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7 Lessons Learned From Recent Law Firm Data Breaches

Law Firm Data Breaches: Lessons Learned

7 Lessons Learned From Recent Law Firm Data Breaches

Law firm data breaches are on the rise. Nearly 30% of law firms reported some form of security incident in a 2023 American Bar Association survey, and high-profile data breaches regularly make headline news.  But there are valuable lessons to learn that help you protect your practice.

According to the American Bar Association, a stunning 29% of law firms reported in 2023 that they had experienced a security breach at some point in the past. An international firm that specializes in helping companies recover from cyberattacks was even hit by a data breach in March 2023. While not all security breaches lead to data theft, a recent rash of newsworthy high-profile attacks highlights the dangers of even a single lapse in security. 

But the news is not all bleak. Each case provides an opportunity to learn important lessons that can help prevent future law firm data breaches. Here are seven things to know that can help you protect your practice and your clients.

1. Understand the value of client data

Data attacks on law firms don’t just target employee information or details about negotiation strategies. They also focus on clients, which makes client data security a crucial part of your practice management. Data hacks cost law firms an average of $214 per client record, but the actual costs could be much higher.

Your clients must know they can trust you with their most sensitive information. Having their data stolen from your practice is a breach of trust, which could lead to a loss of professional reputation and damage to your brand. 

Lawyers are ethically required to protect clients’ information, and that element of the attorney-client privilege is sacrosanct. As such, lawyers are held to high standards when it comes to protecting that information — simply not disclosing it is not enough. You are ethically bound to diligently preserve it. On top of that, personal injury law firms also deal with clients’ medical data. Any breach of your clients’ data could mean significant financial penalties for your firm.

2. Train your employees on cybersecurity best practices

One of the best ways to minimize your risk of a data breach is to train your employees on cybersecurity. For law firms, start with the basics. Hold an all-hands training class every year that covers such cybersecurity best practices as:

  • Using strong passwords and changing them frequently
  • Always using antivirus software and firewalls
  • Protecting computers and other devices with passwords
  • Never leaving software open when stepping away
  • When and how remote access to your systems and case files is available
  • Social media policies and best practices
  • Email guidelines and standards, including ways to thwart potential phishing attacks

In addition, focus on building a security-first work culture. Encourage your team members to think critically, avoid becoming so rushed that they miss potential threats, and speak openly about security concerns. Keep the lines of communication open and be sure they know where they can go with security-related questions.

3. Avoid outdated tech and software vulnerabilities

One of the biggest cyber threats to law firms comes from a reliance on outdated software and technology. The tech industry is evolving rapidly, and the last “big thing” is nearly worthless today.

This is especially true when it comes to how you store your data. Backup hard drives are easily stolen. Secure cloud storage is the safest way to manage your law firm’s data. It also allows you to access the files you need remotely, whether at home, at the courthouse, or visiting a client in the hospital.

Make it a habit to download software updates and patches every few months. Most developers continue to work on their programs long after release, and they may uncover potential security flaws months or years later. If there is an option to sign up for automatic updates, do so. Otherwise, mark out time on your calendar to search for updates at least once per quarter.

4. Implement strong access controls

Think of access controls as a fence around your data. Most cyber threats to law firms happen because there is a weak spot in the fence that allows a hacker to get in. In addition to standard login credentials like user names and passwords, consider adding multifactor authorization (MFA) to your software systems and files. 

To log in, MFA requires users to provide one extra piece of data, such as a fingerprint or a code that is automatically sent to their phone. It helps foil hackers who have managed to get hold of your employees’ passwords.

Also, consider siloing your data so that not everyone has access to everything. Restrict the most sensitive items, such as client medical records, to only those who need to see them. And, of course, remove permissions promptly when someone leaves your firm.

5. Create a comprehensive incident response plan

While you should try to prevent data breaches from happening at all, how you respond to a security threat can help minimize its damage. A comprehensive written plan for responding to various incidents tells everyone in the firm exactly what to do when they spot a security breach. Revisit your plan at least annually to ensure you’re keeping up with the latest best practices.

6. Consider third-party security audits

Unless you happen to be a cybersecurity expert, you won’t know if your security is as robust as it could be without consulting an expert. A third-party security audit uses sophisticated tools to test your cybersecurity and look for holes that need to be plugged. It can also help you build trust with clients by showing them you take their sensitive information seriously. 

Security audits may also be required if you want to sign up for cyber insurance. Some companies will even provide comprehensive cybersecurity training for law firms that have undergone an audit, as an optional add-on service.

7. Invest in cyber insurance

Cyber insurance won’t stop a data breach, but it can help limit your out-of-pocket costs if one should occur. There are two different types of cyber insurance: first-party and liability.

First-party insurance covers your direct costs for things such as:

  • Client notification
  • Ransomware payments
  • Business interruption and subsequent loss of revenue

Liability insurance can protect you in the event of a lawsuit, covering such costs as:

  • Attorney fees
  • HIPAA fines
  • Settlements or judgments

Protect yourself from law firm data breaches with CloudLex

One of the easiest ways to protect your law firm from data breaches is to migrate all your client data and case files to a single, highly secure, cloud-based platform such as CloudLex. Our all-in-one personal injury case management software solution is fully HIPAA compliant, meaning that we provide the utmost protection for all client data. We also provide a host of features to help streamline your practice and smoothly move each case from pretrial through final resolution. To learn more, request a demo today.

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