Technology has advanced at an extraordinary rate just within the span of a single human lifetime. This explosion of technology benefits all of our lives, but it also carries certain risks, specifically, security risks. More information is digitally created, stored, accessed and transferred than ever before with a projected size of 44 zettabytes by 2020. We depend on our computers and mobile devices for everything we do professionally. With each and every digital creation, upload, download and transfer comes new security risks and the necessity of digital asset protection in the form of data security.
Among all the different professions, the legal profession is often perceived to be lacking in the area of data security expertise. This perception is largely due to the fact that many law firms and in-house counsel within corporations don’t regularly engage with their clients or employees regarding security matters. Security issues are often kept under wraps or addressed as an afterthought.
As part of today’s rapidly-advancing technological age, addressing data security matters as an afterthought is one of the most dangerous strategies a law firm or corporate in-house counsel can employ. It can potentially result in a data breach that would cause disaster on multiple fronts. Digital security should absolutely be a priority to anyone working in the legal profession. Trends have shown that professional services, which includes law firms, are trending upward in targeted attacks.
In examining the reasons for prioritizing digital security as a legal professional, it makes more sense to look at the consequences and risks for failing to make digital security a priority. Here are five of the most dangerous consequences that can result from a data security breach.
No.1 – Loss of Existing Clients
During the past year, more that a few big name businesses made news headlines when major data security breaches occurred, which placed sensitive client data and financial information at risk. As a result of these headlines, consumers are quickly realizing the importance of digital security. Most won’t hesitate to take their business elsewhere. Clients understand when there is too much at stake. As such, clients are beginning to scrutinize data security practices for potential outside counsel as part of their vetting process.
No. 2 – Damage to Client Trust
A data breach can severely damage a firm’s reputation, as well as trust with its clients. Existing clients who choose to stay with a legal firm that has had to file reports regarding data breaches may not trust that firm enough to open up new cases or recommend that firm to anyone else. They may request a security audit which could result in exposing more vulnerabilities that could have been detected with proactive efforts. Word can spread quickly. A negative image perception is one of the worst things a business can face and have to overcome. Without client trust, it’s difficult for any type of business to gain new clients.
No. 3 – Loss of Critical Data
Law firms hold and maintain sensitive client information – pending transactions, competitive information, litigation strategies, etc. Loss of this data cannot only impact potential case outcomes but can also cause damage to a client’s brands, reputation and bottom line. This could lead to legal ramifications, including costly and drawn out litigation.
No. 4 – Financial Loss
The financial losses of a data breach – no matter how large or small – can be substantial. The technology costs alone of finding and remediating the source of the breach as well as ensure the breach doesn’t happen again can be particularly high. As with most technology costs, the costs of prevention and protection are almost always more affordable than the costs after a breach/cybersecurity attack occurs.
There are additional costs to consider as well. If the breach resulted in additional litigation time, those costs need to be taken into account. Finally, the financial losses of any existing or potential clients must be considered. After adding up all of the separate costs, it should be no surprise that a data breach can lead to the bankruptcy of a business if not handled properly.
No. 5 – Potential Downtime
Last but certainly not least, the consequences of downtime must be considered if a breach should occur. Downtime can be detrimental to a legal practice in many ways. Downtime during a case can result in clients who take their cases elsewhere or litigation and technology teams that need to be paid in accordance. The rate of acquiring new clientele tends to slow down considerably during periods of downtime.
Depending on the breach and its consequences, there may also be periods when necessary data and entire accounts become locked and/or unrecoverable. Not all data is guaranteed to be recoverable if a breach should occur.
In looking at the above potential consequences of a data breach, it’s easy to see why law firms and corporate counsel need to proactively invest time and money into protecting their digital assets. The risks are simply never worth it, no matter the size of the firm or organization. The financial costs as well as the costs in regards to downtime, clientele numbers, and data loss are far too high in comparison to the costs of protection and prevention.
To get started, every practice needs to have solid data security strategies in place. Training which specifically focuses on end-user education is vital to any security strategy since most data breaches tend to happen at the end user level. This should coincide with digital security tools like security software, two-factor authentication, password managers and use of data encryption should always be in place.
Preparation, knowledge and expertise are all key. With a solid knowledge base, a plan of action and a team of legal professionals who are knowledgeable about the basics of data security, any law firm and in house counsel can focus on what they do best – effectively manage and win matters in litigation while mitigating their exposure to risk by not having to worry about the security levels of the computers and mobile technology they depend on. Phillip Hampton