Outsourcing Clerical or Administrative Tasks
Opinion rules that a lawyer must obtain client consent, confirmed in writing, before outsourcing its transcription and typing needs to a company located in a foreign jurisdiction.
Law Firm would like to outsource its transcription and typing needs to a company located in a foreign jurisdiction. Specifically, voice files would be sent via email and some documents would be scanned to the company via email. The communications would, in turn, be transcribed to paper. The files would include information about client matters and work product regarding client matters. Law Firm investigated the security measures the company utilizes and found them to be extensive.
Is Law Firm required to disclose the outsourcing of these clerical tasks to its clients and obtain their informed written consent as contemplated by 2007 FEO 12?
Yes. 2007 FEO 12 provides that a lawyer must disclose the outsourcing of support services to an assistant in another country and obtain the client's informed written consent to the outsourcing. 2007 FEO 12 does not differentiate between the outsourcing of administrative as opposed to legal support services. Similarly, ABA Formal Opinion 08-451 (2008) provides that “where the relationship between the firm and the individuals performing the services is attenuated, as in a typical outsourcing relationship, no information protected by Rule 1.6 may be revealed without the client's informed consent.” (Emphasis added). The bar associations of New York and Ohio have reached similar conclusions. N.Y. State Bar Ass’n. Comm. on Prof’l Ethics, Op. 2006-3 (2006); Ohio Ethics Op. 2009-6 (2009).
The ABA opinion notes the existence of unique risk factors that must be evaluated when client information is outsourced to a foreign vendor. As noted in the ABA opinion:
[c]onsideration . . . should be given to the legal landscape of the nation to which the services are being outsourced, particularly the extent that personal property, including documents, may be susceptible to seizure in judicial or administrative proceedings notwithstanding claims of client confidentiality. Similarly, the judicial system of the countryin question should be evaluated to assess the risk of loss of client information or disruption of the project in the event that a dispute arises between the service provider and the lawyer and the courts do not provide prompt and effective remedies to avert prejudice to the client.
The protection of client confidences is one of the most significant responsibilities imposed on a lawyer. Given the risk that a foreign jurisdiction may provide less protection for confidential client information than that provided domestically, the outsourcing of any task to another country that involves the disclosure of confidential client information requires disclosure and client consent confirmed in writing.1 Consent “confirmed in writing” denotes consent that is given in writing by the person or a writing that a lawyer promptly transmits to the person confirming an oral informed consent. See Rule 1.0(c). The client’s consent to the outsourcing may be incorporated into the employment agreement.
- Client consent is not required in 2011 FEO 6 although the opinion allows confidential client information to be transmitted over the internet and stored using servers that may be located in another country. The instant opinion can be distinguished because outsourcing requires disclosure of client information to third parties.