Law Firm Data Security

Law Firm Data Security

Attorneys are trusted with highly sensitive information from their clients, and they have a legal obligation to protect that information and adhere to attorney-client privilege. This is why data security must be a top priority for law firms.

Unfortunately, many law firms are under protected when it comes to cybersecurity. Some do not make security a priority while others simply cannot afford to pay a professional to manage their cybersecurity.  Hackers know that law firms are not well protected and target them often to gain access to sensitive information.  In fact, 26 percent of law firms experienced a data breach of some form in 2019 according to an ABA Cybersecurity Tech Report.

Attorneys need to make security a top priority to secure their networks and protect their client data.  In this guide, we will talk about the importance of cybersecurity for law firms, their obligations to protect data, and how to minimize their risks.  Law firms can also ensure the security of their data by working with a professional like PSM that provides law firm IT services

What Are The Data Security Risks for Law Firms

The sensitive nature of the data handled by law firms makes them a major target for hackers.  This data may include personally identifiable information, intellectual property, trade secrets, merger and acquisition details, and other confidential attorney-client privileged data.  Data breaches can have serious consequences for law firms and their clients, including the following:

  • Compromised communications if email accounts are hacked or phished
  • Ransomware that prevents law firms from accessing their data
  • Leaks of business and personal information
  • Loss of trust in your law firm
  • Lawsuits and malpractice allegations

The ramifications of a data breach can be detrimental to the law firm, their clients, and their cases.  Law firms can help prevent data breaches by prioritizing their cybersecurity.

Ethical and Regulatory Obligations for Law Firms

It is an attorney’s ethical and professional duty to protect the data of their clients and inform them when a breach does occur.  Rule 1.6: Confidentiality of Information from the American Bar Association (ABA) states that attorneys must “make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.”  There are also several Ethics Opinions from the ABA to help attorneys address cybersecurity issues such as Securing Communication of Protected Client Information and Lawyers Obligations After an Electronic Data Breach or Cyberattack.

In the opinion Lawyers Obligations After an Electronic Data Breach or Cyberattack, the ABA provides guidelines for what attorneys should do before, during, and after a cyberattack:

  • Duty of competence: Attorneys must show competence in taking adequate cybersecurity measures to protect client data.
  • Obligation to monitor: Attorneys must regularly monitor and assess their systems, standard operating procedures, and plans to reduce the risk of a data breach.
  • Stopping the breach: Attorneys must respond to a detected or suspected breach to stop the attack and prevent further data exposure.
  • Notice of breach: Attorneys must inform their clients of a breach in a timely manner and with reasonable information so that their clients can make informed decisions of what to do next.

Law firms must consider their ethical responsibilities to protect client data when implementing new legal technology to their network.  Working with an IT professional will also help ensure enhanced cybersecurity and encryption of sensitive data.

What to Do If Your Law Firm is Attacked

Even with effective security measures in place, your law firm is still at risk of being attacked.  The sensitive client data that law firms have in their possession makes them too big of a target for hackers.  Your law firm should have an incident response plan in place that includes the following actions in case a cyber-attack occurs:

  • Protect data from further exposure and begin the recovery process
  • Reach out to an expert on data breaches
  • Call your insurance provider
  • Report the attack to law enforcement
  • Notify all third parties
  • Comply with all applicable rules and regulations

How to Protect Your Law Firm from Data Breaches

Law firms must have practices in place to protect their network from data breaches.  Everyone who works for the law firm should understand the actions being taken as well as their role in contributing to the security of the network.

The following tips will help you improve the security of your law firm and better protect against breaches and attacks:

1.Implement a Data Security Policy

The importance of implementing a data security policy cannot be overstated as most security issues are caused by a user error.  Having a clear security policy in place will help minimize user errors and better protect your firm from breaches.

The data security policy should include clear, easy-to-follow steps that the entire staff can understand and implement.  You can make sure everyone understands the policy by having a meeting to discuss aspects of the plan and continuous training.  You should also encourage staff to use at least two-factor authentication for logins and only use apps vetted and approved by the firm.

2.Continuous Training

Law firms should require their staff to complete training regarding cybersecurity and your security policy upon being hired and at least once each year after being hired.  Continuous training will keep your staff informed of your policy as well as new advancements in cybersecurity best practices.

3.Use Secure Passwords

A strong password can make a major difference when it comes to cybersecurity.  The simpler the password, the easier it is for hackers to figure out.  Law firms should have a policy in place that requires passwords to be long and complex and include a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters.  You can use password management tools to gauge the strength of your passwords as well as software that requires all passwords created to meet certain criteria.

It also helps to use different passwords instead of the same password for every login.

4.Encrypt Your Data

The most effective way to protect sensitive data is to have it encrypted.  Encryption creates a secret code for your data that requires a key or password for access.  This layer of protection makes it more difficult for hackers to access your data.

