It is a deposition question that too often surprises lawyers and corporate-witness deponents.  Upon return from a water or lunch recess, the deposing lawyer asks the witness: “So, tell me what you and your company’s lawyer discussed during the break?”  Can the deposing lawyer ask that?  Does the defending lawyer have an attorney-client privilege objection?

In-House and outside counsel focus their deposition preparation on reviewing the notice-of-deposition topics, selecting the most appropriate corporate employee for the deposition task, and preparing that witness with the boilerplate deposition ”dos and don’ts.”  And while many lawyers defending depositions see every break as an opportunity to consult with the witness, they neglect to consider whether these in-deposition consultations are privileged and, importantly, to prepare the witness how to answer an out-of-the break question about those consultations.

Unfortunately, there is no uniform rule on whether lawyers may have privileged conversations with witnesses during deposition breaks.  Some jurisdictions prohibit all during-the-break consultations except when necessary to assert an evidentiary privilege.  Other jurisdictions reject this draconian rule for the more practical approach of permitting break-time discussions except when a question is pending.  In my recent article, Protecting Attorney-Corporate Witness Consultations During Deposition Breaks, published by Inside Counsel, I explore the various rules on this issue and provide practical tips for preparing lawyers and witnesses for this inevitable happening.

You may access the article at this link.  How does your jurisdiction–state or federal–handle this situation?  Place your comments in this post–perhaps we can gather the local rules, judicial rulings, and local practices so that others may find answers in a single forum.

As originally published at presnellonprivileges.com 
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What does Rocky Mariciano, one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time, have to do with evidentiary privileges? Plenty, as it turns out, for it was a libel case arising from Mariciano’s comments following his famous 1952 fight against Jersey Joe Walcott that solidified the then-evolving theory that the government-information privilege applies in civil actions.


The Government-Informant Privilege

The government-informant privilege protects from compelled disclosure the identity of persons, or informers, who supply information about legal violations to the appropriate law-enforcement personnel. Despite the name’s implication, the privilege belongs to the government, not the informer, but protects informers from retaliation or retribution and encourages citizens to communicate their knowledge of violations of law to government officials.

The privilege is qualified, meaning that it may be overcome upon a sufficient showing of need by the defendant. In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court in Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53 (1957), explained that the privilege must “give way” when disclosure of the informer’s identity is relevant and helpful to the defense or is essential to a fair determination of the cause. And to determine whether either of these standards is met, courts must balance the public’s interest in keeping the informer’s identity confidential against the defendant’s right to prepare a defense.

There is no fixed rule on when disclosure is required; courts must make the assessment on a case-by-case basis,and have sole discretion to determine whether the evidence justifies disclosure.  The court must consider several factors when balancing the competing interests, such as the crime charged, the possible defenses, significance of the informer’s testimony, and danger to the informant if his identity is revealed.

Does the Privilege Apply in Civil Actions?

The government-informant privilege is routinely asserted in criminal cases, with the typical situation involving a criminally accused seeking to discover the identity of the informer who provided police with the tip that led to the accused’s arrest.  But the question arises whether this privilege may be applied in civil actions and, if so, whether the same standard governs the privilege.

The situation can arise in two situations.  First, a plaintiff may seek disclosure of an informer’s identity during a civil action against the government, such as a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C § 1983.  Similarly, a party involved in a civil action against another private party may seek third-party discovery from a law-enforcement agency.  Second, the question arises whether private entities may assert the government-informant privilege to preclude disclosure of a whistleblower, or one who reported misconduct up the corporate chain of command in addition to a regulatory enforcement agency.

In the latter situation, most courts hold that the privilege does not apply where the whistleblower’s identity is sought from the private entity, but in the former situation, most courts hold that the privilege applies where the informer’s identity is sought from a governmental agency.  And a case involving one of the greatest fights–and knockout punches–of Rocky Marciano’s career illustrates the point.

