As a lawyer, there is an ethical obligation to implement reasonable measures to safeguard a law firm and its data.
But at the end of the day, whether you’re the office manager, law firm administrator, or CTO, it is everyone’s responsibility to uphold security at a law firm. That’s why creating and implementing a comprehensive cybersecurity policy for your law firm is crucial.
In this piece, we discuss what a cybersecurity policy is, how to create one, and what should go in yours.
What is a cybersecurity policy?
A cybersecurity policy (also known as a law firm information security policy) is a formal, high-level document that outlines a firm’s general objectives and procedures for information security.
Cybersecurity information policies govern how a law firm manages, protects, and distributes information. It is the plan of action that instructs your employees on how to keep your data and technology protected against unauthorized access and outside threats.
Why you need a cybersecurity policy
A cybersecurity policy is important because it sets clear expectations for everyone at your firm. It serves to:
- Protect the confidentiality and integrity of your firm’s data
- Arm law firm employees with training and tools to identify and avoid threats
- Minimize the risk of security breaches
- Help with regulatory compliance
Unfortunately, while a comprehensive policy can substantially decrease your firm’s risk of cyberattacks and data breaches, not every firm has such a policy.
The American Bar Association (ABA) reports that 53% of firms have policies to manage the retention of information/data held by the firm, while 36% have an incident response plan. 17% of firms lack any policy whatsoever, with 8% stating they didn’t even know about cyber security policies.
A surprising majority of security issues begin with simple user error—not tech failures. Cyber criminals target the weak points in your security, such as human errors, outdated software, and weak passwords.
Creating a customized policy that takes these weaknesses into account will ensure everyone is aware of their cybersecurity duties.
Watch our on-demand webinar: A New Approach to Legal Cyber Security: How to Protect Your Firm Against Rising Threats.
What to include in your law firm’s security policy
When it comes to creating your law firm security policy, it must be designed around your firm’s unique, special needs, and then shared with every individual at the firm.
Your policy should:
- Act as a guidebook for your law firm staff to use best security practices.
- Outline how your firm stores, protects, and disseminates information
- Outline expectations and responsibilities for lawyers and law firm staff.
- Be documented clearly and concisely and be easy-to-follow
How to create a law firm cybersecurity policy
Below, we’ve captured some best practices and considerations to include when creating your own law firm cybersecurity policy.
Assess your firm’s current security
Before implementing your policy, it’s important you thoroughly audit any potential risk areas.
Go through your firm’s data and identify all sensitive information and create a record of all of your systems, devices, and technology.
Where and how do users access this data? What are the weak points that hackers will target? And what security systems do you already have in place? A thorough risk assessment will help identify potential cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities.
Once you have identified what cybersecurity risks may exist within your law firm’s infrastructure, you can recommend, document, and establish security measures and best practices to mitigate them.
This might look like:
- Introducing data encryption for sensitive client data
- Enforcing strong password policies, like two-factor authentication
- Conducting regular cybersecurity training sessions for all law firm staff
- Conducting regular audits to ensure compliance
We cover more in our piece, 11 Best Practices for Protecting your Law Firm’s Data.
Consider compliance and regulations
Ethically (and professionally), it’s your duty to protect client data and to disclose your error if a breach does occur. You also must comply with ABA standards to prevent “inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.”
It’s your firm’s responsibility to understand your legal responsibilities in the event of a breach. Be sure you are up to date not only with ABA standards, but also with data security laws in your location.
We cover the different compliance and regulation requirements (such as HIPAA, GDPR, CCPA, SHIELD, and state-specific breach notification laws) in our post, Law Firm Data Security: Ethics and Risk Mitigation.
Cover what responsibilities law firm employees have
No matter what role, everyone plays an integral part in the security of your law firm.
In your policy, specify the roles and responsibilities everyone at your firm has, including acceptable use of the firm’s information resources.
This can look like:
- Including a device policy
- Covering password hygiene
- Requiring employees to install firewall and antivirus software on their computers
- Covering how you will enforce cybersecurity at the firm
Be sure to read our blog post, 4 Ways to Increase Your Password Security, for more tips on password hygiene.
Outline the steps your practice management provider takes to prioritize security
Your informational policy should include what practice management provider you’re working with and how they’re working to keep your information safe.
These providers bake cybersecurity best practices into everything they do while meeting compliance standards.
Take Clio, for example. Clio complies with GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI legislation, and our internal security team is available 24/7/365 to respond to security incidents and our platform leverages in-transit and at-rest encryption.
Moreover, Clio uses industry best practices (such as HTTPS and TLS), and the web interface is verified by DigiCert, a trusted certificate authority.
On top of this, Clio’s data hosting facilities are audited annually for security certifications (such as SOC 2 and ISO27001).
You can learn more about Clio’s security features here.
Establish incident reporting
Make sure you have clear guidelines and procedures for reporting and documenting any cybersecurity incidents or potential breaches.
This should include reporting to the appropriate authorities and notifying affected individuals or clients as required by law.
It’s one thing to create a policy at your law firm. But you need to make sure that your policy is read and understood. After all, everyone at a law firm is responsible for maintaining security.
Ensure that your policy is written in easy-to-understand language. Your policy should be written in a way that shows how these policies impact their daily routines.
Have employees acknowledge their understanding and adherence to the policy in writing.
It’s also a good idea to provide continuous cybersecurity training to keep employees informed about evolving threats, best practices, and changes to the policy.
Finally, ensure that your employees know exactly where they can look to need to know where find the policies when they have a question.
Final thoughts on creating a cybersecurity policy at your law firm
Cybersecurity is an ongoing effort. Any policy should be regularly reviewed and updated to address new threats and challenges.
To learn more about how to protect your firm and your client’s data, be sure to check out our on-demand webinar, Law Firm Security: How to Protect Your Client Data and Stay Compliant.