Ethical Walls & Information Barriers
Law firms must restrict internal access to client information for many reasons. In situations involving conflicts with past or current clients, special requirements mandated by professional rules apply. These scenarios are commonly triggered by taking on new clients, bringing on new lawyers or engaging in multi-party auction representations.
These types of confidentiality controls go by many names including: confidentiality screens, firewalls and ethics walls. Depending on the circumstances and jurisdictions involved, they may be erected unilaterally, or only after securing client waivers.
But regardless of jurisdiction, today it’s critical that firms have active protections in place to manage, track and enforce ethical walls and information barriers. In many instances, the ability to win business or take on lateral hires depends on the ability to demonstrate compliance.
Screen and Information Barrier Evolution
Historically, firms implemented barriers procedurally, by distributing memoranda, restricting access to physical records, and relying on the professional diligence of lawyers and staff. However, with more and more information stored electronically in easily accessed repositories, firms must extend protections to document management, records management, portal and other systems.
“Honor code” approaches are no longer sufficient. Today, professional rules and court decisions explicitly call for electronic controls. In several instances, firms facing disqualification motions have had to present the results of IT audits that revealed breaches. As the case law shows, the documented record of even an accidental, minor breach can disqualify a firm.
Trying to enhance enforcement, some firms use early generation security tools to lock down document repositories. But this approach falls short because legacy tools:
Fail to limit access across all repositories where sensitive information resides
Do not notify lawyers of restrictions they're subject to
Impose considerable administrative burdens, forcing staff to monitor lawyer activity to keep restrictions up to date
Provide insufficient logging and reporting capabilities necessary to satisfy insurance carriers, the court or clients
With opposing counsel more willing than ever to leverage any advantage or perceived weakness in court to obtain disqualifications, and clients asking tougher questions before granting waivers, it's vitally important that firms employ the strongest protections available.
That’s why firms are increasingly adopting modern software to streamline confidentiality lifecycle management. This includes automating the creation of access controls, monitoring staff behavior in real time to ensure that restrictions are enforced and maintained, and extending protections across all repositories where sensitive information is stored.
The Intapp Solution – Intapp Walls
Intapp Walls is the legal industry’s most-adopted information barriers and ethical walls software. It offers unmatched capability, specifically designed to address requirements outlined by professional standards and case law. And Intapp actively monitors emerging rules and court decisions to enhance the product on an ongoing basis.
Intapp Walls is designed to streamline confidentiality management so that risk staff and lawyers spend less time on administrative tasks, while firms enjoy stronger protections, greater visibility and a reliable record of compliance, suitable for external review.
The value of preventing a single disqualification or client departure warrants adopting the strongest measures available.