A few days ago, a lawyer friend of mine asked if I meet a lot of lawyers who use encrypted email. I told him I hadn’t – that apart from the lawyers whose clients (banks, mostly) required the use of encrypted email, I hadn’t come across many other lawyers using it.
Undeniably, and maybe unfortunately for our collective productivity, email has become the communication backbone of many lawyers’ practices. Email is everywhere, chirping and beeping for our attention. No matter how tantalizingly close we get to Inbox Zero at night, few of us wake up without an Unread Email count bursting from our phones and computers.
Despite its ubiquity, though, email as a technology does not command much of our attention. I talk to lawyers every day who wonder if an iPhone or iPad is secure enough, or if using Dropbox will cause them problems for client confidentiality. But most of these same lawyers happily peck away at emails without ever considering how secure it is.
A Google search on “is email secure?” reveals a torrent of articles over the years on the topic, most of which conclude that email is not a terribly secure technology.
Given the general consensus that email is not particularly secure combined with lawyers’ penchant for avoiding or reducing risk, especially technological risk, it’s a bit surprising that there is not wider adoption of secure alternatives to email among the practicing bar. Using encrypted email is not an ethical requirement in North Carolina, and I don’t know of any jurisdictions where it has been required.
That said, with the continued clash of ethical self-regulation and technology, it won’t surprise me when some unsuspecting lawyer somewhere has a client communication intercepted and becomes the ethics test case for encrypted email. All lawyers are required to maintain the confidentiality of their clients’ information. If you, in the course of your practice, also have occasion to email trade secrets like, say, the recipe for Coca Cola, it’s probably a good idea to have some passing familiarity with encrypted email.
I’ve lately been experimenting with Enlocked, an email encryption software (still in beta) that has mobile apps for iPhone and Android as well as plug-ins for Outlook, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and more. Enlocked is simple and free and in my early testing has been easy to use. If you’d like to read a primer with a bit more depth on how to encrypt email, here is a recent article from PC Magazine.
There may not yet be a need for a lawyer to encrypt every single email, but now is a good time to understand and experiment with encrypted email (or other secure communication) if for no other reason than to have another tool in your toolbox.