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COVID-19 Free Legal Clinic Web App

Hey all,

I wanted to share a simple web app I built for lawyers to host virtual free legal clinics during COVID-19. By day I’m a practicing attorney and by night I’m a Bubbler. When the order to stay home was issued in my state (Washington), all free legal clinics that my firm volunteered at were cancelled. I quickly threw together a simple sign-up form where people with legal issues can sign up for a free phone call with an attorney. Attorneys who sign up can select which people they want to advise in the attorney dashboard. During the clinic, a member of my law firm’s staff will dial in participants via VOIP conference call. To me this is a great use-case of Bubble, because something like this could not have been possible if we had to find, pay, and wait for a traditional developer to build a traditional site just for this one function during this short amount of time.

We’ve already had people signing up to speak to an attorney at lawchat.bubbleapps.io. These are screenshots of the development version with fake data to protect privacy.

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Nice! Although, is HIPAA compliance not a concern here?

It’s not a concern for a couple of reasons. First, this is a legal clinic, not a medical clinic. The attorneys are offering legal guidance. So it’s unlikely that someone would transmit information that could fall under the type of healthcare information that HIPAA aims to protect. Second, and perhaps more importantly, neither this website or any of the participating attorneys are “Covered Entities” subject to HIPAA. HIPAA applies to Health Plans, Health Care Clearinghouses, Health Care Providers, or a “Business Associate” of one of those three. A website that is essentially a scheduling app for a free legal advice clinic doesn’t fall under any of those categories.

I think the question is more about privacy generally. As in, maybe HIPAA was the wrong word, but what about privileged communications and the need to keep client information secret?

Anyway, nice app.

@scriptschool He can use privacy rules to do that?.

@eli.marchbanks Great work.

Thank you @Codeables.

@scriptschool there is a lot to discuss there, and you are bringing up a really good point that is always relevant in “legal tech.” There are three general areas to consider with privacy and privileged information: (1) statutorily mandated privacy, (2) ethical privacy, and (3) privacy based on fairness and reasonableness.

The first, statutory privacy, is pretty easily dispelled here because there isn’t a statute (like HIPAA) that mandates additional privacy.

The second, ethical privacy, is really where the concerns are. Lawyer’s are governed by a set of ethics rules called the Rules of Professional Conduct. They vary a bit depending on each state. Across the board, many of the rules governing privilege, confidentiality, and conflicts of interest are relaxed in the context of a free legal clinic. Essentially, volunteer legal clinics make it difficult to have the type of privacy controls one would have in place in their private law office, and the need to get access to legal information to those who can’t afford it otherwise outweighs the need to totally safeguard the information. Regardless of that, I treated this app as if it were not a free legal clinic and complied with the more stringent Rules of Professional Conduct that control a private practice in my state, Washington. The controlling Rule of Professional Conduct is RPC 1.18(e). It says that a lawyer develops no attorney/client relationship with a prospective client, and is not prohibited from use of any information learned in the meeting, if the client consents to those terms before-hand - which clients do in our Terms of Use. Now, of course the attorneys volunteering in this virtual clinic have no desire to “use” any information obtained from the people they are advising, they just want to help advise people during a scary time.

Finally, as @Codeables pointed out, most other concerns just come down to whether or not the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy accurately disclose who would have access to what information, and how it will be used. Our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy do that by stating who will see what client information (only attorneys on the platform), and we link to Bubble’s Privacy Policy and disclose that Bubble will have access to the information as well. As long as that is disclosed there is no legal or moral concern. Granted, the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy in this app are not my finest work, but they get the job done and we were in a rush to get this launched.

I appreciate you raising this issue. This is an important topic people need to take seriously. If there are others in the Bubble community who are confused or concerned about privacy rules I would be happy to publish some resources on terms of use and privacy policies. I’ve drafted several for clients (and my own apps) in the past.

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Thank you for this thorough explanation. I’m in the early stages of developing a legal tech app and researching the basics of privacy before getting further legal advice. I would greatly appreciate any resources you have public.