There are applications that will encrypt your data for you, and you can also work with an IT service provider to ensure that all your data is encrypted, including data stored in emails, local hard drives, cloud storage applications, and internet browsers.

5.Keep Communications Secure

All methods of communication used by your firm must be protected to prevent hackers from intercepting sensitive data.  This includes encrypting messaging apps and emails between employees.  An IT professional can look for vulnerabilities in the communications within your firm and ensure that they are protected.

6.Delegate Access

For most law firms, it is simply not necessary for the entire staff to have access to everything.  You should delegate access to data on a need-to-know basis so that staff members can only access data that is necessary for them to do their jobs.

You should also regularly check and update permissions to remove access for former employees and current staff who no longer need access to a certain set of data.

7.Audit Your Security Policy

Law firms must regularly review their data security policies and practices to ensure that they are up to date.  Technology is always changing, and hackers adapt to changes in security technology which is why regular audits are so important.  Regular audits will help you identify weaknesses and make improvements to further secure your network.  IT service providers can also review current security measures and provide you with a report.

8.Carefully Vet Vendors

There is legal technology available from third parties that can help law firms secure their networks.  However, it is very important for law firms to vet all potential vendors that provide legal technology to ensure that they take effective security measures themselves.  Even if your firm is proactive with your security policy, subpar security measures from a third-party vendor can put you at risk.

9.Plan for Disaster

Every law firm should have a business continuity and disaster recovery plan and be prepared for the possibility of a disaster such as a data breach or natural disaster that disrupts the network.  Make sure you have a plan in place for the following scenarios:

  • Data breach: Having a plan of action in place for when a data breach occurs will help limit the effects. The plan should include steps to take immediately after a beach such as changing passwords and reporting the breach to impacted individuals and regulatory authorities.  The plan should also include steps to take if a malpractice claim is filed as a result of a breach.  Make sure to consider guidance provided by the ABA when forming your plan and always test the plan.
  • Natural disaster: A natural disaster such as a fire, flood, or storm can cause damage to your equipment and restrict access to your data. You should have a plan in place in case of a natural disaster to backup sensitive data and critical operations.  This will help minimize the interruption to your operations and keep your data protected.

Check our blog to learn how to create a cybersecurity incident response plan.

Strengthen Mobile Security

Apps and software make it easier for attorneys to work remotely and access the network of their firm from anywhere.  If your staff works remotely, you need to make sure that the devices used to access the network, such as laptops and smartphones, are secure.

The following steps will help you strengthen your mobile security:

  • Enable encryption: Protecting laptops and smartphones with a password is a good first step, but your data is vulnerable if hackers make it past your password. It is best to enable encryption on these devices to protect sensitive data from unauthorized users.
  • Two-factor authentication: All devices accessing the firm’s network should be set up at least with two-factor authentication. With this set up, users will have to enter their password as well as a temporary code that is sent to a different device to access the network.  This makes it more difficult for hackers to gain access.
  • Back up data to secure servers: Your firm should regular back up all important data to a secure, encrypted server so it can still be accessed in case of a ransomware attack. There are cloud-based software apps that will back up your data automatically.
  • Separate personal and private accounts: Your staff should keep their personal and private accounts separated by using different passwords and apps if possible.
  • Have a plan in case a device is lost or stolen: If a laptop or mobile device that is used to access your network is lost or stolen, someone may be able to get into the device and access your data. All devices must be fully encrypted to protect data in case they are stolen.  You should also know how to either disable the device remotely or deny it access to your network.

Inform Clients on Best Security Practices

In order to effectively protect client data, attorneys need to inform their clients of the safest ways to communicate so that they do not compromise their communications or data.  Attorneys should discuss the following with their clients:

  • Who they can expect to contact them
  • The preferred methods of communication between you and your client and how to use them safely
  • Steps the client can take to ensure confidentiality
  • How to report anything that deviates from the plan

Cybersecurity for Law Firms from PSM Partners

Law firms are common targets for hackers because of the sensitive data they possess.  Cyber criminals also know that many law firms, especially small firms, do not invest much in their cybersecurity.  Attorneys have a legal and ethical obligation to protect client data as breaches and leaks can be detrimental to your clients, your law firm, and your case.  Taking the above-mentioned steps will greatly minimize your risk, and you should also consider working with an IT professional like PSM Partners.

PSM provides IT services and support for law firms that includes cybersecurity.  Our professionals can evaluate your current IT infrastructure and security measures to identify and address vulnerabilities.  We can form and implement a plan to protect your data and communications and greatly reduce your risk of breaches, ransomware attacks, and other security issues.

You can call PSM at (312) 940-7830 to learn more about how we can help law firms in the Chicago, IL area.


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