Legal firms hold a treasure trove of sensitive data on their clients. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that cyberattacks are rampant in the legal sector.
The issue is further exacerbated by the pandemic-spurred push for digital communications and collaborations. With even brick-and-mortar businesses embracing online work with arms wide open, it is safe to say that digital adoption had a steep upward shift in trajectory among lawyers, attorneys, and the staff supporting their operations.
Annual reports by American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center show that 29% of law firms experienced a digital breach in 2020 alone. That is one out of every four surveyed organizations.
Can Law Firms Afford to Ignore Digital Threats?
Despite the aforementioned facts and statistics, many organizations are struggling to give cybersecurity the attention and prioritization it needs.
They see cyberattacks as an unlikely threat with little possibility of regulatory interventions. But that’s a big mistake. The numbers from American Bar Association prove that digital breaches are not some farfetched scenarios.
Furthermore, apart from damages in the form of reputational and financial consequences, there are in fact legal guidelines that a law firm should adhere to when it comes to safeguarding the data of their clients.
Here are some examples of such guidelines:
- ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. ABA Model Rules 4, 1.6, and Comment 8 to Rule 1 clearly state that law firms must take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their client’s data, notify the affected individuals and organizations, and take appropriate remediation steps. There are also multiple ABA Formal Opinions regarding the professional conduct of member law firms, including Formal Opinions 477R and 483.
- The National Institute of Standards and Technology. While it may not be a regulatory agency, NIST offers a variety of cybersecurity guidelines that all organizations should follow, including law firms. Failure to follow these guidelines can be constituted as a lack of reasonable safeguarding of clients and their data.
- Industry-Specific Acts. Firms specializing in high-stakes industries like healthcare and financial sectors face an additional set of legal obligations. Examples of such acts include HIPAA and PCI DSS.
- State-Specific Legal Obligations. Many states have local legislature around what a legal firm must do in order to meet its professional obligations. For example, the Rules of Professional Conduct 4-1.1 by the Florida Bar Association shows that attorneys and their associates should have an understanding of the benefits and risks associated with the use of technology. A practical step towards that end is to onboard a non-legal advisor with proven technological competence.
Key Takeaway for Legal Firms
Among all those guidelines and regulations for legal firms, there is a common denominator that stands out above all else:
Legal firms need to take reasonable and practical steps towards the safeguarding of the sensitive data of their clients.
Of course, the term “reasonable” has a lot of room for interpretive discretion. It is always safe to go the extra mile by hiring a team of cybersecurity veterans, leaving no doubts about the firm’s commitment to securing client data.
Do you have questions regarding your firm’s cybersecurity? Contact me here to schedule a FREE cybersecurity consultation. As one of Optistar’s Senior IT Consultants, I will be happy to discuss your concerns and provide you details on our solutions. In addition, for *qualified organizations, we can provide a complimentary security assessment to determine the vulnerabilities that exist within your business network.
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