It’s not just Big Brother whose watching you!
It’s easy to think of Law as a dull boring subject, full of dull boring people doing dull boring things, quoting from statutes that are older than Adam and Eve.
If you could see me right now (in the office, in jeans, swilling coffee from a mug that says “Don’t Confuse your Google Search with my Law Degree”!) you might think that that is an outdated image, and certainly there are certain aspects of law and legal advice that is doing well to keep pace with change.
Take computers, for example. When I started my first job as a qualified solicitor (25 years ago almost to the day – woo hoo!) I was the only fee earner in the building that had my own computer. Everyone else relied solely on secretaries. Even then, my computer wasn’t connected to the internet, so that all I could do was type my own documents and print them off. Fast forward to today, and we don’t employ any secretaries. Everyone does their own typing, sends their own emails and even answers their own phone. My training partner would have been horrified!
The law has not, however, been as good at keeping pace with developments in social media. I don’t mean the practicalities of it, as they all have websites and LinkedIn profiles these days, but the implications of it, in terms of their own offices, and how they advise their clients.
For example, how many businesses have a social media policy, giving guidance on what their staff should and should not do on line during office hours? Some, but not nearly enough judging by the number of cases I see where employees have overstepped the mark from the employer’s perspective, but the employee is pointing (quite rightly) to the absence of any indication from their bosses as to what was acceptable, and what wasn’t. You are unlikely to be able to get away with firing someone for doing (or not doing) something unless it’s either set out in a properly communicated policy and/or it’s blindingly obvious.
What’s more, in a constantly changing environment, simply having a policy isn’t enough. You have to regularly review it as new social media platforms come on line.
Take “BeReal” as an example. For those of you who don’t know (and I didn’t until my 16 yo explained it to me!) it’s an app where everyone in your group gets a message at a random time of the day and you all have to take a picture of what you are doing at that precise moment, so that it’s shared with your friends and is genuine – no time to check your hair or redo your makeup. Sounds innocent enough, but if you don’t have time to check your appearance, you also don’t have time to check that there are no confidential papers lying around on your desk or visible on your screen.
In reality this isn’t a completely new concept. I can remember admonishing a junior colleague, whilst on a train on our way to a trial, for discussing the details of the case too loudly. I can also remember reminding support staff to be careful how they labelled barristers files when we were involved in a high profile case as I could imagine the papers being left lying around in the back of Counsel’s car, and being of far more interest to the press who would no doubt be following them than the documents actually warranted. So it’s not a new issue, it’s just a new way of addressing it.
Whilst a well worded policy is not going to guarantee you that your staff comply, it will still give you a degree of protection. Firstly, if you were to run into difficulties (such as with the ICO for breach of client confidentiality) you will be able to show that you were taking steps to reduce the risk and they will recognise that. Secondly, if you do have to discipline or even dismiss someone for a breach, you can point to the policy as your reason, and if you were to end up in Tribunal, this will give you good protection.
If you don’t have a policy in place, and this is something you think your business could benefit from, then come and find me at the bar. I’ll be easy to recognise as I’ll be the one reading an unmarked file!
Kleyman & Co Solicitors. The full service law firm. Always BeReal.