Why your firm needs to embrace technology and use it strategically to provide quality, secure representation to your clients.
By Nicole Black, Lawyer and Legal Technology Expert
In 2017, it has become increasingly clear that for lawyers, understanding technology is imperative (with 27 states now requiring it), and they can no longer ignore the steady march of advancement. Nevertheless, some lawyers continue to resist embracing unfamiliar technology, often voicing concerns about cybersecurity risks. The truth is that the benefits of adopting new technologies into your solo or small firm practice far outweigh the risks – as evidenced by the data from the latest American Bar Association Legal Technology Survey Report.
Solo/Small Firms Have the Best Cybersecurity Practices
According to the Report, solo and small firm lawyers were the least likely to experience a breach in the past year, with only 8% of solo lawyers reporting a breach, followed by 11% of firms with 2-9 lawyers. Larger firms, on the other hand, were much more likely to experience a breach, with 26% of firms with 500 or more lawyers reporting security breaches in the past year, up 15% compared to 2012. Next in line were firms with 10-49 attorneys (25%), followed by firms with 100-499 lawyers (20%).
Larger firms were also far more likely to report that third parties had attempted to access their firm’s data. There were no reports of this type in 2016 for smaller firms with fewer than 49 attorneys. However, for firms with 50-99 attorneys, 25% reported unauthorized access to client data, followed by 11% of firms with 100-499 lawyers.
Type of Firm Most Likely to Use Cloud Computing Software
Interestingly, not only were solo and small firm lawyers the least likely to experience a breach or unauthorized attempts to access law firm data, they were also the most likely to use cloud computing in their law practices compared to their larger counterparts. According to the Report, 35% of solos used cloud computing software in their practices in 2016, as did 35% of firms with 2-9 attorneys, 29% of firms with 10-49 attorneys, and 19% of firms of 100 or more lawyers.
For solo and small firms, cloud computing offers a vast array of benefits – including security. In addition to providing secure online storage, geo-redundant data backup, and a built-in disaster recovery plan, cloud computing tools such as web-based legal practice management software provide solo and small firm lawyers with convenient, multi-device, 24/7 access to their firm’s data, along with a secure client portal designed to facilitate collaboration and communication with clients, experts, co-counsel, and more.
So ditch your local server and move your law firm’s client files into the cloud. Your data will undoubtedly be more secure in the cloud than it is on your law firm’s old servers, which likely haven’t been maintained or updated with security patches in years. Simply put, cloud computing provides the most secure way for small law firms to store and protect confidential client data.
The Importance of Strong Passwords
But there’s more to cybersecurity than secure software. It’s also crucial to secure your law firm’s hardware – something that most, but not all, lawyers are doing. For example, according to the Report, the majority of lawyers take sufficient security steps with their laptop computers, with 98% of lawyers using passwords on their laptops in 2016. Firms of 500 or more lawyers lead the way at 100%, followed closely by solos at 97%.
Most lawyers were also taking steps to secure their mobile devices. For example, 95% reported using passwords on their smartphones, with large firms leading the way. 100% of firms with 100-499 lawyers reported using passwords, followed by 97% of firms with 500 or more and 93% of solos.
Of course, using a strong passwords is important, but the more complex the password, the better. That’s why I recommend using a password manager such as Lastpass or 1Password. These low-cost, multi-platform tools store your passwords via encrypted files and automatically populate sites with the correct passwords when you visit them. They can also generate secure passwords for you which you can then access from any device.
And, if you have an iPhone, consider investing in an Apple Watch. In addition to its many useful reminder features and apps, the Apple Watch has a feature that helps you find a misplaced phone by causing the phone to emit a sound.
Enable Dual Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication is a great example of a security measure that you can enable to protect your firm’s data. This is because it adds an additional layer of security, making it that much harder for unauthorized users to access your online accounts. In fact, enabling two-factor authentication is one of the simplest – and most important – security measures you can take to secure your accounts. So make sure that all of the important tools and software that your firm uses incorporate this security feature, and then make sure to enable it!
Use Online Portals for Secure Communications
Email has been the communication method of choice for many lawyers since the 1990s, when bar association ethics committees gave email the green light. But a lot has changed since 1990, and email is now outdated and inherently unsecure. That’s why a recent ABA ethics opinion (Formal Opinion 477, which was issued on May 11, 2017) warns against using email in some cases, requiring lawyers to balance the sensitivity of the information being discussed via electronic means with the security offered by the specific technology being used.
As the opinion explains, due to “cyber-threats and (the fact that) the proliferation of electronic communications devices have changed the landscape… it is not always reasonable to rely on the use of unencrypted email… Lawyers can consider the use of a well vetted and secure third-party cloud-based file storage system to exchange documents normally attached to emails.”
In other words, the ABA is suggesting that a better alternative to unsecure email is to communicate and collaborate using online client portals. Using the secure web-based client portals that are built in to law practice management software, attorneys can easily and securely communicate with their clients. The hassle of back and forth email conversations and losing track of attached documents becomes a thing of the past. Instead, you can communicate and collaborate in a secure, encrypted online environment, using any Internet-enabled device, 24/7.
Be the 21st Century Lawyer Your Clients Deserve
Cybersecurity is incredibly important, but fear of the unknown should never deter you from using technology to provide better client service. Unfortunately, some lawyers let fear stand in the way of progress and improved client communication. Don’t be one of those lawyers. Embrace technology and use it strategically to provide quality, secure representation to your clients. That’s what 21st century legal clients expect, and armed with the right tools, it’s something that your firm can deliver. n
Nicole Black is a Rochester, NY attorney and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase.com legal practice management software. She is the nationally-recognized author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers (ABA, 2012) and the co-author of Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier (ABA, 2010). www.mycase.com
More from Family Lawyer Magazine