Protecting Client Confidentiality

Written by lewsauder

January 14, 2013

Client Confidentiality

Protecting Client Confidentiality

Doctors are required to protect confidential patient medical information by law with the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).  Lawyers are held to an attorney-client privilege holding them to strict confidentiality rules.

Consultants are not held to such standards by law.  But any consultant with any level of professional ethics makes sure to keep his or her client’s information safe.  Most consultants don’t give out client information on purpose.  It’s usually done through carelessness and negligence.  What are some of the ways it occurs?


Consultants often work for multiple clients at the same time.  So it happens that they may do some work, even if it includes reading an email, for one client while on site at another.  All it takes is the client to walk up while you’re working on it.  Or, perhaps your mobile phone rings and you have to step away to take the call. If you left a document on your desk or laptop when the client walks up to your desk, you may be revealing confidential information about one client to another.

The best answer is to avoid working on any other work when you’re on a client site other than for that client.  If you happen to open an email with information on another client, take extra care to close it as soon as possible.  Physical documents should always be kept out of site.  They should never be left out for another client to see.  Whenever you leave your desk, make it a habit to lock your computer screen so no one can access it while you’re away.

For more information, see Client Relations for Consultants

Fatal Attachment

Imagine on a hectic day, you need to get some information out to a client.  You quickly type up the email, attach the spreadsheet and hit the send button.  The only problem is that the attachment was another client’s salary schedule.

Extra care needs to be practiced when attaching files.  Data files can often have similar names.  When working with different clients.  It often works to have a two- to three-character prefix to use for each client at the beginning of each data file used for them.  Storing their documents in separate folder structures will also avoid confusing one client’s files with another’s.

Loose Lips

When a consultant is on site at the client, there isn’t always a lot of privacy.  Consultants are lucky to get their own cubicle.  Often, they sit in a team room with a number of fellow consultants mixed in with client personnel. If they get a phone call from another client, their half of the conversation can be heard by many others.  You can step out into a hallway to hold the conversation, but anyone can be lurking around the corner.

Again, if you’re at a client site, you should probably only be working for that client.  There are times when it can’t be avoided.  A private office or a conference room should be found if a phone conversation has to take place with or about another client.  As a last resort, walking out to the parking lot and having the conversation in the car will always work.

See my related post: 5 Steps to Better Client Communication

Client confidentiality on your home turf

Clients are often invited to the consulting firm’s office for meetings or just to impress them with the firm’s facilities.  Sometimes projects are executed from the firm’s offices.  Having the client as a guest in your home office is always a risk. Papers left out and overheard conversations can severely put a client’s confidential information at risk.  Worse yet, when a client is in your office and finds his own information carelessly left out for any other client to see, your credibility is damaged.

When a client is in the office, it’s important to let everyone in the office know who will be on site and for how long.  Make sure to let them know that confidential documents for any client should never be left around. Additionally, conversations regarding any client should be held confidentially in a closed door session.

When client confidentiality is breached, a consultant’s credibility is weakened.  When a client finds information about another client, they tend to wonder if their own information is treated just as carelessly.  For a consultant to remain a credible and trusted advisor, he must be diligent at protecting the client’s confidentiality.

Have you ever made the mistake of breaking client confidentiality?

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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