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Law Practice Magazine

The Management Issue

What Law Firms Need to Know About Data Security in 2024



  • Learn why data security is a priority for law firms for protecting client data.
  • Discover the importance of ethical and regulatory compliance, adhering to HIPAA, GDPR, and CCPA standards.
  • Uncover data security best practices and how to implement them into your practice.
What Law Firms Need to Know About Data Security in 2024 Farlow

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Law firms must prioritize data security because clients entrust them with highly confidential information. This is more important than ever before with cybercrime targeting law firms becoming more prevalent, with 29% experiencing breaches according to the 2023 ABA Cybersecurity TechReport.

To safeguard client data, legal professionals must stay updated on legal technology. In 2024, understanding best practices, ethical obligations, risks, and utilizing resources are essential for enhancing law firm data security.

What are the basics of law firm data security?

Securing your law firm's data requires a multifaceted approach rather than relying on a single method. Implementing an in-depth defense strategy involves incorporating multiple layers of security measures and leveraging cutting-edge legal technology.

To enhance data security at your law firm, adopt a multi-layered approach that leverages the latest legal tech. Start with these steps:

Develop a clear data security policy and educate your staff on best practices.

  1. Provide ongoing training to mitigate data risks, including phishing awareness.
  2. Enforce strong password policies and use encryption for added security.
  3. Secure communications channels and control access to sensitive information.
  4. Conduct regular security reviews and consider certifications like ISO 27001.
  5. Vet technology vendors carefully to ensure data protection.
  6. Prepare for data breaches with a comprehensive response plan.
  7. Strengthen mobile device security through encryption and two-factor authentication.
  8. Differentiate between personal and professional accounts to prevent data leaks.

These steps will help fortify your firm's data security and protect sensitive information.

What is a law firm's ethical and regulatory obligations?

Data security risks for law firms are significant, with potential repercussions ranging from compromised communications to legal actions. Ethically, lawyers are obliged to protect client data and disclose any breaches. The ABA Rule 1.6 emphasizes the need for reasonable efforts to safeguard client information.

Compliance with HIPAA, GDPR, CCPA, SHIELD, and state-specific laws is crucial, with each imposing unique requirements for safeguarding sensitive information.

  • HIPAA mandates protection of protected health information (PHI) for healthcare providers and their "business associates," including law firms handling PHI.

  • GDPR ensures enhanced personal data protection for EU individuals, influencing global data security standards.

  • CCPA, strives to mirror the GDPR and requires enhanced protection of personal data for California residents.

  • SHIELD Act in New York requires companies, including law firms, to establish and maintain reasonable data security measures for resident's private information, augmenting existing breach notification requirements.

Learn more about state-specific data breach notification requirements.

What happens when a law firm's data is attacked or hacked?

No one wants to imagine their law firm falling victim to hacking, but due to the sensitive documents lawyers handle, law firms are often targeted by cybercriminals. Having an incident response plan (IRP) in place is crucial in such scenarios, even though it's hoped it will never be needed. 

Here's a basic IRP checklist:

  • Contain the damage and initiate recovery procedures.

  • Consult a data breach expert.

  • Notify your insurance provider, and consider obtaining cyber security insurance if you haven't already.

  • Report the incident to law enforcement.

  • Inform all relevant third parties.

  • Prioritize compliance.

Regularly updating the IRP plan is essential to mitigate risks further, and seeking input from IT consultants can provide valuable insights.

Top tools law firms use for improved data security

Signal App: Secure communication

Effective communication is vital, but sending unprotected messages can jeopardize data security. The Signal app, is free and accessible on Android, iPhone, or desktop and offers secure, end-to-end encrypted communication options like text, voice, video, and file sharing globally. 

Other communication tools are available in the Clio App Directory.

Clio: Secure data

Clio prioritizes safeguarding your client's information and your firm's data with advanced security measures, including:

  • Role-based permissions: Limits access to sensitive case information to specific users.

  • Password policies: Enforces strong passwords and regular resets.

  • Session/Activity tracking: Logs IP addresses for every login to detect suspicious activity.

  • Two-factor authentication.

  • Login safeguards: Automatically locks accounts after repeated failed login attempts. 

  • Additionally, a secure client portal encrypts and secures communications.

Learn more about Clio's industry-leading security.

Improving your law firm's data security

Safeguarding your clients' and firm's data is not only ethically vital but also professionally crucial. By understanding your responsibilities and adopting best practices, you can reduce the risk of data breaches. Additionally, leveraging cutting-edge legal technology can further enhance security and streamline firm operations.