2024 Law Firm Data Security: How to Keep Your Law Firm Secure

Written by Teresa Matich17 minutes well spent
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Law firm data security should be a top priority for any practice, and here’s why: Clients trust you with their most confidential information.

Since clients entrust solicitors with so much of their sensitive data, law firms make prime targets for cybercrime. According to the Law Society of England and Wales, 65% of firms have been a victim of a cyber incident, but 35% of firms still do not have a cyber mitigation plan. You don’t want your law firm to become part of that statistic.

And, while solicitors are increasingly harnessing artificial intelligence (AI) to help them work more efficiently, cybercriminals are also using AI to augment the scale, power, and creation of cybercrime threats like AI-assisted hacking, password cracking, and ransomware attacks.

So how do you mitigate your firm’s risk of data breaches and keep your clients’ data as secure as possible? As a legal professional, it’s crucial to stay up to date with the latest legal technology. But, with technology constantly evolving, where do you start?

Here, we’ll outline the fundamentals of law firm data security in 2024. Read on for an overview of some best practices for keeping your firm’s data secure, a summary of your ethical and regulatory obligations when it comes to tech, a look at the risks and rewards of cloud-based legal software, and resources that can help level up the data security at your law firm.

Law Firm Data Security 101

Let’s start with the basics. These are the essential things you need to know about law firm data security in 2024.

What is a law firm’s data security risk?

law firm data security

Failing to keep data secure is more than just a huge risk for you and your firm. Data security failures can also have incredibly negative consequences for your clients.

To hackers and criminals, law firms are remarkably interesting. Valuable information—like trade secrets, intellectual property, merger and acquisition details, personally identifiable information (PII), and confidential solicitor-client-privileged data—attracts the ill-intentioned to your firm.

Despite these risks, law firms are obligated to protect their clients’ information. If criminals penetrate your firm’s security, the consequences can be extensive—ranging from minor embarrassments to serious legal issues, including:

  • Compromised communications due to phished or compromised email accounts
  • Inability to access firm information due to ransomware (i.e., where hackers encrypt files and demand money to restore access)
  • Public leaks of personal or business information (e.g., on social media)
  • Loss of public and client trust in your firm
  • Malpractice allegations and lawsuits

What are your ethical and regulatory obligations?

UK lawyers have a range of ethical and regulatory responsibilities when it comes to data security. These obligations include adhering to the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018. As a solicitor, it is crucial to be aware of the personal data you possess and how it is utilised. You must comply with data protection principles, which involve processing data fairly, lawfully, and transparently, as well as implementing appropriate security measures.

As a data controller, you must;

  • Designate an individual within your practice who will be accountable for data protection. This person should be capable of demonstrating compliance with the GDPR by maintaining records of data processing, data breaches, subject access requests, and obtained consent.
  • Have a plan in place to respond to data breaches is essential. This plan should outline the steps you would take in the event of a breach, and it is mandatory to report any breaches to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) within 72 hours.
  • Register with the ICO and pay the required data protection fee. This is a necessary step to inform them of your use of personal data. Failure to pay the registration fee can result in fines.
  • Conduct a risk assessment, which is crucial to identify vulnerabilities and risks in your technology, access methods, data storage, and third-party access.
  • Establish effective governance structures, arrangements, and policies to manage and safeguard personal data.
  • Ensure that your staff are trained and knowledgeable about cybersecurity risks. This includes regularly testing and evaluating the effectiveness of your training programs.
  • Maintain client confidentiality and legal professional privilege. While these obligations are important, they do not supersede your responsibilities under the GDPR.
  • Implement appropriate security measures, such as data encryption, multi-factor authentication, access controls, and configuring email systems, firewalls, and backups.
  • Document all activities. This is crucial to demonstrate compliance with all legal obligations.

Data security laws can vary with location. It’s your firm’s responsibility to understand your legal responsibilities in the event of a breach.

What to do if your law firm is hacked

Of course, no one wants to believe their law firm could be hacked. Unfortunately, because of the valuable documents solicitors keep on hand, law firms are prime targets. Hackers might intend to steal your clients’ data to sell it to third parties. Or, in rarer cases, they could opt to hold the information hostage until a ransom is paid.

