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How law firms can protect the confidential data of its clients
The internet has made many aspects of life easier, including the ability to easily transfer and access information. It’s also revolutionized the business world, enabling many companies to expand upon the services they offer because of the ease of scalability online. You no longer need more brick and mortar space or staff – just more server space (and maybe not even that, thanks to cloud computing.)
However, this newfound availability comes with concerns. Thanks to numerous highly-publicized online security breaches, consumers now want to know who has access to their private information and tend to place a lot of value on confidentiality.
People understand that doing business with your company may involve sharing personal information, but the concern comes with what happens after that. Will your business sell or distribute their data to third-party vendors without consent? Is your business capable of keeping online information safe?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enacted a law to address these concerns. The Gramm-Leach-Billey Act (GLBA) was passed in November 1999 and included privacy protections such as allowing consumers more knowledge or control regarding the distribution of their private information from financial institutions to third parties. The FTC attempted to extend the GLBA to cover attorneys that practiced areas of law that involved finances, such as tax planning and preparation, real estate closing, debt collection, financial planning or management, estate planning, wills, and trusts.
The American Bar Association was eventually awarded an exemption from the GLBA for attorneys, due in part to the fact that ethical guidelines within the legal profession are already very similar to disclosure requirements of the GLBA. However, it’s still essential that law practices that handle financially-related services adhere to the GLBA’s basic tenets, and act within ethical guidelines.
Safeguarding client data
So, not sharing the data of your clients with unnecessary third-parties is the easiest and most obvious first step in protecting data. But in this day and age where everything is digital, how can you go above and beyond to safeguard the information entrusted to you?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer, and be prepared to revisit this issue constantly. As new technology continues to evolve, so do potential threats. However, some basics to consider include:
- Email: Using a secure email account is essential. Gmail or other free services are not appropriate for transmitting client information. Encrypt all correspondence and if a subject is particularly sensitive, ask the client what method of delivery they prefer.
- Staff: Make client confidentiality a part of your company culture. Discuss potential vulnerabilities, only allow access on a need to know basis, and change passwords frequently. Keep paper records under lock and key and store fax machines in a private area. Shred sensitive documents that are no longer relevant.
- Security: Outsource your initial security set-up to a trusted IT professional to make sure your firm has a reliable process for blocking and responding to threats and vulnerabilities, including software updates, patch management, virus protection, firewall configuration, web and email gateway monitoring, and other technical details.
- Vendors: Carefully research and choose potential online vendors. Read all related terms and conditions agreements and ensure that these agreements are legally enforceable. Choose well-established, fully vetted companies whenever possible.
- Encryption and two-factor authentication: Establish that your system is fully encrypted for data in transit and employ two-factor authentication for all remote connections involving the firm’s technical infrastructure.
- Intrusion detection: Make sure your set-up actively searches for indications of a security breach and retains system logs in case it’s necessary to recreate behavior to determine the scope of exposure.
Technology has made everyone’s life easier – including hackers. Securing your law firm’s digital data is one of the most important business decisions to be made, and then revisited often. Hire an IT expert and ask them to brainstorm all worst-case scenarios before planning to prevent or correct each possibility.
Although the GLBA isn’t necessarily enforceable, your professional ethics are, and security is particularly vital to the long-term success of law practices that handle financial-based activities. Handle your client’s data with care – in the long run, using best practices for secure technology makes your job easier.
At Boss Certified Realtime Reporting, we’ve been providing nationwide court reporting services for trials, depositions, mediations and more since 1995. If you’d like help or more information, you can call us at 954 467 6867 or complete our contact form to let us know how we can assist you.
7 challenges facing the legal profession today … and tomorrow
As with every industry, the legal profession has seen many changes in the last few years. The law is steeped in tradition and precedence, but evolution is inevitable.
Technology has brought convenience, but it comes with unique challenges. There are also issues relating to increased competition, finding and keeping talent, and the succession plan of law firms, both large and small.
Let’s look at 7 of the biggest challenges facing the legal profession today.
Challenge #1: Cybercrime and Internet security
We’ve all seen news reports of hacks and data breaches from major companies, and the legal profession is not immune to this type of digital crime. Law firms store an incredible amount of sensitive data, documents, and private information. It is essential that firms adopt best practices to ensure that information is as safe as possible.
This includes taking steps to secure all communication tools, including desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices. Firms can also incorporate 2-factor authentication, use mobile apps and vendors with the highest level of security, and set policies regarding how and where sensitive data is stored.
