Law firms may not be thought of the same way as many businesses, but the truth remains that a law firm is a business. With that being said, in order to be a successful business in this day and age, it is important to take advantage of the technological advancements that are constantly taking place.
One of the major advancements in computing and technology over the past decade has been the proliferation of cloud, or SaaS, offerings.
SaaS (software as a service) is defined as a software distribution model in which a third-party provider hosts applications and makes them available to customers over the internet.
Law firms aren’t always known for being at the forefront of technology. Many times this is because of the strict regulations and ethics considerations that come with being in the legal industry.
This paper will explore the essential components needed for law firms to remain secure in the cloud.
Gartner predicted that the SaaS market would reach $37.7 billion by the end of 2016. The legal industry makes up a growing portion of that market. Here are some of the ways law firms are already applying SaaS solutions.
SaaS Calendaring For Law Firms
Law firms that take advantage of legal calendaring systems delivered via SaaS, enable members of their firm to access and stay on top of important dates and deadlines across the entire firm from wherever they may be working.
Document Generation in the Cloud
It’s not unusual for an attorney to meet a number of different clients in different locations. Multiple clients could be looking for help with the same type of document. Document generation in the cloud allows an attorney to access legal templates wherever they have an internet connection.
SaaS Law Office Accounting
SaaS accounting software for law firms can help your firm reduce leakage. With access to the law office accounting software virtually anywhere with an internet connection, all expenses can be easily recorded as billable as they happen.
Before understanding the components needed to secure your firm in the cloud, it’s also important to understand both the benefits and challenges of moving your firm’s operations and data into the cloud.
One of the greatest advantages law firms enjoy when using the cloud is the increased accessibility of all the systems used to manage a firm. By using practice management software in the cloud, members of a law firm will be able to work wherever they can access the internet, which nowadays is pretty much anywhere.
Reduced Focus On IT Infrastructure
Some lawyers may be interested in technology, but most seem to be more interested in practicing law than in servers, hosting, and system upgrades. Firms that utilize legal solutions in the cloud can reduce the time and assets needed to focus on IT Management, Application Management, Business Continuity, and Disaster Recovery.
Always Up To Date
Law firms that use on-prem software could very well be managing their firm’s operations with dated software that may not even be compliant with the most recent legal regulations. SaaS solutions can be updated to the most recent, compliant version of the software automatically.
SaaS solutions offer firms great flexibility. As firms grow or even shrink in size, users can be both added or removed from the firm’s contract.
Smaller firms aren’t always looking for all of the functionality that a larger established firm is. SaaS solutions allow firms to add additional functionality and modules as they grow and new needs arise.
Automatic Data Backups
Many firms aren’t technologically sophisticated to the point where they can perform data backups. When firms turn to the cloud, they can be assured that all of their data is being backed up by the service provider on a regular basis.
While there are many benefits associated with utilizing cloud and SaaS solutions, just like anything else there are some challenges associated with legal solutions in the cloud too. The important thing is to be cognizant of these challenges, and when firms do that it becomes much easier to select the right legal solutions that meet the following challenges.
For any law firm who has looked to migrate their data from one system to another, they probably have a horror story to tell you, especially if they were dealing with their accounting data. When moving to the cloud, finding a system that allows the import of electronic bank statements can alleviate much of the stress associated with data migrations.
All client and financial records must be properly maintained and recorded. When firms use on-prem legal software it becomes their responsibility to backup all of this data so that in the event of a system crash none of that data will be lost. Many firms become concerned about whether or not their data will be backed up by 3rd party providers. In actuality, providers of legal solutions in the cloud take the onus off the law firm and make sure that all of this data is backed up on a regular basis.
Ethics & Security Concerns
It’s no secret that attorneys are constantly dealing with clients’ personal information. Some of that information can be extremely sensitive. Most states mandate “Reasonable Care” be shown when utilizing legal cloud solutions and handling your client’s sensitive information.
