One hot topic in cyberlaw circles is how to protect a client’s right of privacy in their documents and personal papers. Generally speaking, however, discussions about this topic tend to center on appropriate methods of electronic storage or transmission of client information via electronic means to and from third parties. What about when you are filing documents with the court the old-fashioned way? Can you take steps to preserve your client’s privacy in that situation? Absolutely.
Here is a checklist of steps to preserve client privacy which you should consider whenever you are filing court documents:
- Social Security numbers should always be redacted to the greatest extent allowed under applicable law;
- Never include numbers for bank or other financial accounts in any court filings. Most courts will permit using only a few digits of the number that make the account identifiable during court proceedings.
- Never file tax returns in the court’s file. If tax returns are required for a particular hearing, bring them to the hearing and take them with you when the hearing is over.
- Pleadings or other documents filed with the court should only describe property and assets as specifically as necessary for the parties to reasonably identify them.
- Consider having any pleadings or other court records – including testimony – filed “under seal.” You should consult your jurisdiction’s court rules, including the local court rules, for specific procedures related to filing court records under seal.
This list is, by no means, intended to be an exhaustive list of all steps you should take to preserve your client’s right of privacy. Rather, it is intended to get you thinking about the subject. Be prepared to aggressively defend your client’s right of privacy because, in most jurisdictions, the right can be waived if it is not asserted in a timely and appropriate fashion.