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Coffee Shop Lawyers, Public Wi-Fi Is Not Your Friend

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Lawyers, equipped with mobile devices to draft legal documents and email them, are meeting with clients at coffee shops across the country. This phenomenon is nothing new, at this point. But we're repeating the story because attorneys are still using public Wi-Fi networks, despite the potential legal and ethical liabilities.

"Never Use Starbucks Wi-Fi"

Kudos to the coffee shops that donated money to those immigration advocates in February. After Trump cracked down on people coming from Muslim countries, the baristas redirected their tips to civil rights lawyers.

But don't use their Wi-Fi, even if it is free. Writing for Above the Law, Jeff Bennion says "all sorts of bad things will happen."

"Here's how unsecured wifi works," he wrote. "Information that you send and receive is delivered in chunks of information called packets. When you use unsecured wifi, those packets can be intercepted and reorganized into readable information."

It could be embarrassing enough to have strangers reading your email or tracking your browsing habits. But the really bad things could include compromised client information, malpractice claims, insurance premium increases, etc.

Morning, Joe, I've Got Your Data

The problem is, you will never know it's happening until it is too late. It's not like the panic button that goes off when a virus or malware shuts down your computer or mobile device.

Hackers literally grab the information out of the Wi-Fi air, and that would be your fault if you put it there. In California, the Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility issued a formal opinion specifically about the hazards of coffee-shop lawyering.

"Client has asked for Attorney's advice on a matter," Opinion 2010-179 reads. "Attorney takes his laptop computer to the local coffee shop and accesses a public wireless Internet connection to conduct legal research on the matter and email Client."

So, like we said last time, use a virtual private network and update your security settings. And pass the cream, please.

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