When looking to secure a law firm’s operations and data in the cloud there are three main areas of concern:
When seeking out a secure provider of legal solutions in the cloud it is extremely important that law firms and attorneys know what to look for in a vendor’s platform.
Legal software providers in the cloud need to design their platforms with security as their #1 priority. Part of secure design for legal solutions means that there needs to be both physical and logical separation data that ensures there is no commingling of client data or hardware resources with other client firms. Failure to design with these things in mind could result in one firm’s data being wrongfully shared with another.
Availability & Redundancy of Data Servers – System architecture and proper system setup are a big part of keeping a firm secure in the cloud. Infrastructure can be expensive, but any SaaS provider worth its salt will have made an investment in it.
While the way a SaaS provider designs their offering is extremely important when considering security, the practices of the provider are extremely important in securing data and systems as well. During the sales process, it’s important that law firms make sure that their vendor keeps up with the following best practices:
Data backups should be performed (at least) on a daily basis. This ensures that if the worst were to happen, all of the provider’s client firms will not have to worry about losing all of the data that is supremely important to them and their clients.
The best providers of legal solutions in the cloud have enlisted the help of hackers. In doing this the SaaS vendor subjects itself to rigorous internal audits that make sure they can stand up to any security breaches that may come their way.
This is where providers of legal software in the cloud have to differentiate themselves from other SaaS providers. The vendor needs to have standard procedures in place that allow them to easily respond to subpoenas, court orders, and other third-party requests. If they don’t have effective procedures in place to do this, their client firms could pay heavily.
Security Breach Notifications
In a perfect world a law firm would never receive a notification that the security of their systems has been compromised, but in the event that it does happen, it is extremely important that all parties affected are notified in a timely fashion.
When law firms turn to the cloud for software solutions, it’s easy for firm members to think that they can be carefree and that the vendor has taken care of any security concerns. For the most part, this is fairly accurate, but carelessness will always lead to security concerns. Below are some best practices any law firm working in the cloud should adopt.
In a law firm there are more than just attorneys. There are paralegals, secretaries, accountants, and more. The point is there are firm members at a number of different levels and every single one of them need to be aware of the potential security risks associated with them. It only takes one person inside a firm neglecting to take the necessary precautions to invite security issues into the practice.
User Privileges & Access Roles
In a firm where there are many different users, at a number of different levels in the firm it is important to control what users have and don’t have access to in the system. While all of the firm’s data may be accessible anywhere at any time, it doesn’t mean just anyone inside of the firm should have access to every area of the system. Firms should control access across their practice by setting up user based permissions and access controls.
Avoid Phishing Attacks
They key here is education. While phishing attacks may be obvious to some, others may not be able to identify these emails meant to extract personal information. Firms that educate all of their members can effectively combat these attacks.
Audit Log Review Process
With any application, it is essential to have a log of activities. This allows firms to go back and review the activities that occurred that may have lead to a security breach in the system. Not only is this an effective way to play detective when something has gone wrong, it also adds an extra level of accountability across all users. If users know that every entry is logged, they are more likely to show more care in the actions they take inside the system.
Two Factor Authentication
One-layer passwords are not enough anymore, law firms need to utilize 2FA. 2FA stands for “Two Factor Authentication”, and it happens when users log in and a text message is sent to a mobile phone with a second piece of verification, a temporary code to log-in. 2FA is about as close to “hacker proof” as law firms can get, and it’s fast becoming the new standard.
If a firm has taken every other security measure, but haven’t secured the devices firm members access these systems on, they could be in for trouble. It is important to have effective corporate policies in place that ensure devices are properly used, maintained, and secured by all employees. In the event a device has been compromised, it is imperative that the issues are dealt with immediately to stop any potential viruses or hackers from accessing systems used by the firm through the compromised device. Firms that effectively manage their assets can generally detect, locate, and remedy any compromised hardware in the firm before it becomes a larger problem.
Moving a law firm to the cloud can be a real game changer. It increases the agility a firm can operate with, cuts costs, and is extremely scalable. The best firms make the move but work with their vendor to avoid any potential security risks along the way.