Asked and Answered: Claudia Rast

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By Jo Mathis

Legal News

Butzel Long attorney and shareholder Claudia Rast will be a featured speaker during the Institute of Continuing Legal Education's (ICLE) 24th Annual Business Law Institute May 4-5 in Grand Rapids. Rast's talk is titled: "Social Media and Technology: Protecting Your Business Clients and Yourself" Rast, who is based in Butzel Long's Ann Arbor office, counsels clients on legal issues related to business and technology, especially online and web-based companies. She talked to Jo Mathis of The Legal News about keeping safe in the digital age.

Mathis: You've said that the blurring of personal and business use of personal and business tech devices is both a policy and IT security challenge. How so?

Rast: Unless companies deploy security checkpoints at their points of entry, they will not keep employees from bringing personal devices into the workplace, and these personal employee-owned devices often are used for business communications and work. Equally difficult is the employer's ability to restrict employee use of company equipment for personal use, e.g., using company-issued laptops to check Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. That's the blur: company equipment for personal use and employee equipment that's used for business. It used to be simple. Remember the days when employers had policies about personal use of company phones. We don't see that any longer. Employees will use their cells phones for personal calls whether company issued or personally owned. Ironically, companies find that employees are less likely to lose or misplace cell phones that have mixed personal/business use, because the employees are more concerned about losing personal contacts, photos, music, etc. than they are about company information that can be re-imaged from a backup.

Mathis: What are the implications of sharing information on social networking sites? Should attorneys simply opt out to be safe?

Rast: My motto and advice to clients is to not put anything on a social networking site that you wouldn't place in your business profile. There are no protective barriers out there. If you post it, you lose control over it. Opting out may be safe, but you will be operating with a business perspective that does not reflect the realities of today's marketplace.

Mathis: Should firms draft policies to address electronic communications?

Rast: Absolutely.

Mathis: How should these policies be worded?

Rast: Realistically, with an understanding of human behavior. It is unrealistic to ban personal use of the Internet in the workplace. You can, however, prohibit personal use that interferes with the employee's performance, has a detrimental effect on the company's IT network (e.g., bandwidth load), and is illegal.

Mathis: Is there any way to protect one's reputation online?

Rast: It is extremely difficult to defend an individual's or company's reputation once subject to an online attack. The First Amendment protects the freedom of expression, which includes opinion, but does not include, of course, falsehood. Perhaps the best way to respond to an online attack is to check the terms and conditions of use for the website posting the offending statement. If those terms prohibit defamatory statements, then a strongly worded letter citing those terms and including the offending statement will often work.

Mathis: When you help companies choose and use of technology, where do you start?

Rast: With the goals of the company--what do they want to achieve? What is their purpose? These should be embodied in the company's business plan, which is the best place to start.

Mathis: How often should companies upgrade their technology?

Rast: It depends on the technology and its purpose. If the technology is a theft intrusion monitoring device, I'd want that updated as often as possible. If there is less risk and productivity return associated with a technology, then I'd update it when it makes sense (when funds are available and before it is dropped from regular support/maintenance). For companies right now, I'd put my technology dollars in IT security, data theft detection, social media spam detection, and electronic records control (backup, preservation, deletion).

Mathis: As a board member for Ann Arbor's New Enterprise Forum, you coach technology start-ups in their efforts to connect with management expertise, venture capital, and business partners. What is it they most need to know?

Rast: The biggest question for these start-ups is whether their idea will have "legs" in the marketplace. The greatest technology in the world will go nowhere if no one wants to buy it. So, the NEF coaching process accepts startups that we believe have a chance in the marketplace. Market research is key. We then work with these startups on their financial needs, revenue projections, IP protections, presentation techniques, and other business fundamentals.

Mathis: Should attorneys advertise online? Anywhere?

Rast: Tasteful and professional marketing is appropriate. I would stick with professional sites.

Mathis: Anything wrong with going low-tech? Or no tech?

Rast: Lo-tech or no tech has a definite place in the business world. There's always something special when you send--or receive--a handwritten note.

Published: Mon, Mar 19, 2012

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