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Cops Searching Laptops: How to Protect Attorney-Client Privilege

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. | Last updated on

Technology and computers has shifted most legal work from paperwork to digital work. The computer age, however, provides some interesting entanglement with ethics, especially when you run into sticky situations with the law: like when attorney-client privilege and laptops end up mixed together.

For example, what happens to attorney-client privilege if a search warrant is issued against you?

Well, of course you'd alert the authorities and whoever is searching your stuff that some of the materials they are gathering are potentially privileged.

But, if your work product is mainly on your laptop, what happens if cops seize your laptop? What can you do then? It's a lot harder for you to have to sift through your own folders on your laptop to determine what is privileged information and what is not. Plus, the police might not really like the fact that you're trying to do your own "sorting." That kind of behavior may look a bit suspicious.

What can you do to protect your attorney-client privilege in this digital age? For one, trying not to mix up your personal files with your professional files may be a good start. And, using work laptops only for work and your home laptop only at home may also reduce the risk of spillover effects onto your clients if you ever (unfortunately) become the subject of criminal investigation.

Or, you could try to store your client files on a cloud, so that they won't physically be on your computer if it's seized by the police for some reason. Unless maybe if the police have a search warrant for your cloud files as well.

In any case, keeping track of your client files may become increasingly more complicated, and with cops searching things like smartphones, it might be time to take some extra precaution. After all, it would be tricky to explain to clients that attorney-client privilege and laptops don't seem to mix well.

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