Cyber Security for Law Firms: What Lawyers Need To Know

Cyber Security for Law Firms

Cybersecurity in law firms is undoubtedly a cornerstone of maintaining high confidentiality and trust standards. In a digital age where enormous amounts of sensitive information are placed electronically, law firms become a tempting target for cyber attacks. No one wants to lose clients and even face a lawsuit, like Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe law firm, which faced the consequences of the data breach affecting thousands of people. 

That is why influential law firms’ cyber security measures are becoming increasingly important. The good news is that being practical doesn’t mean being complicated to implement. Hence, with the right approach to cyber-security, law firms can stop cybercriminals from stealing confidential data and destroying what matters the most — their reputation.

Obligations and Responsibilities for Law Firms

Depending on jurisdiction, obligations and responsibilities to protect data may significantly vary. But in general, they can be divided into two major categories:

  • Ethical obligations — Lawyers have several moral obligations regarding data protection. These are: protect sensitive information and prevent unauthorized access. These obligations are stated in Rule 1.6 under the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Considering that clients ask for lawyers’ help during difficult times, lawyers must prevent and minimize any harm that can be caused to their clients.
  • Legal obligations — Data protection is regulated both by federal and state laws. Data privacy laws generally state that cyber security in law firms should be “reasonable,” as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommended in their Guide for Business and other documents. But there is no clear definition of what reasonable is. Some states, like Massachusetts, have clear guidelines for measures legal entities should implement to protect their clients’ data, such as creating a written information security plan (WISP).

While there is still no comprehensive data privacy framework on the federal level in the U.S., this situation will likely change soon. Cybersecurity for lawyers is becoming increasingly critical as paper-based records give way to digital data. It is always important to be prepared for potential issues and data breaches, especially for large law firms. The more clients you have, the more attractive you are to cybercriminals. 

Why Do Law Firms Need Cybersecurity?

Sensitive information makes law firms a high-priority target for cybercriminals. And don’t forget about the money. Law firms are very profitable, and the more money you have, the more malefactors keep their eyes on you. And let’s be honest: cyber security in law firms is often far from perfect, as they rely on outdated technologies and data protection measures. More than that, about one-fourth of lawyers don’t have appropriate cybersecurity training.

Plus, global malware infection rates have increased from 12.4 million in 2009 to 812.67 million in 2018. Cybercrime rates are growing, and law firms have not been spared. Indeed, about 25% of law firms have suffered from data breaches in the past. These breaches threaten the privacy of clients’ sensitive information and the firm’s reputation. A data breach may leave a law firm between a rock and a hard place, either complying with the hackers’ demands, risking losing some clients when their confidential information is publicized, or even facing a lawsuit. 

What Duties Do Lawyers Have To Protect Their Information?

Lawyers are responsible for safeguarding any type of information their clients give them. One of the tenets that the legal profession, as well as cybersecurity for lawyers, is built upon is confidentiality, and the clients should know that whatever they say to their lawyer is protected through client-attorney privilege. Cyber security for law firms acts as an additional layer of confidentiality protection and reinforces lawyers’ responsibility to safeguard client information in the digital realm.

Besides these general duties, lawyers owe specific obligations depending upon the character of the information they handle. For example, they may be subject to stricter rules in protecting particular types of information, such as the health or personal information required by HIPAA or New York’s SHIELD, which requires firms to have “reasonable” security protections around their clients’ information.

If you are drafting a contract with a third-party service provider, ensure it goes beyond “reasonable” in data protection measures. Reliable online contracts outlining software, such as Loio, should use SSL certificates, store data in protected cloud storage, and comply with other security practices required by the U.S.

What Cyber Security Risks Does My Law Firm Face?

Law firms are not different from any other legal entity, so cyber security should be as important as any other business or organization. When discussing cybersecurity, people often think of hackers sitting and recklessly typing lines of code trying to break through the firewall or other means of digital protection. 

However, the truth is that the major risk to law firms’ cyber security comes not from a technological infrastructure but from the human factor. According to the 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report, the human element was involved in 74% of breaches

Cybersecurity in a law firm should be based on a comprehensive strategy focused on addressing as many risks as possible, both from humans and technologies. Here are just several of the most common risks a law firm may face:

  • Data breaches: When a data breach occurs, malefactors get unauthorized access to the sensitive data of a law firm.
  • Ransomware attacks: When such attacks happen, cybercriminals encrypt your data and prevent you from accessing it. As the name of the attack hints, you will have to pay a ransom to regain access.
  • Phishing scams: Hackers may send an email or make a fake website, tricking you into providing sensitive information, such as your account login and password.
  • Insider threats: Insiders who have direct access to your law firm’s sensitive data may be driven by different motives to cause harm, such as revenge or desire to get money.

Top Tips for Cyber Security for Law Firms

Cyber security for law firms should be considered a dynamic process. New cyber security threats constantly emerge, and cybercriminals develop more and more sophisticated strategies to get access to sensitive data. Once you have a cybersecurity policy, regularly revise and update it.

You can use numerous cybersecurity frameworks, even if your law firm is relatively small or even if you are a solo practitioner. These frameworks consist of guidelines and standards and are usually based on current data protection legal requirements. The most popular law firms’ cybersecurity frameworks are NIST, GDPR, ISO 27001, and ISO 27002. NIST, in fact, is mandatory for all federal U.S. agencies to follow. In addition to the abovementioned frameworks, we’ve prepared several tips you can follow to improve cybersecurity within an organization.