Rocky Marciano & the Greatest Punch of All-Time

With a record of 49-0, Rocky Marciano is the only boxer to retire as heavyweight champion with an undefeated record and is recognized as one of the greatest boxers of all time.  Marciano won his title on September 23, 1952 when he defeated reigning champion Jersey Joe Walcott by a Round 13 knockout.  Marciano later described the knockout punch as “the best punch I ever landed,” and boxing historians generally agree that Marciano’s punch was one of the greatest punches in all of boxing history. 

As originally posted on November 27 on Presnell on Privileges
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Ethics 20/20: The Impact of Technology

Posted on August 30, 2012 03:19 by J. Logan Murphy

Every day, we see the impact of technology on the practice of law. Blogs, social networking, electronically stored information, and other legal resources create enormous economies and unprecedented depth in our field. But with these advantages come unrecognized perils. The transparency and mobility of electronic information creates significant risks to clients, unless properly controlled. As part of the project to rein in technology in the practice of law, the American Bar Association launched an ambitious multi-year project called Ethics 20/20. One of the major goals of Ethics 20/20 was to modernize the rules of ethics and bring them into congruence with the state of technology.


At its most recent meeting, the ABA passed multiple resolutions amending the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility to reflect the evolution of technology in the practice of law. This article provides a brief overview of those amendments. Those who are more interested in the details of the amendments can click here to read the reports online.


Confidentiality When Using Computers
Resolution 105A makes changes to help lawyers understand how to protect client confidences when using new technology, including cloud computing, tablets, and smartphones. Though small, one of the most significant changes is included in Comment 6 to Rule 1.1 (Competence). The Rule now includes a requirement that “a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” No longer can attorneys simply ignore developments in favor of staid methods of practice. To be competent, an attorney must work effectively with technology and keep alert to technological improvements and changes.

The amendment to Rule 1.6 (Confidentiality of Information) is probably the largest and most impactful rule change related to confidentiality. Now, Rule 1.6(c) requires attorneys to “make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating the representation of a client.” The comments make it clear that attorneys are required to utilize reasonable safeguards to protect confidential information. These changes are geared toward the protection of electronic data, especially given the innumerable bits of sensitive information flying around every day.


Using Technology for Marketing
Resolution 105B was designed to help lawyers understand how the principles of attorney advertising already incorporated into the Rules are affected by the growth of Internet-based marketing and social networking. This particular resolution accomplishes three main goals. First, changes to Rule 1.18 offer guidance on how to market online without inadvertently forming an attorney-client relationship. Recent cases have demonstrated confusion on behalf of the general public regarding whether an attorney-client relationship is formed when the potential client emails the attorney or fills out a communication form on the attorney’s website. The amendments to Comment 2 of Rule 1.18 address the concern by stating that a person becomes a prospective client by “consulting” with a lawyer. While the existence of a consultation depends on the circumstances, the Comment eliminates potential passive liability to prospective clients. A consultation “does not occur if a person provides information to a lawyer in response to advertising that merely describes the lawyer’s education, experience, areas of practice, and contact information, or provides legal information of general interest.” But, if the lawyer actively invites information about a possible representation, the lawyer is probably stuck with a prospective client.

Second, the Rules contain a prohibition against paying others for a “recommendation,” and this Resolution modifies that prohibition to account for online lead generation services through chances to Comment 5 of Rule 7.2. Lawyers may now pay others for generating client leads, as long as the Internet-based lead generator does not “recommend” the lawyer. The lawyer is also responsible for the representations of the lead generator, with Comment 5 placing the onus on attorneys to ensure that the lead generator is not making statements that are inconsistent with the rules.

Finally, amendments to Rule 7.3 assist attorneys in determining when communications on the Internet, particularly through social networking sites, may constitute a “solicitation.” Only a “target communication initiated by the lawyer” directed to a “specific person” that “offers to provide” legal services is a solicitation. Communications to the general public, including Internet banners, are not solicitations, so feel free to jump on that Facebook advertising spot.