Challenge #2: Adoption of new technology and software
There is so much technology out there. Every day brings a new app, new software or new program. Attempting to implement everything – or conducting long-winded training sessions for programs that seem to hold little value for attorneys – is the quickest avenue toward frustration. Especially when many of the so-called “solutions” create more problems than they claim to solve.
Firms should ensure that any new technology is as user-friendly as possible, and keep training sessions to a minimum.
The software also poses a problem when it quickly becomes obsolete. The need for constant updates means a firm’s IT department has to devote critical time just to manage updates. One solution may be switching to a cloud-based IT service provider. Cloud-based technology makes it easy for people to access information from anywhere. The service provider also often takes on the responsibility of performing maintenance, updates, and support, allowing a firm’s IT department to devote its time elsewhere.
Challenge #3: Lagging behind in adoption of technology
While it’s not advisable to adopt every type of new technology, failing to recognize and incorporate vital tools in time could also jeopardize a firm’s future success. Firms that fail to “get on board” may lose ground to competitors, alternate providers or in-house departments that understand how to use such technology.
Challenge #4: Understanding online marketing and social media
Social media has changed the way we all communicate. It provides a new avenue to attract clients and retain current ones. It is essential that firms understand how to harness this powerful resource.
However, it’s also important to know the best places to devote marketing dollars and which avenues will generate the most return on investment. Doing “everything” might cast a wide net, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you will catch the right type of fish.
Challenge #5: Slow growth of the legal services market
A report from Citi Private Bank’s Law Firm Group states that legal services should expect only single-digit growth in revenue and profits per equity partner in 2018. Even firms that sustained growth in 2017 are not guaranteed the same success this year.
To combat this slowdown, many firms are consolidating and merging. While this might be the answer for some firms, the tactic is not without challenges. The restricted growth means even more competition to attract and retain clients.
Challenge #6: Increased competition for talent
A Green Target Report on the Legal Industry Outlook states that “The talent pool for traditional firms also continues to shrink, as competition increases from in-house legal departments and alternative service providers.”
The days of young lawyers starting and ending their careers at the same firm are becoming rare. Attracting and keeping talent is increasingly difficult.
“To ensure that high achievers stay put, firms need to redouble efforts to prepare a younger generation of lawyers for success. Key areas include business development training and protecting work/life balance, similar to the opportunities and benefits available in non-traditional legal roles,” according to the same report.
Challenge #7: A lack of succession planning within law firms
A large number of senior attorneys and equity partners are preparing to retire in the coming years, and many industry experts believe that firms are not equipped to handle the loss. The main reason is a lack of qualified, young talent who stand ready to take the place of departing attorneys. There is also the issue of chronically under-performing lawyers and a growing overcapacity at firms.
The legal field faces many challenges in the coming years. The firms that come up with innovative solutions for solving these problems will achieve success.
Boss Certified Real-Time Reporting provides court reporting services for everything from trials and mediations to dispositions and conferences. We’re accurate, fast, and in your corner. For more information call us at 954-467-6867, or connect with us online today!
Technological mistakes put lawyers and their practices at risk
Lawyers today live in an unprecedented era– a time where previously hidden information and expertise from around the world is available at the click of a button. Today’s lawyers take advantage of a variety of digital technologies each day in their practices, from conducting case research online and using e-discovery software, to implementing legal billing and case management programs in an attempt to streamline their firm’s internal processes.
While much of the change technology brings to lawyers is positive, not all of it is. In some cases, the use of technology can leave lawyers complacent and more prone to make serious errors. In an industry as high-stakes as law– where livelihoods, careers, and freedom sometimes hang in the balance, your clients can’t afford error. So, while technology can make a law firm faster, speed up the research process, and sometimes even speed up or enhance processes in the courtroom itself, lawyers need to seriously avoid outsourcing their decision-making skills to an app. Otherwise, they put both themselves and their clients at serious risk.
To-do lists, essential court filings, important meetings– keep a physical backup to avoid making a serious mistake
Scheduling software, case/law firm management programs, and team productivity apps have revolutionized (and organized) law offices across the country. While these software programs can seriously help streamline the legal planning and scheduling process, it’s all-too easy for attorneys to become over-reliant on software to handle all their appointments and assignments for the coming days and weeks.
