Ethics Expert Discusses the Concerns that Keep Firm Leaders Up at Night
Pandemic has intensified importance of professional duties such as data protection, competence and communication

by Jessica Folker
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What keeps law firm leaders up at night? The “reply all” button, according to Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell executive director Amy DeVan.

DeVan on Oct. 14 delivered the University of Colorado Law School’s annual Homecoming Ethics Presentation. During the virtual CLE program, DeVan offered an overview of ethical issues that lawyers should be aware of, especially during the pandemic, as well as the professional ethics rules that address these common conundrums.

“Law firm leaders had worries pre-pandemic. That hasn’t changed. But what has changed is how those worries play out in real time. They’ve become more intense in many ways,” said DeVan, who, prior to joining WTO, founded and led Principle Legal Consulting, a consultancy aimed at helping attorneys and law firms comply with ethics rules. She was also executive director of the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission and assistant regulation counsel for the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.

According to DeVan, lawyers’ big ethical concerns include conflicts of interest, communication, competence and technology.

“I’m going to warn you in advance that when it comes to technology, I can go down the rabbit hole,” she said. “This is probably what keeps me up most at night.”

Despite the growing importance of technology and cybersecurity, especially in the age of remote work, DeVan noted that, aside from a few comments mentioning that attorneys are required to safeguard client data, the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct don’t offer much in the way of specific guidance on keeping client information safe and out of the hands of nefarious actors and unintended recipients.

In addition to the risk of hackers, who are “always trying to get better,” she said, attorneys need to be on guard against accidental data breaches and technology risks, such as hitting “reply all” on an e-mail or falling victim to the phishing and e-mail scams that have been on the rise during the pandemic.

This complete article appeared in the Oct. 19 issue of Law Week Colorado. To read other articles from that issue, order a copy online. Subscribers can request a digital PDF of the issue.