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Cybersecurity for law firms: going beyond the basics

Cybersecurity is a growing concern for law firms, with many practices victimized by costly cyberattacks. Does your practice want to move beyond the “concern” stage and actually enact cybersecurity measures?

Then you will also need to move beyond simply having a vague awareness of cyber threats. Instead, you will need some actionable ideas to combat those threats.

Here we break down what specific cyber risks you should be prepared for. Then we go through some steps you can take to improve your firm’s cybersecurity.

What are the cyber risks law firms should be aware of?

Cyber attacks can come from within the firm or externally. The following are some specific cyber risks for legal practices.

Data breaches

A data breach at a law firm can result in the theft of highly sensitive client data.

If a cybercriminal can access the firm’s system, they are able to collect whatever data you have stored there and potentially distribute it to other parties who shouldn’t have access.

These attacks can occur for either financial gain by selling that information to a third party, or for retaliation. The hacker may also use the stolen data as leverage to collect a ransom payment.

If your firm is part of a data breach, immediate action will be necessary

Phishing attacks

Phishing attacks involve scam messages, usually in the form of emails or texts, that seek to trick recipients into taking some harmful action.

The message could simply lure the recipient into clicking on a link or downloading software that compromises the system. Alternatively, the person could be asked to input login information for the law firm’s system or an email account.

A phishing attack is one of the most common ways that hackers gain access to your system, either by using it to collect your login data or trick you into installing software that gives them access. Alternatively, the hacker might use the information they gather to ask you for payment, such as sending you a fake invoice for outstanding payments to a vendor.


Ransomware is malicious software that could be uploaded to a firm’s computer system.

A ransomware attack can steal sensitive information, cut off access for users, or otherwise disable your computer system. The hackers can then demand a ransom to restore the system to normal.

Phishing attacks are a common method of delivering ransomware.

You might also pick up ransomware by clicking links on someone’s hacked website, or from social media messages that come from hacked users. If you ever get an unexpected message from a social media friend asking you to click a link to see a video or “check this out,” don’t click on it until you’ve talked to them through a different communication method and verified that they really did send that message.

Password theft

Another common cybersecurity risk is password theft.

This theft is often due to the usage of weak passwords, which are more easily stolen or guessed. Using your pet’s name, your anniversary, or highly common passwords like Password123! make you especially vulnerable.

Your firm members should not be reusing passwords for different systems. In addition, your passwords should not be easy to guess, and they should be reset regularly.

What steps can a law firm take for improved cybersecurity?

Now that we have outlined some of the common cyber threats, let’s review some steps a legal practice can take to guard against them.

Conduct a risk assessment

A firm should conduct regular risk assessments to identify any key vulnerabilities for cyberattacks.

Your risk assessment can be performed by your existing IT department or an outside vendor. If you don’t have an IT department, it’s even more crucial that you consider getting an expert opinion.

The greatest advantage of a third party performing the assessment is their expertise and status as independent consultants outside the firm. Outside vendors will also use specialized cybersecurity scanning tools to which your firm might not have access.

Explore software and technology solutions

Cybersecurity is ultimately a technology problem, so it makes sense that it would have technology and software solutions.

One key step is for a firm to adopt cloud-based technology.

Cloud-based platforms and solutions are generally more secure than on-premises software and servers. Providers of this software have teams dedicated to ensuring their ongoing security, and they regularly issue updates and patches for any vulnerabilities.

Also be sure to evaluate the security of any tech solutions you implement.

Work only with legal technology providers who prioritize security. Evaluate their security settings and ask about their dedicated security teams. Remember that you are potentially liable for a security incident that affects your clients even if it is not directly your fault.

Adopt best practices for security

A legal practice can adopt one or more common best practices for digital security.

We have already mentioned password management to ensure all passwords are strong. This is one of the simplest and most important steps you can take to keep your systems and data secure.

In addition, your firm should regularly check permissions — the level of access each employee has — and update them accordingly. Delete accounts when people leave the law firm, and never assign administrator permissions to any employee who doesn’t need that level of access.

Multi-factor authentication can also be implemented for certain levels of access, where the user must present at least two forms of identification — a common example is a text message to a phone with a unique code.

Also ensure the firm has a backup system to quickly recover any stolen or inaccessible data.

Implement cybersecurity training for employees

Security awareness training for your firm’s employees is a critical first step to ensuring that your cybersecurity efforts are worthwhile.

These sessions can keep legal professionals and other staff updated on the firm’s security protocols and best practices. Training often includes activities such as phishing simulations which will test your team and ensure they can handle security in real-world situations.

Often, the best protection is awareness. If everyone on your team knows that clicking on a suspicious link could lead to a virus or ransomware being installed in your law firm systems, they’re a lot more likely to be cautious about situations that could lead to a security breach.

Establish an incident response plan

A must-have for effective cybersecurity at a legal practice is the establishment of an incident response plan (IRP).

Your IRP will outline all the steps and procedures the firm will take in response to any security breach. Include the initial response to the incident, the steps taken to notify any necessary parties, and recovery back to a pre-incident normal to the greatest extent possible.

For larger organizations, this process will also require the creation of an incident response team (IRT).

An effective IRT will likely include personnel from multiple departments to act as the designated persons to implement the IRP. The IRT should then have periodic training and testing to ensure they are up to speed in the event of an emergency.

How much security does a law firm need?

While every firm needs some cybersecurity measures in place, the extent of such measures will vary widely depending on firm size.

For example, larger firms might have a full-time chief information security officer (CISO) while smaller firms might simply rely on the IT team. Solo practitioners necessarily take on this responsibility themselves.

Generally speaking, the larger the firm, the greater risk, and therefore the more need for full-time employees or officers dedicated to security.

A legal practice cannot afford to take cybersecurity lightly. With the right steps such as those summarized here, a law firm can rest assured that it is doing its best to maintain security in a hyper-connected digital world.


  • Mike Robinson

    After a fifteen-year legal career in business and healthcare finance litigation, Mike Robinson now crafts compelling content that explores topics around technology, litigation, and process improvements in the legal industry.

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