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The Potential Volatility of Mobile Adoption within Law Offices

The American Bar Association (ABA) promotes the use of digital delivery to meet and maintain service expectations. This is due in part to a shift away from working in-office. The ABA’s 2016 TechReport survey found that over three-quarters of lawyers do work from home, over one-third while traveling, over one quarter remotely, and just one out of five at the courtrooms.

A whopping 27% of lawyers use their smartphone for work outside the office. Legal professionals were early adopters of mobile technology due in part to the release of the Blackberry. Yet, lawyers are stereotypically stubborn when it comes to the use of technology in their day-to-day needs.

This is changing.

With it comes a possible volatility in the privacy between attorney and client relations. Only 43% of lawyers surveyed in this report claim they have a mobile policy in place at their firm.

The security measures have a dire need. This need will increase through the widespread adoption of newer technologies and mobile operations.

The ABA have identified potential risks as:

  • Inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure
  • Metadata
  • The use of email from employer’s browser
  • Privacy with email
  • Confidentiality with online chat and social media

These concerns are found on common technology platforms and applications. Proactive solutions and policies have been introduced for many large and solo firms. These include:

Mobile & WiFi

Client information downloaded to a smartphone creates an ease of access for mobile work. The data stored on the phone is at risk due to connection to public WiFi, theft, and user faults.

The use of VPN is becoming commonplace due to PPTP and SSL encryption to create a safe funnel of information across networks. These VPNs create anonymity which could improve the attorney-client privilege from eavesdropping by third-parties.

Encryption

Email, the default communication tool for legal professionals, receives just 26% encryption from those surveyed in the report. Though, this is rapidly changing due to encryption added by Google and Yahoo in their email services. Another option is through online email portals within the firm’s secured server.

Full drive encryption is on the rise though remains lacking. Smartphone encryption is abysmal at just 16% of respondents reporting its usage.

Disaster Recovery

Stubbornness (or a lack of understanding) has only 38% of surveyed attorneys claiming to have disaster recovery plans and protocols. An overwhelming majority “don’t know” if they’ve experienced hard drive failures. While 13% have experienced a man-made or natural disaster.

The ABA recommends the use of cloud storage and local backups to secure data and provide access to important legal documents from within the applications/services.

Applications

The line blurs between the work and personal device. Sensitive information is transferred. Most legal professionals use their smartphones for personal use which has consequences when blindly installing applications from the marketplaces (or through an SDK).

If a firm allows BYOD it must dictate a policy outside the work hours. This includes a vetting of applications, services, and websites the individual may access. This will prevent potential phishing and malware.

Access Control

Password protection is a fortunate winner in mobile security among legal professionals. 95% of surveyed individuals responded the use of password usage and biometrics. 98% use passwords for desktops.

Password management services, such as LastPass or DashLane, could see a boom as professionals shift between their tech resources. These services use encrypted databases to improve access control. This adoption would greatly improve tech/privacy and BYOD policies.

Early Adopters, Late Practitioners

An amendment to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct has made it clear to increase competency with a lawyer’s ability to use technology. This set of guidelines has been adopted by dozens of states to maintain a practice of continual education in technology and legal requirements.

Fortunately, 81.4% of those surveyed in the ABA’s TechReport indicated this training to be “very important” though a shocking 18.9% say “not at all important”. These numbers will change due to the availability of training, competition, and competence.

Legal professionals may be early adopters to the use of mobile technologies but they’re certainly late practitioners of using the tools effectively. Though, this will change in time.

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