In 2017, it’s become increasingly clear that for lawyers, understanding technology is imperative (with 26 states now requiring it) and they can no longer ignore the steady march of advancement. Nevertheless, some lawyers continue to express reticence about embracing technology, often expressing concerns about cybersecurity risks. The truth is, the benefits of adopting new technologies into your solo or small firm law practice far outweigh the risks, as evidenced by the data from the latest American Bar Association Legal Technology Survey Report.
Solo and small firm lawyers have the best cybersecurity practices
According to the Report, solo and small firm lawyers were the least likely to experience a breach in the past year, with only 8% of solo and small firm lawyers reporting a breach, followed by 11% of firms with 2-9 lawyers. Larger firms, on the other hand, were much more likely to experience a breach, with 26% of firms with 500 or more lawyers reporting security breaches in the past year, up 15% compared to 2012. Next in line were firms with 10-49 attorneys (25%), followed by firms with 100-499 lawyers (20%).
Larger firms were also far more likely to report that third parties had attempted to access their firm’s data. There were no reports of this type in 2016 for for smaller firms with less than 49 attorneys. However, for firms with 50-99 attorneys, 25% reported unauthorized access to client data, followed by 11% of firms with 100-499 lawyers.
Solo and small firm lawyers are the most likely to use cloud computing software
Interestingly, while solo and small firm lawyers the least likely to experience a breach or unauthorized attempts to access law firm data, they were the most likely to use cloud computing in their law practices compared to their larger counterparts. According to the Report, 35% of solos used cloud computing software in their practices in 2016, as did 35% of firms with 2-9 attorneys, 29% of firms with 10-49 attorneys, and 19% of firms of 100 or more lawyers.
So, for solo and small firm lawyers, cloud computing offers a vast array of benefits, of which security is one. In addition to providing secure online storage, geo-redundant data backup, and a built-in disaster recovery plan, cloud computing tools such as web-based legal practice management software provide solo and small firm attorneys with convenient, multi-device, 24/7 access to law firm data, along with a secure client portal designed to facilitate collaboration and communication with clients, experts, co-counsel and more.
The importance of strong passwords
But there’s more to cybersecurity than secure software; it’s also important to secure your law firm’s hardware, something that most, but not all, lawyers are doing. For example, according to the Report, the majority of lawyers take sufficient security steps with their laptop computers, with 98% of lawyers using passwords on their laptops in 2016. Firms of 500 or more lawyers lead the way at 100%, followed closely by solos at 97%.
Most lawyers were also taking steps to secure their mobile devices. For example, 95% reported using passwords on their smartphones, with large firms leading the way. 100% of firms with 100-499 lawyers reported using passwords, followed by 97% of firms with 500 or more and 93% of solos.
Of course, using passwords is important, but the more complex the password, the better. That’s why I recommend using a password manager such as Lastpass or 1Password. These low-cost, multi-platform tools store your passwords via encrypted files and automatically populate sites with the correct passwords when you visit them. They can also generate secure passwords for you which you can then access from any device.
For secure communication, use online portals instead of email
Email has been the communication method of choice for many lawyers since the 1990s, when bar association ethics committees gave email the green light. But a lot has changed since 1990 and email is now outdated and inherently unsecure. That’s why two ethics opinions issued in recent years have warned against using email in some cases, requiring lawyers to balance the sensitivity of the information being discussed via electronic means with the security offered by the specific technology being used. (See, for example, ABA Formal Opinion 11-459 (2011) and Texas Ethics Opinion 648).
Fortunately, in 2017 lawyers have better options for secure client communication, with client portals being one of the most popular. Using the secure web-based client portals that are built in to law practice management software, attorneys can easily can securely communicate with their clients. The hassle of back and forth email conversations and losing track of attached documents becomes a thing of the past. Instead, you can communicate and collaborate in a secure, encrypted online environment, using any Internet-enabled device, 24/7. You can learn more about the many benefits of secure online portals from this infographic.
Be the 21st century lawyer your clients deserve
Cybersecurity is incredibly important, but fear of the unknown should never deter you from using the technology to provide better client service. Unfortunately, some lawyers let fear stand in the way of progress and improved client communication. Don’t be one of those lawyers. Embrace technology and use it strategically to provide quality, secure representation to your clients. That’s what 21st century legal clients expect, and armed with the right tools, it’s something that your firm can deliver.