Your firm should have an incident response plan (IRP) for these situations, though, hopefully, you’ll never have to use it. Below is a good starting point when it comes to creating an IRP checklist:

  • Contain the damage and begin any recovery protocol
  • Connect with a data breach expert
  • Notify your insurance provider
  • Report the incident to the relevant bodies
  • Ensure all third parties are notified
  • Make compliance a top priority

It’s important to review and update your IRP plan regularly to avoid making a bad situation worse. You can run your checklist by an IT consultant as they might have additional recommendations.

11 best practices for protecting your law firm’s data

law firm cyber security risks

There’s no one way to lock down your law firm’s data. Instead, consider a defence in depth for data security that employs numerous checks and takes advantage of the latest legal tech.

1. Create and implement a data security policy at your firm

A surprising majority of security issues begin with simple user error—not tech failures.

  • Make a clear, easy-to-follow plan for data security and share it with everyone at your firm.
  • Educate employees and enforce procedures such as using two-factor authentication for logins, only using apps vetted by the firm, or a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy for employees using their own devices.

2. Continuously train staff on mitigating data risk

Don’t assume that everyone knows how to spot and avoid a phishing email—open a dialogue and continue to train employees to avoid accidental user errors and promote law firm data security best practices. As part of your law firm’s cybersecurity protocols, require training upon hire and periodically (usually once a year) thereafter.

3. Use strong passwords

Always. Is your password simple and guessable, like your daughter’s birthday or—please, no—“123456”? Do you use the same password for every login? If so, you could be setting yourself up as an easy target for hackers.

  • Create better passwords: For increased password security, go for something complex and long. Use a password management tool to help ensure passwords remain secure and simplify password management (no more having to memorise or write them down—please don’t do that last one).
  • Enforce strong password rules: Some legal tech software, like Clio, feature password policy settings that keep your passwords in line by requiring strong passwords.

4. Encrypt, encrypt, encrypt

Never overlook this relatively simple and highly effective measure. Encryption translates your data—whether stored in an email, a local hard drive, an internet browser, or a cloud application—into a secret code, which then requires a key or password to access it.

  • Keep an eye out for applications that will take care of encryption for you. For example, Clio applies in-transit and at-rest encryption using industry best practices (such as HTTPS and TLS) to ensure your firm’s data is stored and transmitted securely. Clio’s web interfaces are also verified by DigiCert, a trusted certificate authority.

5. Secure your communications

One of the primary ways for hackers to intercept your data is in your communications. As part of your firm’s data security plan, review any vulnerabilities across your communication channels and look to mitigate them.

For example, you can encrypt your firm’s emails. You may also want to look into communication apps like Signal, which offer end-to-end encryption across multiple messaging methods.

6. Consider access control

Everyone on your staff doesn’t need to know everything. Be intentional when considering granting permission to view specific matters. Be sure to enforce the principles of Least Privilege and Need to Know.

7. Conduct regular reviews

It’s easy to overlook weaknesses in your law firm’s data security if you don’t take the time to review it. Conduct regular audits (you could build this schedule into your firm’s data security policy) to identify and address law firm cybersecurity and data risks—things like ensuring former employees no longer have access to legal files or ensuring controls such as anti-virus software and firewalls are operating effectively.

If you want to take your law firm’s data security and privacy to the next level, consider data privacy certifications. Programs like ISO 27001 certification for law firms can not only ensure you have adequate protocols in place but are also enticing to current and prospective clients.

8. Vet vendors carefully

While data security ultimately falls under the ethical responsibility of lawyers, legal technology can definitely help make this easier (or harder). To ensure your provider will do you more good than harm with your data, carefully vet potential vendors. We recommend using Clio’s Cloud Computing Due Diligence Checklist.

9. Plan for the worst

As much as you hope to avoid (and actively mitigate the risk of) data breaches, you need to know what you’ll do if it does happen—before it happens.

  • Create a plan for what to do in the event of a data breach: Detail what needs to be done immediately in terms of communication, changing passwords, and reporting (to impacted individuals or regulatory authorities) if there is unauthorised access to your data. The plan should also specify what your firm should do if a malpractice claim is filed. Also, consider including any guidance provided by governing bodies concerning your ethical obligations.
  • Test the plan: Data breaches shouldn’t be left up to theoreticals in the event of an issue.