Conduct a risk assessment

Risk assessment is the first and most crucial step in enhancing law firms’ cybersecurity. It is a systematic examination of potential risks involved in protecting information assets. The goal is to identify threats and vulnerabilities, assess the potential impact and probability of their occurrence, and adopt appropriate measures for mitigation.

How are law firms’ cyber security risk assessments usually conducted? Well, it depends on a law firm. Large law firms have their IT departments conducting risk assessments or using third-party cybersecurity experts. Here are the critical aspects of a typical risk assessment in a law firm:

Asset inventory:

  • Making a list of all digital assets e.g., data, hardware, software, and network resources.
  • Identifying sensitive information and anything else that malefactors can potentially target.


Potential threat identification:

  • Identifying possible external threats, for example, hacking, phishing, and malware attacks.
  • Identifying potential internal threats associated with employees or anyone else accessing sensitive information.


Vulnerability analysis:

  • Evaluating existing security measures to expose potential vulnerabilities.
  • Assessing the possibility of exploiting these vulnerabilities.


Impact assessment

  • Estimating the severity of impact associated with each identified risk.
  • Classifying potential impacts in terms of their potential harm.


Implementation plan:

  • Developing an implementation plan considering the resources and needs of a law firm
  • Assigning roles and responsibilities to each person involved in the implementation process.

Get law firm cyber security insurance

Cybersecurity attacks can result in millions of dollars in financial losses, and in some cases, they may lead to bankruptcy. Cyber security insurance acts as a life vest, preventing a law firm from drowning in waters of debt. Such insurance can help law firms manage the financial implications of a cyber attack, including related costs such as data recovery, system repairs, legal fees, and control of reputational damages. 

In addition to providing financial protection, cyber security insurance assists firms in having resources that facilitate businesses in acting promptly and effectively in case an incident occurs. This insurance may provide access to expert personnel for IT, legal, and even public relations purposes.

Develop a robust law firm cyber security policy and incident response plan

A robust cyber security policy forms the cornerstone of any law firm’s defense against cyber threats and should outline everything related to data protection. It should also state the firm’s commitment to protecting sensitive data, the types of data to be covered, and the measures to ensure the security of the data. Check if everyone in your law firm knows the cyber security policy.

Adequate cyber security for law firms can’t exist without an incident response plan. It should outline the steps to be taken if your company is facing a cyber attack or data breach by identifying and containing the threat, eradicating it, and then recovering from that incident. The plans should state the communication strategy for the information sent to the clients, employees, and other stakeholders.

Use cyber security tools

Cybersecurity for lawyers must be a top priority, so law firms must combine various tools to ensure data protection and address a wide array of threats. Here are some of the most widespread and effective tools used for cybersecurity:

  • Firewalls: This is the first line of defense. Firewalls prevent unauthorized network access.
  • Intrusion detection systems: These help to monitor a network for suspicious activities and data breaches.
  • Anti-malware software: This software safeguards devices from viruses, malware, and other potentially dangerous software.
  • Data encryption tools: Law firms can use these tools to encrypt all sensitive data. So, even in case of a data breach, it will be impossible to read anything.

Cyber security for law firms often includes using Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems. These provide real-time analysis of security alerts generated by applications and network hardware. They can identify patterns and anomalies indicating a cyber attack, allowing for quick response and mitigation. 

Additionally, Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), as an extra security layer, is essential for lawyers’ cybersecurity. MFA asks users to provide two or more verification factors to access an account.

Work with practice management providers who prioritize security

Choosing a safe security practice management provider can be quite challenging for law firms. Unfortunately, many don’t have any data security policies and are vulnerable to data breaches. Pay attention to the following factors while choosing a practice management provider:

  • Information they require: The less sensitive a practice management provider needs, the higher the safety.
  • Compliance with cybersecurity frameworks: Check if a practice management provider complies with GDPR, NIST, or other cybersecurity frameworks.
  • Data protection: Check whether a practice management provider uses SSL certificates and safe servers for storing your data.
  • Internal cybersecurity policy: A practice management provider should have a comprehensive cybersecurity policy to minimize the chances of unauthorized access to sensitive data and ensure cybersecurity for law firms.

Certain software providers like Lawrina may also use trusted cloud-based storage services, such as AWS, to ensure better data protection, while others may store all sensitive data on their private servers, which often lack effective data protection measures. Hence, pay attention not only to how but also to where your data is stored.

Conclusion

The average data breach cost has increased from $3.62 million to $4.45 million in the past six years. These are only direct costs, but indirect costs can be even higher, especially for professional services organizations. Implementing cybersecurity measures is not just necessary but a fundamental aspect of legal practice in the modern digital age. 

Law firms should protect themselves not only from internal threats by organizing training programs for their employees and using practical cybersecurity tools but also by addressing external threats while using third-party service providers. Find a reliable partner, and never share sensitive data with unverified or unsecured third-party vendors. Prevention is a crucial aspect of cybersecurity, so law firms must implement comprehensive security measures covering all aspects of their operations.

Article by Inna Chumachenko

Inna Chumachenko is the Content Lead at Lawrina. She is responsible for managing all the content that can be found on the blog, guides, and other pages of the website. Inna has a degree in philology and a vast interest in law. In her role at Lawrina, Inna oversees the content team, establishes collaborations with writers, and curates content from various contributors.

If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the content for Lawrina, please feel free to contact Inna directly via email at i.chumachenko@lawrina.org or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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