Outsourcing
Lawyers have been slow to adopt the economies of scale that outsourcing can provide, in part because of the perceived ethical dilemmas presented in outsourcing. Outsourcing can endanger confidential client information and presents a quandary over legal work being performed by attorneys not licensed in the United States. Resolution 105C encourages attorneys to ensure the efficiency, competence, and ethics of any outsourcing process. An entirely new comment is added to Rule 1.1, requiring the informed consent of the client to contract with any lawyer outside of the lawyer’s own firm. And, lest we forget, lawyers are always charged with supervising non-lawyers; that requirement does not abate simply because work is being outsourced to a foreign country. Comments 1 and 3 to Rule 5.3 incorporate this concept and apply the general rule to all non-lawyers outside of the lawyer’s own firm. The basic gist of the changes in Rule 105C is to encourage lawyers to keep a sharp eye on professionals hired from outside their own firm, and to work closely with clients in determining the proper scope of outside contracting and supervision. No surprise there—constant communication with the client is a harbinger of a durable and responsible attorney-client relationship.


Mobile Lawyers
A prevalent by-product of an informationally small, but geographically large, practice is the tendency of lawyers to move their practice. The world does indeed get smaller every year. No longer do lawyers move down the street; more and more, attorneys are moving their practice to different jurisdictions, and virtual law offices are sprouting in all states. The remaining resolutions that passed enable attorneys to establish a practice in another jurisdiction—subject to stringent information protection requirements—while pursuing admission in that jurisdiction. Resolutions 105D and 105E address the ABA Model Rule of Practice Pending Admission and the ABA Model Rule on Admission by Motion, respectively. With a few states signaling their intent to adopt a uniform bar exam, these model rules and their amendments continue the progress toward a more uniform practice of law. In case you have never encountered these model rules, or their state versions, their purpose is to allow experienced lawyers who have moved into a different jurisdiction to continue to practice while awaiting an expedited admission to the Bar. 

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As reported by InsideCounsel, the American Bar Association House of Delegates (“ABAHD”) recently approved an amended model rule stating that it is ethical for lawyers to disclose client information when trying to move from one firm to another.

Specifically, the rule states that it is ethical for an attorney in negotiations for a different job, as well as attorneys in merging firms, to disclose the identities of clients and the amount of business they generate because the information can help point out any conflicts of interest that might exist.  However, the model rule states that lawyers still should not reveal clients' financial information.

Although the model rule has been approved by the ABAHD, the rule is simply an advisory rule.  In addition, the rule provides little guidance for attorneys faced with the question of how much client information can be ethically revealed in states whose bar associations do not have rules covering this topic.  Thus, prior to revealing any information, lawyers should carefully consider and weigh this model rule against Model Rules of Professional Conduct 1.6 and 1.9.

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It is simply too easy for lawyers to quickly lose credibility within the bar and before the judiciary. It seems we've already lost this battle with much of the public, but within the profession I like to think we begin our careers with an undeserved presumption that most of us (at least those without the last name "Madoff") are straight shooters. This presumption should be nurtured and guarded for the gift it truly is.


A lawyer's individual reputation for honesty is as important, if not more important, than his or her intelligence or skill set.  Why? Most of us quickly learn that if we're out of our comfort zone skill-wise, we have choices.  We can involve another, more experienced practitioner.  Or we can double up on our research until we completely understand an issue or area.  Skills can be improved.  The same is not true for reputation.  Once our reputation for honesty is placed at risk, it is nearly impossible to fix.

The easiest way to lose credibility is almost too obvious to mention: to be untruthful, even about the most trivial detail. It's not necessary to falsify documents or manufacture evidence; a lawyer's reputation for honesty can be ruined simply by stretching the truth when "memorializing" a telephone conversation. We hang up, I read your letter, realize you've mischaracterized our discussion and from that point forward I don't trust a word you say. Worse, when my law partner mentions ten years from now that he's got a case against you, the first thought that comes to mind, which I surely share, is that you're not to be trusted. And just like that, you're no longer trusted.