For lawyers, relying only on one software program could be dangerous. Whether a glitch changes the dates of some or all appointments, or an unexpected computer crash leads to full-scale data loss, failing to back your appointment and scheduling data up could have serious consequences. That’s why you should print out a physical backup of your daily, weekly, and monthly schedule and/or keep important dates recorded in a notebook– and at the very least have a separate digital copy of your schedule to protect against data loss. While a co-worker may excuse a meeting missed due to a software error, a client or judge may not– and with the tiny amount of time it takes to create a physical duplicate, backing up your legal scheduling info is an incredibly worthwhile investment.
Lawyers leave themselves vulnerable by giving away information, answering emails, or speaking on the phone with high-tech scammers
Even lawyers are vulnerable to digital con men– and many criminals start by directly calling a law office, sometimes claiming to be a support employee from a software company or bank, offering to help with a situation or get the firm a discount. Since lawyers are generally highly-educated, many might think they’re ‘above’ falling for common credit card fraud, data theft, or identity theft scams– but sadly, they’re not. And, while the scams targeting lawyers and firms may not necessarily be different than those targeting the general population, lawyers and law firms have much more to lose than the average individual– including sensitive client and firm information, such as private case files and client billing and financial data.
Many scams begin with an email– and all someone has to do is open an attachment in order to release malware, spyware, or viruses onto their computer. Sometimes this leads to criminals secretly stealing data or running keystroke logging programs on a victim’s computer in order to detect and collect passwords, while in other cases, hackers may take a victim’s data hostage for hundreds (or thousands) of dollars. This can put firms in a serious predicament, and many may be forced to pay a ransom rather than lose access to essential information that could significantly impact their clients’ cases.
In other cases, victims receive emails that look as if they were from the victim’s financial institution. Not knowing the email is a scam, the victim attempts to “log in” to their bank, debit, or credit card account, and by doing so, unknowingly reveals their information to a scammer. This process, called phishing, is one of the most common digital scams– and this is another reason why lawyers should avoid doing any work on unsecured personal computer or unsecured personal email addresses. Attorneys should be extremely careful when giving their email or phone number to unknown individuals and untrustworthy online subscription services.
Lawyers who don’t bring backup tech to legal and courtroom presentations leave themselves open to disaster
Lawyers make important presentations on a regular basis– whether it’s simply a firm strategy presentation for an important partner at their law firm, or a presentation of video and photographic evidence in a criminal defense trial. Many of these presentations involve technology– including the use of video projectors, televisions, computer monitors, laptops, speakers, and slide projectors. Despite the benefits of these technologies, If the technology a lawyer is about to use stops working, it could leave them in rough spot– and many lawyers, so confident in the latest tech, fail to take any precautions in case their presentation technology doesn’t work as intended.
Therefore, to make sure you don’t embarrass yourself when making an important legal presentation, it’s essential to make sure you have one or more backups to protect yourself in case of emergency. “Two is one and one is none,” is the U.S. Marines’ famous saying regarding supplies and equipment– and while the saying was intended to refer to military supplies, it certainly applies to legal presentation technology as well. Therefore, a lawyer about to make a presentation involving a laptop, projector, and speakers should make sure to borrow, buy, or rent an additional laptop, projector, and set of speakers, as well as all required cords and accessories.
In addition to a digital backup, it sometimes helps to have a physical backup, such as a poster and an old-style “boom box” CD player, in the event of a power outage or other electrical failure. It can also help to have “lower-tech” options like a traditional bulb slide project available, in case something happens to your computer(s). It’s also important to make sure that presentation data is backed up— both physically (i.e. on 2 USB or hard drives), and in the cloud (i.e. on a secure server or a secure email inbox).
Lawyers need to use critical thinking skills to retain their competitive advantage and protect themselves from costly mistakes
Whether you accidentally botched a major presentation due to a broken projector, your sensitive client files are being held hostage by a hacker, or you failed to attend a client’s hearing due to faulty case management software, technology can get you in serious trouble if you fail to complement it with adequate critical thinking skills.
In today’s legal industry, where pre-written contracts can be found with a click and potential clients sometimes turn to Wikipedia instead of an attorney, having critical thinking skills might be a modern attorney’s number one competitive advantage over a machine. However, if lawyers don’t use their critical thinking skills, they leave themselves open to serious mistakes– and may just find themselves replaced by the machines they rely too heavily upon.
To learn more about how to keep your law firm running smoothly, contact Boss Reporting today for a free consultation.