What is Personal Information?
Personal information is information about an identifiable individual. Personal information includes information that relates to someone’s personal characteristics (e.g. gender, age, income, home address or phone number, ethnic background, family status), their health (e.g. health history, health conditions, health services received by them) or their activities and views (e.g. religion, politics, opinions expressed by an individual, an opinion or evaluation of an individual). Personal information is to be contrasted with business information (e.g. an individual’s business address and telephone number), which is not protected by privacy legislation. If we did not collect and use your personal information we could not provide you with legal services.
COLLECTION OF PERSONAL INFORMATION: PRIMARY PURPOSES
Collection of Personal Information: Primary Purposes
Like all lawyers, we collect, use and disclose personal information in order to serve our clients. The primary purpose for collecting client personal information is to provide legal advice and services. Where our client is an individual, we collect information about the client’s legal issues including anything the client might have done or said that might affect their legal situation, so that we can advise the client as to their legal rights and responsibilities and their options for addressing the issue, and then to carry out their instructions.
A second primary purpose might be to collect personal information from third parties about a client’s legal issue so that we can ascertain how the third party’s perception of events can affect our client’s legal situation. Some third party sources include your insurance company, your real estate agent in a property transaction, a government agency or registry, your employer or your accountant. A third primary purpose is to obtain home contact information so that we can contact the client in an emergency.
About Members of the General Public
For members of the general public, our primary purpose for collecting personal information is usually to gather and review evidence that is relevant to a legal issue affecting our own clients. Thus, the personal information is usually incidental to our providing advice to our client. Often this collection, use and disclosure is done without the individual’s consent because we are reviewing an apparent breach of law or an agreement and obtaining consent would compromise the investigation.
On our website, we only collect the personal information you provide and only use that information for the purpose for which you gave it to us (e.g. to respond to your email message). Cookies are only used to help you navigate our website and are not used to monitor you.
About Contract Staff
For people who are contracted to do work for us (e.g. temporary workers), our primary purpose for collecting personal information is to ensure that we can contact them in the future (e.g. for new assignments) and for necessary work-related communications (e.g. sending out pay cheques, year-end tax receipts, tax filings).
When we act as an investigator for corporations, businesses etc., our primary purpose for collecting personal information is to gather the necessary information and evidence to express a sound opinion on the issue for our client and represent them in legal proceedings. For example, we may collect information about an allegation of wrongdoing by a member of a professional body or an employee of our client. In such circumstances, we often act without the consent of the subject of the investigation because we are inquiring into an apparent breach of law or an agreement and obtaining consent would compromise the investigation.
Collection of Personal Information: Related & Secondary Purposes
Like most organizations, we also collect, use and disclose information for purposes related to or secondary to our primary purposes. The most common examples of our related and secondary purposes are as follows:
- To invoice clients for goods and services that are not paid for at the time or to collect unpaid accounts
- To advise clients and others of new developments in the law
- Lawyers are regulated by the Law Society of Upper Canada who may inspect our records and interview our staff as a part of its regulatory activities in the public interest. In addition, as professionals, we will report serious misconduct, incompetence or incapacity of other practitioners, whether they belong to other organizations or our own. Also, our firm believes that it should report information suggesting serious illegal behaviour to the authorities. External regulators have their own strict privacy regulations. These reports could include personal information about our clients, or other individuals to support the concern (e.g. improper services), although we try to keep this disclosure to a minimum. Like all organizations, various government agencies have the authority to review our files and interview our staff as a part of their mandates (although the solicitor and client privilege restricts their access to much of this information). In these circumstances, we may consult with professionals who will investigate the matter and report back to us.
- The cost of some services provided by the firm to clients is paid by third parties (e.g. legal insurance policies). These third party payers often have your consent or legislative authority to direct us to collect and disclose to them certain information in order to demonstrate client entitlement to and responsible use of this funding.
- Clients or other individuals we deal with may have questions about our services after they have been received. We also provide ongoing services for many of our clients over a period of months or years for which previous records are helpful. We retain our client information for a minimum of 10 years after the last contact to enable us to respond to those questions and provide these services (the Law Society also requires us to retain our client records).
- Our Firm reviews client and other files for the purpose of ensuring that we provide high quality services, including assessing the performance of our partners and staff. In addition, external consultants (auditors, lawyers, information technology) may on our behalf do audits and continuing quality improvement reviews of our firm, including review of client files and interviewing of our staff.
- If Lancaster, Brooks, & Welch LLP or its assets were to be sold, the purchaser would want to conduct a “due diligence” review of the firm’s records to ensure that it is a viable business that has been honestly portrayed to the purchaser. This due diligence may involve some review of our accounting and service files. The purchaser would not be able to remove or record personal information. Before being provided access to the files, the purchaser must provide a written promise to keep all personal information confidential.