Being untruthful with the court is even more dangerous.  Setting aside the risks of sanctions, contempt, complaints to the state bar, etc., judges have institutional memory which can follow you your entire career. Just as I'll tell my law partner that you can't be trusted, judges do talk, and have lunch together and, I am informed, discuss their cases and the lawyers appearing before them.  Let just one judge conclude that you are a lawyer capable of lying to the bench and that alone could devalue any statement you ever make in the same courthouse or even jurisdiction.

Many lawyers believe we only have our time and intelligence to sell on the open market.  I would add that neither time nor intelligence have any value at all without a reputation for honesty. Once we lose the trust of our colleagues and judges, everything about the practice of law becomes more difficult, especially winning cases and getting referrals.  Don't risk it.

as originally published at www.atcounseltable.com
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On June 25, 2012, the California Supreme Court set forth new rules regarding the discoverability of witness statements in Coito v. Superior Court of Stanislaus County, No. S181712 (Cal. 2012).  The issue before the court was what work product protection, if any, should be accorded two items: (1) recordings of witness interviews conducted by investigators employed by defendant’s counsel, and (2) information concerning the identity of witnesses from whom the defendant’s counsel obtained statements.        

The California Supreme Court concluded that witness statements procured by an attorney are entitled, as a matter of law, to at least qualified work product protection.  Regarding the level of work product protection, the court held that the witness statements may be entitled to absolute protection if the attorney resisting discovery of the statements makes a preliminary showing that disclosure would reveal his or her impressions, conclusions, opinions, or legal research or theories.  The opposing party can overcome this privilege only by demonstrating that denying discovery will unfairly prejudice her in preparing her claim or will result in an injustice. 

As to the identity of witnesses from whom defendant’s counsel obtained statements, the court held that such information is not automatically entitled to absolute or qualified work product protection.  To invoke the privilege, the party resisting discovery must persuade the trial court that disclosure would reveal the attorney’s tactics, impressions, or evaluation of the case.  If defendant could do so, such information should be afforded absolute protection.  If, on the other hand, the defendant persuades the trial court that disclosure would result in opposing counsel taking undue advantage of the attorney’s industry or efforts, the information should be afforded qualified protection. 

 

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As a recent post on PointofLaw.com noted, the Tenth Circuit recently affirmed the convictions of Howard O. Kieffer.  Kieffer, who for several years practiced criminal defense law, had a problem - he never went to law school and had no license to practice law.  A California resident, Kieffer held himself out as a criminal defense attorney via a domain name with a Virginia company, which also hosted the web site.  The government argued that the web site he maintained, which was accessed by two of his victims, in Colorado and Tennessee, was a “wire communication in interstate commerce” sufficient to establish jurisdiction under the federal wire fraud statute.

One aspect, in particular, of the Tenth Circuit decision raises eyebrows.  The issue is what constitutes an interstate wire for the purpose of the wire fraud statute.  The White Collar Crime Professor Blog identified this as a particularly important issue in the cyber-connected world we now live in.  This issue has been evolving for some time, as shown in United States v. Phillips, 376 F. Supp2d 6 (D. Mass. 2005).  There, the court rejected the government argument that “in order to satisfy the elements of the wire fraud offense, it was not necessary to present evidence that the pertinent wire communications themselves actually crossed state lines, as long as the communications (whether interstate or intrastate) traveled via an ‘instrument of an integrated system of interstate commerce,’ such as the interstate phone system.”  More recently, the Tenth Circuit, in United States v. Schaefer, 501 F.3d 1197 (10th Cir. 2007), held that one person’s use of the internet, “standing alone” was insufficient evidence that the item “traveled across state lines in interstate commerce.”