You should also prepare for what to do in the event of a disaster to ensure your law firm can continue to operate effectively.

  • Create a disaster recovery/business continuity plan: Include considerations for items such as defining critical systems and equipment, identifying appropriate tools/procedures (i.e. backups, remote sites, cloud providers, etc.), and developing communication plans.
  • Test the plan: Find out what works (and what doesn’t)!

10. Bump up your law firm’s mobile security

Mobile device security

With more and more legal work done remotely, there’s increasingly a need for mobile law firm data security. Secure mobile apps take a lot of the heavy lifting out of the process (for example, Clio’s mobile app allows you to access your firm from anywhere), but your smartphone and laptop, in general, might also need a security makeover.

Secure your phone, laptop, and other mobile devices with steps like:

Enable encryption

While having a lock-screen password on your laptops and mobile devices is a first (essential) security measure, it won’t protect your data if someone gets a hold of your password. Enable encryption on your mobile devices to scramble sensitive data for unauthorized users and to enhance security.

Here’s how to encrypt your iPhone or your Android device.

Set up two-factor authentication

No matter how strong your password is, it can still be hacked. Adding two-factor authentication—which requires your password (the first factor) and a temporary code sent to another device (the second factor)—makes it that much more difficult for someone to access your device. In practice, two-factor authentication usually requires the person logging in to verify their identity through the use of their mobile.

Learn how to set up two-factor authentication for your Clio account.

Backup firm data to secure servers

Whether you lose your device or you’re the target of a ransomware attack, it’s smart to regularly back up your firm data to a secure, encrypted location so you’ll still be able to access most of your data.

One of the benefits of using cloud-based software is that backups are taken care of for you (more on this below) and support any incident response and/or business continuity plans you develop.

Keep professional and private accounts separate

Don’t risk mixing confidential professional communications with personal ones. By using dedicated apps for your professional work, you can keep these two worlds apart.

Have a plan for lost or stolen mobile devices

If you lose (or someone steals) your smartphone, what’s the first thing you’ll do?

From having a way to locate a missing device (like Find My Support for Apple devices or Google’s Find Your Phone), to knowing how to suspend service or disable your device remotely, it’s important to make an action plan before you need it.

Make sure you have full disc encryption on your laptop as well so you can know your data won’t be compromised if your laptop is stolen or lost.

11. Train your clients

Clients don’t know their actions are not secure. Yet, law firms bear the risk of clients exposing details, like banking information, to scam artists. To prevent this risk from blowing up into client funds request errors and payment disputes, solicitors need to train their clients, from their initial conversation, on what methods of communication are most secure and how to use them.

A client should, as part of retention, learn:

  • Who to expect will be contacting them
  • What methods of communication will be used between solicitor and client
  • What steps are clients expected to take to help preserve confidentiality
  • How to report anything that deviates from this discussed training

This means that a law firm should show their client how their client portal functions and walk them through logging in and creating a password before the end of your first meeting. Set yourself and your clients up for secure communications from the start.

Tools to make law firm cybersecurity simpler

Law firm data security

Even if you know that data security and privacy are vitally important to your law firm, there’s still the potential for you to overlook something, especially if you handle a lot of data. After all, the majority of lawyers are working overtime to get everything done. According to the 2022 Legal Trends Report, 86% of lawyers report working outside of regular business hours—which means important issues like data security could potentially slip through the cracks.

Luckily, in an era where some technology can instil fear, you can also use tech to combat risk and make it easier to protect your firm’s data. Here are a few tools to consider:

Signal: For safer communication

Communication is key, but sending unprotected messages can put data at risk. The Signal app—available for Android, iPhone, or your desktop computer—lets you send secure, high-quality, end-to-end encrypted communications (including group, text, voice, video, document, and picture messages) anywhere in the world.

Another bonus? Signal is free.

There are plenty of other communication options in the Clio App Directory as well.

As a reminder, law firms should always do their own due diligence and choose a tool that is best for their firm’s needs.

Clio: For safer legal software solutions

Clio’s legal software takes protecting your clients’ information (and your firm’s data) seriously, with security measures designed to help you stay safe and compliant.

