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Confidentiality is the core of legal profession. Lawyers and legal staff handle a wealth of sensitive information daily. Clients invariably feel secure knowing that whatever they say to their lawyer is protected via client-attorney privilege. Unfortunately, as automation and the use of legal software percolates deeper and deeper into the legal sector, data breaches are becoming increasingly common, threatening both the privacy of clients’ sensitive information as well as law firm reputations. According to data from ABA’s Cyber Security Report, around 25% of law firms have previously suffered a data breach.
Cybersecurity must be an ever-present priority for law firms. This article explains why lawyers have a duty to protect their clients’ information, highlights the main risks to the average law firm, and offers top tips on optimizing your firm’s cyber security approach. Take an instance like the one where the famous law firm Grubman Shire Meiselas & Sacks was the victim of a $42 million ransom in 2020. When such breaches occur, law firms are put in a tricky position – Either give in to the ransomer’s demands (and thereby, lose a huge sum of money), or refuse to pay, and then risk having their clients’ dirty laundry aired publicly.
Law firms might also have additional obligations to protect certain types of information, such as personal health information under respective jurisdictions, which stipulates that law firms must implement “reasonable” security safeguards to protect their clients’ information. Unsurprisingly, data breaches can have a devastating effect on both law firms as well as their clients. The firm might face fines, legal action, and their reputation will obviously take a massive hit. The takeaway is clear: No firm — regardless of its practice area, size, or location—can afford a data breach.
What can law firms do to protect their confidential information?
The American Bar Association adopted a resolution on cybersecurity that “encourages all private and public sector organizations to develop, implement, and maintain an appropriate cybersecurity program that complies with applicable ethical and legal obligations and is tailored to the nature and scope of the organization and the data and systems to be protected”. This resolution covers all law firms across America. That said, beyond resolutions alone, firms understand it’s their ethical and professional duty to protect their clients’ data—and if a breach occurs, to report it as soon as possible to the relevant bodies. Confidentiality of Information presumes that lawyers should “make all reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client”. However, the precise nature of your firm’s responsibilities might vary depending on the nature of the information.
What cyber security risks does a law firm face?
There are many ways in which sensitive information could fall into the wrong hands. Many a times, human error is the main culprit — for instance, when attorneys accidentally lose their computer, smartphone, or briefcase (or if these are stolen from them). Additionally, large (and famous) law firms may also suffer from an online hack, their website might be exploited, or they might even be victims of a physical break-ins. It’s worth considering that the larger the firm, the larger the risk (generally speaking). Market surveys indicate that in 2021, 17% of firms with 9 or fewer employees suffered a data breach, 35% of firms with under 10 – 49 employees, and 46% of firms with between 50 – 99 employees. This is hardly surprising — the bigger the firm, the more sensitive data it likely holds.
Top tips for cyber security for law firms
Enough of the theory — let’s now explain how firms can optimize their cyber security approach and safeguard their clients’ sensitive data going forward.
CONDUCT A RISK ASSESSMENT
Try conducting regular risk identification and assessments to identity if your firm has any key vulnerabilities/weaknesses that could expose your clients’ data privacy. No firm wants to discover it’s at risk of a breach — but it’s always far better to know your blind spots before one occurs so you can take the necessary steps to prevent it.
GET LAW FIRM CYBER SECURITY INSURANCE
Cyber security insurance provides an additional level of security for firms that suffer from a data breach. While insurance does little to protect the data that was stolen, some policies do recompense certain financial impacts of a breach, such as any fees associated with restoring the data, loss of income due to downtime, crisis management, or forensic investigations.
USE CYBER SECURITY TOOLS
Firms must always try to use comprehensive, up-to-date tools to safeguard their data security. These tools range in complexity from the spam filters to software-based firewalls, and even hardware-based firewalls. But adopting the right tools is just the first step — firms must also implement robust encryption and protection, such as by using multi-factor authentication and encrypting data in storage.
While you cant always guarantee a breach won’t occur, you can definitely optimize your firm’s cyber security approach. Remember to prioritize cyber security before it’s too late. Focus on working with vendors who are also committed to keeping your data safe and secure. Law firm automation platforms like Beveron’s Smart Lawyer Office for instance, are usually considered the safest and best law firm software across the GCC region, and Dubai and UAE in particular.