Tuesday, February 15, 2011

WikiLeaks, Law Firms and Confidentiality Management -- New Twists, Risks and Surprises

The WikiLeaks saga continues to unfold, with significant implications for the legal community. We've pointed out several factors that provide context make this an issue worthy of continued attention for law firms:
  • Law firms frequently store and centralize the most sensitive information of their clients. And thus, represent prime targets for leaks and attacks.
  • In response, clients are taking note and asking more difficult questions. Bank of America is widely believed to be an impending target of the WikiLeaks organization. And they have been taking measures to better protect their sensitive information. As we reported last year, the company's outside counsel guidelines include stringent confidentiality mandates for their business data and include audit rights.
  • Law firms have already been the targets of external attacks, resulting in data breaches, negative media attention and potential fines.
Now comes an emerging news about one law firm's direct involvement in shaping the story. Hunton & Williams, which represents Bank of America, is alleged to have been involved in facilitating the development of programs designed to combat disclosures and discredit Wikileaks and its supporters through various means.

Recently-leaked emails from a third party involved in the project describe a partner at the firm as the "key client contact operationally." (In a twist, these communications between the firm and a third-party data security firm were also compromised -- raising additional issues about the type of information law firms share with clients and how information is treated and potentially vulnerable once it leaves the firm.)

Careful to note that all facts are not yet in evidence, the Legal Ethics Blog tackles the question of under what circumstances the professional standards of a firm acting in this manner may be questioned.

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