Best Practices for Protecting Client File Privacy in the Legal Sector
The legal sector is comprised of law firms of all sizes, independent legal practitioners, and legal departments within organizations. Although this describes a vast array of legal offices, what ties them all together is that the legal workforce is responsible for high volumes of sensitive client information. Client files often contain the full gamut of personally identifiable information (PII) – from medical records to banking history and credit card numbers – placing the legal sector in the unique position of being under several compliance regulations when it comes to handling said data.
Whereas regulations like HIPAA govern the exchange, storage, and auditing of PII for the healthcare industry, and regulations like SOX do the same for the financial sector, organizations in the legal sector can be subject to fines and penalties from both of these regulatory bodies and more. In a recent blog, we took a look at the inherent risks involved in transmitting client info via email. Taking the time to understand the threats linked with email use is a great first step, but email risks are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the possibilities of a data breach. If you work in the legal sector, this article aims to look at the broader picture and provide a few best practices you can apply around the office to keep client files safe.
Perform an IT Audit and Update your Software
Is your legal practice still using Windows XP? Despite the rising prevalence of data breaches due to unpatched and/or unsupported software with highly exploitable vulnerabilities, many companies still don’t see the need to upgrade to newer systems. After the WannaCry attacks in May, 2017, Microsoft provided legacy Windows platforms that were no longer receiving standard support, including Windows XP, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2003 with a security update. It was revealed that at the time of the attack, there were over 100 million legacy windows systems still in use around the world.
Regardless of your current operating system, outdated technology puts your legal practice, and all the sensitive data within, at huge risk. You can have strong data governance policies in place and all your other organizational ducks in a row, but if you’re running an outdated OS, hackers can and will exploit such vulnerabilities. Don’t let this happen to you.
Digitize Legal Records
Transitioning to a completely paperless legal office may seem like a daunting task. Look around and you’ll likely see paper documents all over the place: client letters, court filings, case notes and more. Regulations like HIPAA for the healthcare industry are pushing organizations in the direction of electronically managing and filing records containing PII for several reasons. Paper file management is time consuming, costly, and leaves too much room for human error in a time where data breaches are so prevalent. Surprisingly though, a significant amount of legal practices still resorts to paper filing for their legal records, mostly because up until recently, practices involved in litigations have been required to print, bind, and share thick stacks of paper related to court cases.
Luckily, many courts today are adopting electronic filing and services. This enables legal practices to transmit documents directly to a court’s case management system where it can be distributed to any other parties involved.
Transitioning to a paperless environment doesn’t happen overnight, but most of today’s paralegal training incorporates digital filing and systems management, making it easier for law firms of all sizes to hire the right help. Legal practices that print and collate files for long-term storage may want to consider secure cloud-based storage and sharing services. Even in-house servers take up way less space than your average paper filing cabinet, and greatly reduce the likelihood of unauthorized parties accessing client files.
Make your Document Transmissions Paperless
The fax machine is the most paper-intensive communication technology still in use, and it’s still going strong in the legal sector. Not only is it costly to maintain a fax machine, its leaves the details of client files up for grabs, whether documents are left lying around in plain sight, or the fax machine at the receiving end of your transmissions is left unattended. Email and scanning technology have their own list of security risks and have therefore not made outdated fax technology obsolete. A range of fax services, including fax over internet protocol (FoIP) solutions have made a tremendous impact on organizational efficiency in recent years, allowing users to send and receive secure faxes directly from their PCs, laptops, and mobile devices. This means no more printing is required, and the legal workforce can securely send their documents while on-the-go – a relief for those rushing to make their next courtroom appearance.
Want to learn more about FoIP and secure file exchange solutions that can simplify document management, improve compliance, and boost security for your client files? Speak with an expert today about which solution would meet your specific business needs!