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ABA Has New Ethics Opinion on Disasters

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 21, 2018 2:00 PM

Clients may not think about their lawyers in a natural disaster, but their lawyers should think about them.

That's the upshot of new guidelines from the American Bar Association. The ABA released an ethics opinion on how attorneys should deal with disasters.

It's only natural, considering how Hurricane Florence ravaged an untold number of businesses. For attorneys, a big concern is safeguarding records.

Cloud Coverage

In Formal Ethics Opinion 482, the ABA focuses on concerns such as client communications and records. Rule 1.15 addresses the attorney's duty to safeguard client property -- and what happens if it is lost.

"For current clients, lawyers can attempt first to reconstruct files by obtaining documents from other sources," the ABA Journal reported. "If they cannot, lawyers must notify the clients of the loss of files or property."

The opinion says lawyers should "maintain an electronic copy of important documents in an off-site location that is updated regularly." Along with Rule 1.1, which requires lawyers to be competent with technology, the ABA is pushing cloud storage.

"Because a disaster can destroy lawyers' paper files, lawyers 'must evaluate in advance storing files electronically' so that they can access those files after a disaster," the Journal said. "Storing client files through cloud technology requires lawyers to consider confidentially obligations."

Storm Chasing

In any tragedy, it should go without saying that lawyers should be there to help -- not profit.

But the ethics opinion says it anyway: attorneys should not take advantage of victims for personal gain.

"Of particular concern is the possibility of improper solicitation in the wake of a disaster," the opinion says.

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