many lawyers hire high school or college students as office workers. They make coffee, answer phones, run errands, and file. It’s cheap labor and a chance for the attorney to teach the student about the day-to-day responsibilities of the legal profession.

Everyone wins. Except, perhaps, for the clients.

In case you haven’t noticed, youngins these days post everything online. Even the little hooligans who are committing crimes are bragging about their exploits — with photos! — on Facebook and Twitter. That constant need for attention does not bode well for client confidentiality.

The Model Rules of Professional Conduct set strict guidelines for client confidentiality, and those professional obligations extend to an attorney's staff; even the students. A young worker's "OMG, [local celebrity] just walked in for a divorce depo" tweet could pose a problem.

Should lawyers just avoid hiring high school and college-aged workers? Not necessarily. The key is to select students who will respect the rules of professional responsibility.

For example, the law firm that I worked for during college needed someone to redact depositions in a case that was getting plenty of media attention. Out of approximately 20 students working for the firm, they asked me to do it because they knew I would keep quiet.

There were lots of juicy tidbits in the depos that would have made me the most popular kid in town if I had started blabbing. But I never said a word because I wanted to be an attorney, and I appreciated the client confidentiality rule.

(Even years later, as I offer this example, you don't know who the client was, what the case involved, or what I learned. You might be able to find out what firm I worked for -- and perhaps, even guess the client -- but the details remain secret.)

Ideally, you'll find student workers who want to be lawyers. Before they start at your office, review the applicable professional responsibility rules with them, and remind them that you can be held responsible if they break the rules.

And, just to be safe, follow your student workers on Twitter. At least then you'll know if they tweeting confidential information.

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