The digital age has come to change quite a bit about how we do things, from driving and recreating to manufacturing, performing maintenance and, yes, even practicing the law.
Online and digital tools and technologies have a lot to offer the modern professional. But entering the digital age and using cloud technologies to the best effect means cybersecurity is now your concern just like it's everybody else's — and possibly to an even greater extent, if recent European legislation becomes widely popular and continues to change what clients expect of the companies and professionals they do business with.
Let's look at some real-world advantages of building and scaling a legal-focused business using a strong technological backbone that doesn't sacrifice security robustness for convenience.
1. The Cloud
The legal community is turning expectations on their heads. According to surveys, the smaller the law firm is, the likelier that firm is to take advantage of cloud computing, which puts to rest the idea that higher technologies are only for bigger corporations. If anything, it's growing from the ground up as smaller outfits prove their applicability in law first, and then larger entities make high-tech changes themselves.
Smaller law firms, including solo firms, have even more to gain from cloud and mobile computing than some of the larger companies. Maybe some smaller firms have a larger presence in the field than they do in any one commercial location — and they need the details and documents of their cases to follow them wherever their travels take them.
But it goes further than that, too. Cloud tools let independent and medium-sized law firms engage in backup and data recovery, which adds a layer of cybersecurity and general-purpose peace of mind. Even if you're never the target of a cyber-crime — and there's no reason to assume that will remain the case — any natural disaster can claim your data, too, without some kind of remote backup or database tool already spun up and running for just such an occasion.
Database tools and client management suites delivered via the cloud, as in "software as a service," is another vital tool for keeping track of contacts, documents, finances and billing, and your security legal due diligence. Engaging a SaaS vendor comes at a price, but it frees you from the need of an in-house IT and security department in many cases, and ensures your systems receive the latest updates as soon as they become available — though not at an inconvenient, workflow-interrupting time.
2. Secure Online Messaging
There are many online messaging platforms. Most of the world's smartphone makers have a proprietary one, and then there's SMS messaging, Facebook, Skype and more. Where to begin? And, just as importantly: What's the secure choice?
Unfortunately, even email isn't a reliably secure choice, which is why many law firms, even small ones, are turning to secure online messaging systems instead of using email or one of the other major messaging platforms, all of which are equally suspect for similar, security-minded reasons.
Secure online messaging systems for client-to-lawyer communication are an increasingly popular inclusion in online client portals among software vendors for legal purposes. These portals also feature tools that facilitate the exchange of paperwork and digital signatures, invoicing, billing and others.
3. Mobile Computing for Administrative Busywork
It's hard to understate the influence of mobile computing on our daily lives — and legal professionals are hardly exempt from that. These days, it’s probably more accurate to call mobile computing ubiquitous computing — because it's everywhere. Lawyers and others who do work in the field collecting evidence, data and testimony already know the value of having their legal and professional lives available for easy recall on their handheld devices.
A survey by the American Bar Association found among legal professionals, having easy access to time tracking, billing input and expense tracking via mobile devices and apps were the most popular uses of mobile technology, including tablets and phones.
It might seem like there's no place left to go when it comes to tablets and smartphones. What current or future innovations might interest tech-savvy lawyers? And what will the future tablet or smartphone offer that it doesn't currently? As useful as digital technologies and computers are, the legal profession doesn't lean on them as much, relatively speaking, as a variety of other industries.
But they remain steady companions to lawyers, paralegals and adjusters of all backgrounds. Among other statistics, 93 percent of lawyers report using smartphones to carry out work-related tasks.
There's already a host of dictation software tools available — but how about a modern tablet that can replace pocket notebooks with a stylus that writes convincingly like a pencil or pen on the surface of a smartphone? Something like that might be the final "paperless" push we're all waiting for, and it could do away with the ubiquitous yellow legal pad — if we can bear to part with an industry staple.
4. Increased Oversight and Higher Expectations for Cybersecurity
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is having an effect far beyond the UK. The interconnectedness of the global economy is holding professionals of all kinds, from all over the world, to ever-higher standards when it comes to safekeeping their customers' and clients' information.
Strong, pro-privacy legislation has a lot of consequences, and one is it forces many business owners and professionals, including law firms, to adapt. That's also an advantage of such legislation: It elevates your ideals and gives you one more way to ensure your clients' peace of mind.
Any legal practice is naturally going to hold a sizable amount of client information, and GDPR and laws like it are, for better and worse, forcing some out-of-date practices to partner with outside vendors for security solutions, secure offsite data storage and other services for compliance purposes.
On one hand, this might constitute another expense and budget item. On the other hand, it's not just about compliance: It's about ensuring your practice can grow into the future confidently, without loose ends, back doors or slapdash security solutions along the way.
5. Personal Devices, 2FA, Closing Thoughts
Some of the tools we talked about above come with risks, advantages and liabilities, many of which we touched on. But let's circle back to the idea that you're probably using personal devices for some of your legal work. There's nothing wrong with that. And your use of commercial email services, web hosting services and others might differ from somebody else's, even in your same discipline.
One general good practice, though, no matter how many digital services you use in your work, is to look for, and turn on, two-factor authentication, or 2FA. Some of the tools you use in the course of your weekly caseload are third-party tools with a set of logins and credentials. Look in the settings for two-factor authentication whenever you need to get to know a new online tool.
Turn this feature on so even if somebody gets their hands on your password, they'll need to respond using a secondary measure, like an SMS or email. That’s something only you will be able to do.
Another wise investment is a password manager, a tool that helps you organize and retain strong passwords for all your web properties and online tools. Several modern web browsers and operating systems have built-in password management systems, but there are also cross-platform options if you need additional flexibility.
Finally, as always, remember to do due diligence any time you're considering trusting an outside party with some or all your IT, digital infrastructure or cybersecurity needs. That means looking for credible testimonials. It also means knowing what to look for when you're bringing IT and cybersecurity talent on board permanently.