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7 essential data protection tips for prevention-focused law firms

In the ever-evolving world of technology, keeping up with constantly advancing cybersecurity threats is a must. This is especially true when it comes to handling the sensitive data that your clients entrust you with.

The ABA requires that “as a matter of preparation and best practices…lawyers should consider proactively developing an incident response plan with specific plans and procedures for responding to a data breach.”

You may already be familiar with some basic preventative measures, like having strong, frequently changed online passwords and using two-factor authentication measures. These are great first steps towards achieving a strong security system—but they are just the beginning of what you need to be in full compliance with confidentiality, ethics, and privacy standards for the legal industry.

Adding the following tips to your data protection plan will help you create the level of security necessary to protect your firm and the interests of your clients.

#1: Establish a retention policy

While we’re discussing data protection, let’s talk retention policies. Your law firm should have established email and document retention policies that reflect your custom needs. What will your firm do in terms of document retention if a litigation hold occurs? Have you considered the scope and length of electronic record retention for your firm? How often will firm administration meet to identify risks and potential actions, and update your data security plan? To put it simply, the less time data is retained in a firm’s database, the less of a threat there is of the contained information becoming compromised in a possible security breach or hack. Hackers can’t obtain what doesn’t exist.

#2: Ensure you have end-to-end encryption

Encryption is a surprisingly underutilized tool when it comes to law firms’ cybersecurity systems. Without encryption, you’re giving hackers and data thieves a way into your confidential communications. Some may see it as being unnecessary or going overboard, but it’s better to be protected than open to cybersecurity threats that could destroy your firm’s reputation. It can even be as simple as having a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on your firm’s devices.

#3: Use specific Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools

DLP software is essential for keeping sensitive data safe and secure at all times. Most firms are equipped with some basic form of anti-virus, but more advanced software goes beyond merely blocking harmful files, like malware, from entering the system. They’ll also detect potential breaches and threats, which can be especially useful.

#4: Keep your attorneys and staff on the same page

Education and training protocols are one of the most important tools you can use to keep your firm secure. Aside from general legal and technology training and instruction, your staff is expected to follow, maintaining an open dialogue on security is also essential.

Keep your staff informed about how to recognize potential suspicious activity as a great way to involve everyone in the effort of avoiding data breaches and cyberattacks. No anti-virus software or filter is ever 100% effective—and having an educated team can be one of the simplest solutions to ensuring nothing falls through the cracks.

#5: Outsource wisely

Often brought on for work such as copying and legal research, vendors transporting or holding confidential data are easy targets for hackers. When outsourcing non-legal services to third parties, potential vendors should be vetted thoroughly, and contracts should be reviewed for any possible security risks or other problematic elements like limitations on liability and indemnification clauses.

#6: Conduct an audit

Threats in the world of cybersecurity are always changing, but by being conscious of where your sensitive data is and how it can be accessed, you can stay one step ahead of hackers. If the prospect of protecting your data in-house feels overwhelming, there are many IT companies that specialize in setting law firms up with everything they need to be safe. Bring in an IT firm to conduct an audit where they can identify potential points of risks and solutions fit for your firm’s needs. Many also offer training for staff in best data protection practices. Although it’s an additional expense, it’s one that could save a company from disaster.

#7: Track data access and organizational behavior

Establish a process that keeps track of who is accessing what information, including when and where. This can be highly useful in protecting confidential data. Accountability is a major tenet of the legal profession, and tools like data access logs are a great way to trace access to confidential information. Some firms choose to add a User and Entity Behavioral Analysis (UEBA) tool, which is supported by sophisticated machine learning algorithms that monitor and analyze patterns and data access across your organization. Whatever you choose, ensure that you are doing what you can to remain in compliance with industry standards.

Your firm’s confidentiality and ethics protocols should cover every detail of how you will handle and recover from threats. Use these tips to stay informed and to assist you in your planning. Data protection ensures that you’re not leaving information regarding your employees or clients open for data thieves. Without the right plan for protection, you could be at risk for lawsuits, increased client churn as well as disbarment.

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