In most cases, we shall ask you to specifically consent, to collect, use or disclose your personal information. Normally, we ask for your consent in writing, but in some circumstances, we may accept your oral consent. Sometimes, your consent may be implied through your conduct or retainer with us.
Disclosure of your Personal Information
Under certain circumstances, Lancaster Brooks & Welch LLP will disclose your personal information. These circumstances include, but are not limited to:
- When we are required by law or authorized by law to do so (e.g. if a court issues a subpoena).
- When the legal services we are providing to you requires us to give your information to third parties (e.g. a lender in a real estate mortgage transaction) your consent will be implied, unless you tell us otherwise
- Where necessary to establish or collect fees
- If we engage expert witnesses on your behalf
- If we retain other law firms in other jurisdictions on your behalf
- If the information is already publicly known
Updating your Information
Since we use your personal information to provide legal services to you, it is important that the information be accurate and up to date.
If during the course of the retainer, any of your information changes, please inform us so that we can make any necessary changes.
Protecting Personal Information
We understand the importance of protecting personal information. For that reason, we have taken the following steps:
- Paper information is either under supervision or locked in a restricted area.
- Paper information is transmitted through sealed addressed envelopes or boxes by reputable companies.
- Passwords are used on computers to ensure that others do not have access to your personal information.
- External consultants and agencies with access to personal information must enter into privacy agreements with us.
- Office security system is in place for added protection
- We have deployed technological safeguards such as security software and firewalls to prevent hacking or unauthorized computer access.
- Internal password and security policies are in effect.
Retention and Destruction of Personal Information
We need to retain personal information for some time to ensure that we can answer any questions you might have about the services provided and for our own accountability to external regulatory bodies. However, we do not want to keep personal information too long in order to protect your privacy.
We keep our client files for about 10 years. Our client and contact directories are much more difficult to systematically destroy, so we remove such information when we can if it does not appear that we will be contacting you again. However, if you ask, we will remove such contact information right away.
We destroy paper files containing personal information by shredding. We destroy electronic information by deleting it, and when the hardware is discarded, we ensure that the hard drive is physically destroyed. Alternatively, we may send some or the entire client file to our client.
You Can Look at Your Information
With some exceptions, you have the right to see what personal information we hold about you. Any requests for access/review of your personal information must be made in writing. Please note, we reserve the right to charge a nominal fee for processing such requests.
If we cannot give you access, we will tell you within 30 days (if at all possible) with an appropriate reason for such refusal. We may deny access when:
- Denial of access is required or authorized by law (e.g. when a record containing personal information about you is subject to a claim of legal professional privilege by one of our clients)
- Information relates to existing or anticipated legal proceedings against you
- Granting you access would have an unreasonable impact on other people’s privacy
- To protect our firm’s rights and property
If you believe that there is a mistake in the information, you have the right to ask for it to be corrected. This applies to factual information and not to any professional opinions we may have formed. We may ask you to provide documentation that our files are wrong. Where it is agreed that the information is inaccurate, we will make the correction and notify anyone to whom we have disclosed information. If we do not agree that the information retained is inaccurate, we will retain the information along with a statement by you on the point in issue and we will forward that statement to anyone else who received the earlier information.
To help us make credit decisions about clients, prevent fraud, check the identity of new clients and prevent money-laundering, we may on occasion request information about you from the files of consumer reporting agencies.
On our website, like most other commercial websites, we may monitor traffic patterns, site usage and related site information in order to optimize our web service. We may provide aggregated information to third parties, but these statistics do not include any identifiable personal information
It is important to remember that whatever you transmit or disclose online can be collected and used by others or unlawfully intercepted by third parties. No data transmission over the Internet can be guaranteed to be 100% secure. While we strive to protect your personal information, we cannot warrant the security of any information you transmit to us over the Internet.
Do You Have a Question?
Our Privacy Information Officer, Alexanderia Luciani, can be reached at:
P.O. Box 790, 80 King Street, Suite 800
St. Catharines, Ontario
Phone: (905) 641-1551
Fax: (905) 641-1830
She will attempt to answer any questions or concerns you may have.
If you wish to make a formal complaint about our privacy practices, you may make it in writing to our Privacy Information Officer. She will acknowledge receipt of your complaint, ensure that it is investigated promptly and that you are provided with a formal decision and reasons in writing.
If for any reason you are not satisfied with the results of our investigation in response to your complaint, you may file a complaint with the Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner at:
112 Kent Street
This policy is made under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. It is a complex Act and provides some additional exceptions to the privacy principles that are too detailed to set out here. There are some rare exceptions to the commitments set out above.