Clio’s advanced product features and controls work to secure your data through features like:

  • Role-based permissions: Visibility into sensitive case information is restricted to specific users at your firm.
  • Password policies: Clio’s password policy settings allow you to enforce strong passwords and regular password resets at your firm.
  • Session/Activity tracking: By logging the IP address of every login to your account, Clio helps you keep an eye out for suspicious account activity.
  • Two-factor authentication: Enhance login security by verifying user identities via their mobile device.
  • Login safeguards: Is someone trying to guess your login? Clio locks your account for some time—automatically—after too many failed login attempts. A secure client portal also keeps communications encrypted and secure.

Learn more about Clio’s industry-leading security.

Is the cloud secure enough for law firms?

Cybersecurity for law firms requires heightened responsibilities for ensuring data security and privacy, and cloud-based software can be a powerful way to get your firm in order. Indeed, in recent years, cloud software has become increasingly more secure than the data security provided by traditional servers in many ways.

While certain inherent risks come with handling sensitive client data in the cloud—such as the potential for data breaches—reputable cloud service providers offer security measures to mitigate risk.

And, though new security risks and considerations will emerge, investment in measures to keep digital information safe is growing in kind. As a Gartner article on global security and risk management spending in 2024 outlined, it’s predicted that worldwide end-user spending on security and risk management will increase by 14.4% in 2024.

5 Benefits of the cloud

Benefits of the cloud

By moving to legal cloud computing services, your law firm can likely benefit from the following:

  1. Improved security: When used appropriately, reputable cloud-based solutions are secure. Increasingly, using the cloud can improve your firm’s security by taking advantage of built-in security measures. For example, you can use dedicated security teams, regular security tests, and more that providers invest in.
  2. Easier software updates: Instead of wasting time and money manually updating your team’s on-premise software, you can benefit from regular, automatic software updates from cloud providers.
  3. VPN redundancy: The cloud lets you work from anywhere, with secure access to your firm’s information—without needing a VPN.
  4. Enhanced compatibility: Cloud-based software companies make it simple to connect with other tools to get the most out of your applications. For example, the Clio App Directory features over 100 available apps to help you customise and streamline your workflows in Clio.
  5. Fewer IT requests and costs: Quality cloud-based software providers offer top-tier support—like phone support, live chat, and a knowledge centre—to all users. These types of support features mean less time and budget spent on resolving basic IT questions from your team. And, with cloud providers reducing the need for on-premise servers and hardware, you’ll save money on storage and hardware maintenance.

Security best practices for legal cloud-based services

The cloud offers secure, useful options to help your law firm run more efficiently. However, not all cloud providers are the same. To ensure your cloud services are secure, you need to effectively vet providers and prevent user errors.

When considering legal cloud-based providers, it’s important to ask, at minimum, the following:

  • Do they have a security team? A dedicated, experienced security team indicates that cybersecurity is a priority.
  • Are they compliant? Cloud providers should advertise their compliance with requirements like the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and laws such as GDPR.
  • Do they conduct automated security scans? For example, Clio is audited and certified daily by McAfee Secure to help ensure Clio products are not affected by malware, vulnerabilities, and other online threats.
  • Do they offer an uptime guarantee service level agreement (SLA)? An SLA speaks to the minimum level of service provided by a company to a customer in their contract; cloud providers should provide a percentage guarantee for uptime. This is the amount of time that the cloud service provider is accessible to end users.
  • Do they encrypt data both in transit and at rest? Providers should protect sensitive data both while it’s in motion and while it’s stored or archived.
  • Are they recommended by bar associations and law societies? Approval and recommendations from legal associations indicate industry recognition for high-security standards.
  • What security-focused features do they promote? What other measures does the provider take to help ensure enhanced security with their software? You can see an overview of the security measures Clio provides here.

Final thoughts on data security and privacy for law firms

What should take priority when it comes to data security for your law firm? Start analysing and improving your data security as soon as possible. It’s always better to be proactive. You’ll avoid the negative consequences of a cyber attack or data breach.

Protecting your clients and your law firm’s data is more than just a good thing to do. It’s ethically and professionally critical to your role as a solicitor. Understanding your responsibilities and best practices can help mitigate your risk of data breaches. And some of the latest legal technology can take your security even further while also improving your firm’s overall efficiency.

Categorized in: Technology

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