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Law firms, beware! Data security concerns abound.

Data security concerns in the legal industry are valid but are no reason to hold back from migrating your data to a cloud-based solution. We talk through potential concerns and options that law firms may consider.

2024-04-25

Information technology is the unspoken backbone of the legal industry. The traditional nature of law firms, coupled with their penchant for established precedents, often results in a cautious approach toward new technologies and digital transformation. Firms daring to embrace and invest in new technologies can be rewarded with a competitive advantage over their slower-moving competitors, but the pursuit of such progress necessitates a prudent balance: consideration must be given to safeguarding sensitive data and ensuring robust security measures when it comes to innovation in the legal industry. This article delves into the transformative potential of cloud computing technology while addressing the paramount concern of security protocols in this sphere.

Modern law firms leverage technology to improve operations and delivery of legal services. IT enables efficient case management, document handling and streamlined communication, which optimizes workflows and enhances productivity. From the digitization of legal documents to the utilization of specialized software for research and analysis, IT empowers lawyers to swiftly access vast databases and precedents, aiding in comprehensive legal research and informed decision-making.

Until recently, great breadth and depth of expertise were required to develop and maintain just the infrastructure of these technologies. Cloud computing allows developers to focus on the development of impactful business applications and leave the infrastructure management to cloud providers.

Key benefits of cloud-based vs on-prem technologies

The primary distinctions between on-premise and cloud technology concern hardware management and scalability. On-premise systems often face challenges in accurately predicting hardware requirements, leading to either inefficient over-provisioning or underestimation, causing delays and increased costs in procurement, installation and configuration processes. In contrast, cloud services offer businesses unparalleled agility by providing easily configurable technology at their fingertips. Firms are able to swiftly and efficiently scale their applications up or down, only paying for the resources they use.

Another advantage of cloud computing is its capacity to decentralize IT responsibilities, granting departments and business units greater technological autonomy. This empowerment allows individuals to create their own infrastructure, bypassing the traditional IT queue and mitigating potential bottlenecks in the process.

One consideration is that embracing cloud computing means relinquishing direct control over specific hardware – a trade-off that typically impacts only specialized or niche applications. Deciding on this trade-off hinges on a firm's specific needs: if the need for such control is unclear, it's likely not a necessity.

Cloud computing security concerns and the “shared responsibility model”

The crux of IT security concerns lies in safeguarding private, proprietary data and intellectual property – a constant worry for CTOs and CIOs who fear unauthorized access or data breaches. Transitioning to cloud technologies often evokes discomfort due to the perceived loss of control. Cybersecurity threats to law firms include:

  • Data breaches: The risk of sensitive client data falling into the wrong hands and violating client confidentiality
  • Ransomware attacks: Concerns about losing control of critical systems due to extortion tactics
  • Compliance violations: Fear of failing to comply with industry regulations (like data privacy regulations: GDPR, HIPAA, CCPA) that lead to potential fines and reputational damage

However, it's important to acknowledge that cloud providers possess extensive resources to fortify their infrastructure, surpassing the capabilities of the average IT department or data center. It's crucial to understand that cloud providers and firms share security responsibilities within the “shared responsibility model” framework. This model delineates specific security obligations, outlining a collaborative approach toward ensuring data and system security.

Cloud providers shoulder the responsibility of securing the physical hardware and the software services they offer, and businesses hold the responsibility of securing data access and any custom applications they develop. Notably, cloud providers furnish essential security tools while also offering additional monitoring resources, enabling timely or preemptive action for heightened security measures.

Cloud providers offer reports including SOC compliance, HIPAA, FedRAMP Moderate, GDPR and others.

Security features to know about

Understanding the robust protective measures inherent in cloud computing is crucial. Here are key security features provided by cloud services, ensuring the safeguarding of sensitive information and bolstering resilience against potential threats:

  • Authentication: Cloud services offer a spectrum of integrations, spanning federated authentication, single sign-on (SSO), key-pair mechanisms, multi-factor authentication (MFA), OAuth and network policies, ensuring robust identity verification.
  • Encryption: Cloud providers handle data encryption while enabling users to employ their own encryption keys (if desired), ensuring data privacy and exclusive access.
  • RBAC (role-based access control): Enables customized access levels for various departments or individuals, giving precise control over data and permissions based on specific roles within the organization.
  • Data masking: Facilitates the concealment or obfuscation of sensitive information, safeguarding personally identifiable information (PII), financial details and other sensitive data from unauthorized access. Data may be partially or completely masked, depending on the role of the user accessing the data.
  • Disaster recovery: Cloud services offer comprehensive disaster recovery solutions covering natural calamities and potential data loss scenarios. For instance, Snowflake boasts features like "Time Travel" and "Fail-Safe" to retrieve lost data. Time Travel enables historical data access and restoration within specified periods (typically between one and 90 days), while Fail-Safe allows recovery of deleted permanent tables for up to seven days.
  • Logging/monitoring: Cloud platforms provide robust logging and monitoring capabilities, offering real-time visibility into system activities, enabling proactive threat detection and ensuring compliance with security protocols.

Case studies: The case for modern technology in legal

Security issue due to outdated technology

A UK-based provider of managed IT services for law firms, CTS, experienced a cybersecurity incident causing widespread disruption across the legal sector. This incident, reportedly due to exploiting the CitrixBleed vulnerability, affected close to 80 law firms, disrupting operations such as access to case files and impacting house sales and purchases. Law firm Taylor Rose MW and others reported significant operational impacts. This case study underscores the vulnerabilities associated with outdated or inadequately secured technology systems​ (source)​.

Benefits of transitioning to cloud-based solutions

A case study of a law firm that transitioned to cloud-based solutions highlights substantial benefits. The firm faced inefficiencies and overhead due to outdated legacy accounting practices. By moving to QuickBooks Online and integrating LeanLaw, the firm streamlined its workflows, increasing efficiency and slashing its overhead costs by 50%. This transition enabled easy access to productivity data, improved the workflow for retaining talent and created a seamless experience for attorneys, significantly enhancing overall satisfaction and operational efficiency​ (source)​.

These examples clearly show the contrasting outcomes of sticking with outdated technology versus embracing modern, cloud-based solutions. The former can lead to severe security vulnerabilities and operational disruptions, while the latter can substantially reduce overhead costs and improve efficiency and satisfaction among staff.

Conclusion

As technology continues to transform the legal industry, the integration of cloud computing emerges as a pivotal driver of innovation and efficiency. The transformative potential of cloud technology offers modern law firms a gateway to streamlined operations and enhanced delivery of legal services. By smartly leveraging information technology, lawyers gain access to an expansive suite of tools, from streamlined case management to comprehensive legal research capabilities, empowering them to make informed decisions swiftly, effectively and securely.