Email, texting, social media, websites, billing systems—The digital connections you use to do your job every day can present a risk, particularly as a lawyer obligated to professional ethical standards.
Implement these six tips for your firm’s digital presence.
Prioritize Password Security to Minimize Data Risks
Lawyers need to strike a balance between easy access to their digital files and securing the firm’s confidential data. Ethical guidelines require lawyers to stay on top of evolving technology and protect sensitive client data, and there’s no better tactic to do so than password security.
- Password security helps protect confidential emails, text messages, case files, client documents, billing information, financial records and other sensitive data.
- Hackers can crack simple passwords instantly with modern software, while a lot of users are using compromised or easily guessed passwords.
- A secure password mixes letters, numbers and symbols, is unique for each account, isn’t on a compromised password list, and is protected with two-factor authentication.
Avoid Creating Confidentiality Through Your Website
Law firm websites are designed to be helpful to visitors and create business for the firm. Contact forms give prospective clients an easy way to reach out, but that presents an equally easy risk of unintentionally creating a duty of confidentiality, potentially leading to disqualification, loss of fees or a claim.
- It’s best not to invite open-ended inquiries about legal issues anywhere on your website contact form.
- Realize a disclaimer alone isn’t enough to disclaim liability if other factors indicate a willingness to enter an engagement.
- Use a disclaimer that is written in plain language and formatted and placed to be easily seen, read and understood.
- State that confidential information shouldn’t be provided until after the firm performs a conflict check and agrees to a representation.
Ensure Security and Professionalism When Emailing Clients
Email is the preferred means of communication for lawyers corresponding with colleagues and clients, but it is not without its risks. Make sure your email messages to clients remain secure and professional.
- Enable email encryption features to protect the messages you exchange with clients on sensitive case matters from hackers.
- Avoid common email professionalism pitfalls, like failing to respond to client messages, sending unprofessional messages with spelling and grammar errors, sending emails to unintended recipients by using “reply all,” failing to attach important documents, failing to use clear language in the subject line and message body to convey important information.
Make Sure Your Use of Social Media Is Compliant
Social media is ubiquitous for lawyers as well as for clients, parties represented by opposing counsel and unrepresented third parties. But lawyers have a duty to observe the rules of professional conduct even on social media.
- Avoid sending friend, follow or connect requests to opposing parties known to be represented by counsel to gain access to their private social media content.
- Err on the side of caution when communicating with unrepresented third parties.
- Remember you can view publicly available content passively, so long as no notification will be sent.
- Avoid concealing your identity with pseudonyms or other users’ accounts to access social media content.
- Avoid bragging about results obtained on behalf of clients, quickly correct endorsements and recommendations that aren’t accurate, and avoid soliciting clients through messages.
Text with Clients Safely and Professionally
Texting your clients is convenient for scheduling, reminders and quick communications, and tells clients you’re committed to their representation. But be careful to use text messaging safely and professionally.
- Avoid incomplete answers or responses you could second-guess later, instead acknowledging the client’s message by text and responding more fully by phone or email later.
- Preserve text message exchanges as part of the complete client file, using either screen captures or a specific legal preservation app.
- Ensure confidentiality for messages sent and received with data encryption, phone lock screen and password protection.
- Maintain a professional tone, avoiding abbreviations, emoticons, jokes, sarcasm, slang and curses.
Be Aware of the Dangers of Cyber Criminals
More and more, lawyers and law firms are having to deal with the danger of cyber criminals. Wire fraud scams are common, where a scammer pretends to be a new client with a settlement matter or impersonates a real client to redirect transaction funds into an unauthorized account.
- Beware of fake clients with suspiciously easy case matters involving an urgent transfer.
- Always ensure a check has cleared with the bank before initiating a transfer, remembering that it’s not safe to transfer funds listed as an “available balance.”
- Check email addresses and phone numbers for inconsistencies and phone your existing clients to confirm any transactions before wiring the money.
- Maintain a healthy skepticism and confirm any proposed transaction changes with both parties.
Minimize Your Risk of Being Targeted by Hackers
All lawyers need to visit websites, receive files and open documents as a part of their daily business, but these activities do present risk that you could be targeted by hackers. Phishing malware and ransomware are serious issues for businesses, particularly law firms, given the sensitive nature of your data and your ethical obligations. It’s important to stay alert.
- Prevention is the best strategy when it comes to phishing malware and ransomware attacks by hackers.
- Use strong encryption across phones, laptops and office workstations and password-protect important files.
- Be cautious when receiving unsolicited file attachments and unusual email messages, and take care when clicking on links in emails, forwarded documents and unfamiliar websites.
- Install updates for operating systems, browsers, extensions and add-ons and let your IT security handle any suspicious emails or attachments you receive.
- Keep separate secure offline backups of all your key business data and records.
- Hire a reputable expert to conduct a security assessment for the firm to make sure you’ve taken all the necessary precautions.
Being connected is key to running a law firm in the modern world, but it is critical to take note of the risks and prepare. You can ensure the successful operation of your legal practice and minimize your ethical risks.
Information provided by Lockton Affinity is not intended as legal advice.