Earlier this year, U.S. federal courts sent notices to attorneys across the country urging them not to share login credentials with their vendors. The concern is that vendors could have access to the attorneys’ confidential information. Accordingly, courts have asked lawyers across the nation to exercise caution when providing login credentials to a provider in order to grant them the ability to manage files. This advice coming from federal courts is also a warning to those attorneys who may be sharing login credentials to vendors at the state level.
Numerous federal district courts and bankruptcy courts sent notices out to attorneys regarding these privacy issues. While each message varied, the general warning was the same: Beware when providing login credentials with docket service vendors, as there is a risk of giving them access to sealed or confidential information. Since more and more courts across the United States are using e-filing and other online systems, and many lack the ability to integrate software with the court’s systems, the use of third-party vendors is appealing. While doing so may take a load off of staff, consideration of possible rule and ethics violations should not be looked over. This concern is especially true considering the position taken by federal courts across the nation, with state courts likely to follow.
There are, however, other concerns beyond the sharing of confidential information with third-party vendor include about which attorneys should be concerned.
For one, errors can happen when uploading documents into the court’s docketing system. If the information uploaded to the court e-filing system be incorrect or inaccurate it is not as simple a task as hitting delete to get rid of the information. Indeed, once a document has been uploaded into the court’s docketing system it becomes part of the court’s records. In order to remove the misinformation from the court’s records, a motion to strike must be filed, paid for, and approved by the court. If a third-party vendor uploads incorrect information into the court’s system, the ramifications can be significant if that error goes unnoticed until someone else sees it, like the presiding judge or opposing counsel.
Another real concern is liability. This is because any information provided or entered into the court’s system under a lawyer’s credentials, irrespective of who actually entered and/or uploaded this information, is the ultimate responsibility of that attorney. Simply put, if a document is uploaded into the court’s system and personal identifying or other confidential information has not been redacted, the attorney is responsible for that disclosure. For this reason, the ability to upload and edit documents should be in the hands of very few and trusted individuals.
No matter what you or your law firm decides to do, be sure to protect both the attorneys and clients when handling confidential information.