Therefore, it is now somewhat surprising to read in Kieffer that the Tenth Circuit changed its position.  The court noted that before the website could reach the local host server, it had been uploaded by Kieffer to the Virginia company, and then transmitted from Virginia to Colorado and Tennessee. Based on those facts, the court held that "[t]he presence of end users in different states, coupled with the very character of the internet” permitted the jury to infer transmission across state lines.  Now, under Kieffer, an allegation that a web site was used to perpetrate fraud would give rise to federal wire fraud jurisdiction in nearly every case.  Stated differently, given the “the very character of the internet,” it is unlikely that a defendant will reside in the same state as his web site host and victims. 

Now, as Paul F. Enzinna noted, unless other courts reject Kieffer, the potential exists for a surge in federal wire fraud prosecutions.  With Kieffer seemingly establishing such minimal interstate contact requirements, it would seem that virtually any viewing or use of a web site could be used to trigger federal jurisdiction.

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In addition to their work for their own clients in their own areas of expertise, some professionals also serve as expert witnesses in litigation.  They employ their knowledge and experience in their chosen field to analyze issues and render opinions for one or more parties to a lawsuit.  Like in any other aspect of their work, a professional serving as an expert can act negligently and make mistakes.  Sometimes these mistakes cause litigation problems for the party the professional has been retained to assist.  What happens when the professional is sued for his or her work as an expert?  What are the public policy implications of holding an expert witness liable for mistakes made in the litigation or conversely rendering the witness immune from suit?

A professional generally owes his or her client a duty of care to use the same amount of care, skill and proficiency commonly used by ordinarily skillful, careful and prudent professionals in the professional's community. See, e.g., Michaels v. CH2M Hill, Inc., 257 P.3d 532, 542 (Wash. 2011); Murphy v. A.A. Mathews, a Division of CRS Group Engineers, Inc., 841 S.W.2d 671, 674 (Mo. 1992).  Clearly, a professional retained to perform work as an expert witness in litigation owes his or her client a duty of care – a duty that can certainly be breached.

Some jurisdictions, however, have held that an expert witness's actions and testimony performed during the course of litigation are privileged.  In those jurisdictions, that privilege derives from the doctrine of witness immunity.

The Doctrine of Witness Immunity

As the Missouri Supreme Court has noted: "An immunity is a freedom from suit or liability.  The underlying premise of all immunities is that 'though the defendant might be a wrongdoer, social values of great importance require[d] that the defendant escape liability.'" Id. (quoting Prosser and Keeton on Torts 1032 (5th ed. 1984)).  The immunity for witnesses in judicial proceedings from liability for damages related to their testimony originated in English common law.See Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325, 332 (U.S. 1983)(citation omitted).  The basis for the immunity was the concern that, if subject to subsequent liability, a witness may self-censor his or her testimony – either by altering their testimony for fear or liability or failing to appear to testify at all. Id.  This is not to say courts have not considered the potential for harm resulting from false testimony.  Rather, courts have noted that the reliability of a witness's testimony "is ensured by his oath, the hazard of cross-examination and the threat of prosecution for perjury." Bruce v. Byrne-Stevens & Associates Engineers, Inc., 776 P.2d 666, 667 (Wash. 1989) (citing Briscoe, 460 U.S. at 332).

The immunity first arose in the context of defamation actions based on statements made by witnesses or other parties in the context of a court proceedings. Murphy, 841 S.W.2d at 675.  Different jurisdictions, however, extended the immunity in varying degrees based on the circumstances of the defamatory statement. Id. at 675-76.

Does the Doctrine Apply to Expert Witnesses?

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has noted that witness immunity is particularly designed to protect and encourage disinterested lay witnesses. MacGregor v. Rutberg, 478 F.3d 790, 792 (7th Cir. 2007).   The court noted that because "they have no stake in the case and cannot be paid more than a nominal fee for testifying, [lay witnesses] would be highly reluctant to testify if the threat of a defamation suit hung over their heads." Id.  But what about an expert witness hired specifically to provide opinion testimony in a judicial proceeding?  Are they entitled to the same protection?

