Having Good Data Security Keeps the Ethics Complaints Away
We, as small firm lawyers, are a big target when it comes to legal malpractice claims and ethics grievances. According to the American Bar Association, over 65% of legal malpractice claims are brought against firms with five or fewer attorneys.
Of those claims, according to a 2012 ABA study, 30% of legal malpractice suits were the result of administrative errors, including failure to calendar, or react to calendar items, along with lost files, documents, or evidence.
So how do we, a small firm lawyers, play good defense? Well, one way to do that is through strong data security. This is comprised of three components: data encryption, client security, and password security. Let’s look at each of them.
Legal Data Encryption
In a virtual law office, you are using cloud-based applications to run your practice. This means that you are using a browser-based program that is accessing data in the cloud. In this aspect, there are two types of data encryption you must be sure you have: encryption in transmission and encryption at rest.
Encryption in Transmission. This refers to the encryption of the data as it travels back-and-forth between your local computer and the cloud server. This is done through something called a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), which is an industry standard encryption technology. Fortunately, it is easy to determine whether your cloud application has this feature. Just look at the web address field at the top of your browser. If the URL starts with “https://” you are good to go. If it just says. “http://,” don’t use it.
Encryption at Rest. this refers to whether the cloud service provider encrypts the data on its own servers. It does you no good to have the data encrypted as it travels to that server, only to have it stored there unencrypted. One way of making sure that your vendor has proper encryption at rest is to ask for evidence of a third-party security audit, such as one from McAfee, before using that provider.
In addition to these two encryption methods, you should also use a virtual private network app, or VPN, on all of your computers, especially laptops. This will protect you, particularly where you’re using public Wi-Fi in a coffee shop or a hotel room.
Security on Your Computers (Client Security)
Although you may be using a cloud application to run your practice, don’t overlook the security on your local machines (desktops and laptops) from which you are accessing the cloud app. These machines need to be secured with a firewall, antivirus protection, and the latest security updates for your operating system and web browser.
The good news is that there’s a simple way to do this. If you are a Windows user, you should be using something like BitLocker. If you are on an Apple Macintosh, there is FileVault. These are native encryption options that come preinstalled on most computers, these days, and just need to be turned on. There’s no excuse for not doing this.
The biggest weakness in password security is the use of one password on multiple sites, and/or and easily guest or common password. The problem with passwords is that they can be easily forgotten. How many times have we clicked on the “forgot password?” link on a login screen? This is why people reuse passwords or use ones that are easily guest.
The good news is that it is easier than ever to have unhackable passwords without having to remember them. Browsers such as Safari and Chrome have built-in password managers. In addition, there are third-party apps that you can use from companies like PasswordSafe, PassPack, LastPass, and 1Password. The sooner you implement strong, unhackable passwords everywhere the better off you’ll be.
Although there are other things that you need to be doing to make sure that you don’t run into ethical trouble with your law firm in the cloud, or get sued for malpractice, good data security is a huge step in the right direction.
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