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Shielding legal assets: A guide to cybersecurity for law firms

cybersecurity for law firms
By Drazen Vujovic. Reviewed by: James Rose. Last Updated June 22, 2024

Data protection is critical to the success of law firms, but safeguarding information is getting harder than ever. In a recent survey, 27% of respondents said their law firms already experienced a security breach.

The figures are even higher in other reports, but it all comes down to this: The need for law firm cybersecurity has never been more pressing. In this post, we’ll discuss how legal professionals can minimize the risk of data breaches.

But before we get into that, let’s answer a very important question.

What happens if you don’t invest in cybersecurity?

cybersecurity law firms

Many organizations aren’t fully aware of the risks that come with a security breach, so we need to make this perfectly clear.

For one, your company will likely suffer financial damage as the average cost to recover from a ransomware attack goes as high as $1.4 million. At the same time, the number of hacking attempts keeps growing, so Cybersecurity Ventures expects the global cybercrime costs to reach $10.5 trillion by 2025.

But financial damage is not even the biggest problem. Without adequate protection mechanisms in place, sensitive information becomes vulnerable to theft or exposure, potentially leading to legal liabilities and regulatory penalties.

In the long run, you risk irreparable harm to client trust and confidence as the ripple effects of lax cybersecurity practices can be far-reaching. That’s why the cost of not investing in cybersecurity far outweighs the initial investment required to protect the integrity of client data.

The worst part is that cyberattacks target companies of all sizes.

For example, a data breach at Proskauer Rose — a law firm with more than 800 lawyers in key financial centers all over the world — exposed 184,000 client files in 2023. Though the cost of this incident remains undisclosed, it certainly caused massive financial and reputational damage that most small and mid-sized law firms wouldn’t have been able to withstand.

Important data breach notification policies

law firm cybersecurity

Legal professionals must be aware of data protection policies in their respective regions. For instance, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) imposes stringent requirements for organizations handling personal data of EU citizens:

“In the case of a personal data breach, the controller shall without undue delay and, where feasible, not later than 72 hours after having become aware of it, notify the personal data breach to the supervisory authority.” 

On the other hand, similar laws in California order a business or state agency to “notify any resident whose unencrypted personal information was acquired, or reasonably believed to have been acquired, by an unauthorized person”.

Australia introduced the concept of a notifiable data breach. This means that companies or agencies have to comply with the privacy law and acknowledge that a data breach is “likely to cause you serious harm.” Serious harm can be anything from identity theft and financial loss to physical harm.

There’s also the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that sets forth strict guidelines for healthcare-related data. In this type of incident, it’s mandatory to notify affected individuals, local authorities, and even the media on some occasions. At the same time, HIPAA suggests that business associates must notify covered entities if a breach occurs at or by the business associate.

Note: Data breach notification requirements may vary depending on jurisdiction. That’s why you need to check local regulations to ensure compliance with specific notification policies applicable to your state or region.

6 ways to improve cybersecurity in your law firm

tips to improve law firm cybersecurity

1. Build a straightforward cybersecurity strategy

It all starts with a comprehensive but straightforward cybersecurity strategy — your law firm needs a formal document that clearly states how to ensure data security. The first step in creating the strategy is to assess existing systems and potential vulnerabilities. 

This enables you to establish clear protocols for employees, departments, and the firm as a whole. Though it takes a lot of effort to create a cybersecurity strategy, we’ll highlight two elements that require special attention.

Password management

Reports show that nearly 90% of data breaches are caused by human error. Creating an inadequate password is one of the biggest (and most frivolous) mistakes an employee can make, but it happens way too often. 

That’s why your strategy must include password management guidelines to prevent people from creating absurd passwords such as “qwerty” or “123456”.

Access permissions

The second aspect of your strategy should focus on access permissions. For instance, use a principle of least privilege, granting employees access only to the resources necessary for their specific roles and responsibilities. 

You should also update access permissions as employees change roles or leave the firm to mitigate the risk of unauthorized access. These steps are essential to safeguarding personally identifiable information and other sensitive data within your law firm. 

2. Use reliable software for law firms

The vast majority of modern law firms use a dedicated tool to streamline their operations, but this can be a threat to data security. In such circumstances, it’s highly recommended to invest in reputable software solutions with excellent cybersecurity features. Our suggestion is to look for features such as encryption, access controls, and audit trails to maximize data protection while maintaining client confidentiality. 

Note: If you want to learn more about different tools in this field, check out our post Comparing the best software for law firms in 2024.

3. Conduct regular risk assessments 

Risk assessments aren’t a one-time thing. On the contrary, law firms have to periodically conduct assessments to stay ahead of evolving cyber threats. For example, you should regularly analyze the following areas:

  • Network infrastructure
  • Data storage practices
  • Employee training programs
  • Software updates

Bear in mind that you’re not alone in this process — pay attention to external factors such as emerging technologies or regulatory changes that may impact your firm’s security posture.

4. Beware of third-party vendors

Though third-party vendors provide valuable support to law firms, they also introduce potential security risks that you have to approach with due diligence. Even before engaging with any vendor, it’s best to analyze their security practices and learn how they deal with sensitive client data. 

For example, you can ask for detailed information about their security measures, encryption methods, and other data protection mechanisms to make sure these align with your firm’s cybersecurity requirements. 

5. Create an incident response plan

law practices cybersecurity

Another important tip is to create an incident response plan to know exactly how to behave in case of unauthorized disclosure of information. This plan must outline procedures for responding to data breaches and cyberattacks.

For one, it should establish a dedicated incident response team of key stakeholders from across the firm — IT professionals, legal advisers, senior managers, and PR consultants. Secondly, the plan has to define steps for assessing the scope of incidents and restoring normal operations. 

6. Prepare for the worst with a backup system

No matter how hard you try, there’s always a possibility of unexpected data loss or system failure. The only thing you can do is prepare for the worst with a solid backup system in place.

The backup system, both onsite and offsite, guarantees that your data will remain accessible, even in the face of adversity. With a proactive approach to data protection, your law firm can greatly reduce the risks associated with unforeseen cybersecurity events.

Bonus tip: Use a secure client portal 

content snare the best client portal for law firms

Client communication is the core of your work, but you shouldn’t be exchanging sensitive data using email or traditional messaging systems. Only a secure client portal can successfully safeguard information within law firms.

Content Snare is the right tool for this purpose because it does two things. For one, it streamlines document sharing and client communication. Secondly, it protects your legal data and documents using multiple security layers.

How does Content Snare do it?

It relies on encrypted channels and multi-factor authentication to create a fortified client portal for seamless data exchange. Our system gives you greater control over data access by allowing you to customize access levels and permissions. However, it also uses additional mechanisms to protect client data:

  • User authentication
  • Throttling
  • Network isolation
  • Firewalls
  • Logging and alerts
  • Backups and data recovery

All those cybersecurity features make Content Snare one of the most reliable client portals for law firms. 

Want to know the best part? You can test Content Snare for free right now.

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Drazen Vujovic

Dražen Vujović is a journalist and content writer. More importantly, he is a father of two and a long-distance runner.