The Majority View Is No Immunity

The majority of courts to consider the issue in that context have held that so-called "friendly experts" are not entitled to blanket immunity for their work in preparing and communicating their opinions in litigation.  See, e.g., Marrogi v. Howard, 805 So. 2d 1118, 1128-29 (La. 2002).  InMarrogi, the Supreme Court of Louisiana analyzed whether the policy arguments used to justify the witness immunity doctrine apply in the context of a claim against an expert hired by the plaintiff in the underlying matter. It noted that the objective of encouraging forthright testimony in court "is not advanced by immunizing the incompetence of a party's retained expert witness simply because he or she provides expert services, including testimony, in relation to a judicial proceeding." Id. at 1131.

Some of the courts that have held that hired experts are not immune from suit by their client have based their reasoning on the distinction between the expert's testimony and the work leading up to that testimony.  In Pollock v. Panjabi, 781 A.2d 518 (Conn. Super. 2000), the court held that an expert witness was not entitled to such immunity, noting that the plaintiffs were not complaining about what the expert said; rather, the plaintiffs asserted that their hired expert failed to "perform work as agreed upon, according to scientific principles as to which there are no competing schools of thought." Id. at 525-26; see also Murphy, 841 S.W.2d at 680-81("These experts do not usually act solely as witnesses, but perform substantial pretrial work.").  The court held that there must be a nexus between the claimed immunity, the fact-finding function of the court and the interest in having the expert speak freely. Id. at 526.

California also recognizes the exception of friendly experts from the protection of witness immunity.  In Mattco Forge, Inc. v. Arthur Young & Co., 5 Cal. App. 4th 392 (1992), the court held in favor of the plaintiff company which had sued experts it hired to perform litigation support accounting work. The plaintiff's underlying suit was dismissed allegedly based on negligent work performed by the experts. Id. at 395-96.  In its opinion, the court raised the issue of access to the courts as a policy reason in favor of the exception. Id.at 403-04.  Citing the facts of the case before it, the court reasoned that if an expert's negligence caused dismissal of the client's suit before trial, granting immunity to that expert would not expand access to the courts. Id. at 404.

The Minority Viewpoint: Immunity For Friendly Experts

While the majority of jurisdictions to consider the issue have found that expert witnesses should not be immune from suit by their client for negligence, some courts have reasoned that the immunity should attach in such situations.  The most prevalently cited opinion on this side of the issue is Bruce v. Byrne-Stevens & Associates Engineers, Inc., 776 P.2d 666 (Wash. 1989).  In that case, the Supreme Court of Washington held in favor an engineer sued by a client for negligently rendering opinions on damages issues in prior litigation.  In addressing many of the same policy issues discussed in the cases listed above, the Bruce court found that immunity of experts would encourage them to be more careful in their work and result in more reliable testimony. Id. at 670.  It stated:

Civil liability is too blunt an instrument to achieve much of a gain in reliability in the arcane and complex calculations and judgments which expert witnesses are called upon to make.  The threat of liability seems more likely to result in experts offering opinions motivated by litigants' interests rather than professional standards and in driving all but

the full-time expert out of the courtroom.

Id.  The court also discussed the alleged distinction between the expert's testimony and the work leading up to the testimony. It held that to grant immunity solely to the expert's testimony but not to the basis for that testimony would undermine the policies underlying the immunity in the first place. Id. at 672; see also Panitz v. Behrend, 632 A.2d 562, 565 (Pa. Super Ct. 1993).

Some courts have held in favor of an expert witness who has failed to provide helpful testimony to his or her client at trial, though not based on the doctrine of witness immunity.See Griffith v. Harris, 116 N.W.2d 133, 135 (Wis. 1962)(noting that "a contract [between a party and a witness] creating an obligation not only to appear but also to testify in a certain manner on behalf of a party to a lawsuit, is against public policy");Shaffer v. Donegan, 585 N.E.2d 854, 860 (Ohio Ct. App. 1990)(same); Curtis v. Wolfe, 513 N.E.2d 1139, 1141-42 (Ill. App. 1987)(same).

What About Immunity From Disciplinary Actions?

Even in jurisdictions that afford professionals witness immunity, the risk of a disciplinary action – as opposed to civil liability – may still exist.  In Kentucky State Bd. of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors v. Curd, -- S.W.3d --, 2012 WL 512403 (Ky. App. Feb. 17, 2012), the Court addressed the argument made by an engineer who had appealed a suspension handed down by his state's licensure board for giving dishonest testimony as an expert witness in a quiet title action.  Id. at *9-*10.  The engineer argued that subjecting experts to disciplinary action based on their testimony would affect experts' opinion and have a consequent chilling effect on the administration of justice. Id. at *9.  The Court rejected this argument, distinguishing between an expert being sued civilly and one being subjected to professional discipline pursuant to a state statute in administrative proceeding. Id.at *10.

Conclusion

While the majority of jurisdictions who have considered the argument have found no immunity for friendly experts, there is a valid position – outlined in the Bruce opinion – that immunity should apply if this issue arises in a jurisdiction that has been silent on the issue.  Because many courts have never expressed an opinion on the matter, the arguments raised in Bruce should be available to many attorneys defending professionals in this context.

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This article from Corporate Counsel provides great advice on how to protect your trade secrets while collaborating with third-parties.  As the article notes, you should consider:


Using a non-disclosure agreement to protect your interests
Limiting the sharing of information to those who need to know
Marking the information "confidential" 
Clearly identifying the items you consider to be trade secrets
Training your staff on how to handle sensitive information

For additional tips and advice, check out DRI's State-By-State Compendium on Trade Secrets and Agreements Not to Compete.  The law on trade secrets and non-disclosure agreements varies greatly by state and the Compendium serves as a fantastic resource for quick answers about the confines of each state's law on these topics.  

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Is Google Googling You?

Posted on March 9, 2012 01:40 by Chad Godwin

If you use the Google search engine (and I’m guessing that includes pretty much everyone) you may have noticed a text box appearing on the screen during the past couple weeks, imploring you to read Google’s new privacy disclosures, along with the caveat “this stuff matters.”  That text box stopped appearing on March 1, when Google introduced its new privacy policy.  According to Reuters, at the beginning of the year, Google began reporting that it was simplifying its privacy policy, consolidating 60 guidelines into a single policy that applies to all its services, including YouTube, Gmail and the social network Google+. 

According to the title of a Washington Post article, the “New privacy policy lets Google watch you – everywhere.”  More specifically, the new policy allows Google to track users’ activities by consolidating information it gathers on them across all of the company’s platforms.  Users cannot opt out of the new policy if they want to continue using Google’s services.  A company representative, Alma Whitten, noted that until now, the company has been restricted in their ability to combine YouTube search histories, for example, with other information on a user’s account (email activity).  Although the company claims that it does not sell or trade personally identifiable user information, it now shares usage habits and historical data across all platforms and uses the information to match ads to your online behavior .  Moreover, the fact that Google is gathering so much user specific information on individuals creates the potential for additional privacy implications in the future.  

The National Association of Attorneys General sent a letter to Google signed by 36 members expressing concern about the new policy.  In part, the letter noted:

Consumers have diverse interests and concerns, and may want the information in their Web history to be kept separate from the information they exchange via Gmail. Likewise, consumers may be comfortable with Google knowing their search queries but not with it knowing their whereabouts, yet the new privacy policy appears to give them no choice in the matter, further invading their privacy.

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding stated that data protection agencies in European countries have concluded that Google’s new privacy policy is in breach of European law.  Given the amount of attention the new privacy policy has generated, it appears as though it’s only a matter of time before the company faces its first significant legal challenge to the policy.  Until then, the digital footprint of all internet users will undoubtedly continue to grow.

Chad Godwin

Attorney

Carr Allison


 


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