I know what you are thinking: don’t I have enough on my plate right now without making New Year’s resolutions? I agree. That’s why I have chosen a few very simple suggestions that might actually make your life a little simpler. Some of these resolutions, I mean, suggestions, also help you stay out of ethics trouble (win-win!). They are in no particular order of importance – start with the easiest for you to do.
Get a password manager. We already know that passwords need to be complicated in order to be strong and we shouldn’t use the same one more than once (or write them on sticky notes or store them in Word file). The solution is a password manager. There are lots of good free and cheap password managers. Need to create a new password? Tell the password manager how long your want it and if you want to use letters, numbers, special characters, or all three. The password manager will create a password and save it for you. Later, when you visit that website and have to login, the password manager can fill in the information for you. All you need to remember is your login and password for the password manager! Popular password managers include Dashlane, LastPass, 1Password, and Roboform. You can also see if your internet security software offers a password manager – many do.
Start using two factor or multi-factor authentication (MFA). I know that sounds techie, but stay with me. The easiest way to explain 2FA or MFA is to tell you that you’ve probably already used it. Log in to most financial institutions and you have to enter your password and then perform a second step, such as entering a code you receive on your phone by text. Voila! That’s MFA! Start adding this extra security layer now with all your email accounts. If you have a Google account, set up “2-Step Verification.” Not sure how? Google it. For the rest of the year, when you login to any of your online accounts or websites, look for instructions on how to set up MFA (and don’t forget that new password manager can store those logins and passwords). Trust me on this one, it may be the best and easiest way to protect yourself from hackers and safeguard client confidentiality.
Check Google My Business. Yes, that’s actually what Google named their free marketing service. Do this: Google your law firm. Alongside the usual results list, you’ll see a block with photos, a map view, your firm address, phone, and other information. This is a free business listing and you need to “claim” it if you haven’t already. Click “Own this business?” or “Claim this business.” Do it, because if you don’t, someone else may and you may not like what they do next. But that’s not the only reason to claim it. You’ll be able to correct and add information and take other steps to help clients find you better.
Try not to email clients anything confidential. Email fraud can occur when a lawyer emails details about a case to clients and other parties. If one of the people has had their email breached, the hacker may be watching email exchanges waiting for an opportune moment to intervene. This usually happens once they learn about money changing hands. They’ll spoof one of the parties’ email address and send their own settlement offer or bank routing instructions. If you need to discuss a case, use a client portal in a practice management program. If you’re using a cloud practice management program such as Clio, MyCase, Cosmolex, Rocket Matter (etc.) talk to the provider about how to set up secure portals for clients. Besides being more secure, clients appreciate being able to see how their case is progressing.
Make sure that you have cyber insurance. According to a 2019 survey by the American Bar Association, one in four law firms have experienced a security breach. General liability and professional liability insurance policies may not cover all the costs of a cyber incident. Talk to your carrier and find out what your policies cover. Most lawyers discover that they need to add a cyber liability policy. Whether you are shopping for cyber insurance or reviewing your current policy, there are numerous articles on the internet outlining the claims that are frequently denied or not covered by cyber insurance, so read policies carefully.
Hire a virtual receptionist. Clients hire law firms that have a live human answering the phone. For many small firms, a virtual receptionist/answering service can be a lifesaver. Banish the idea of the impersonal answering service your doctor uses after hours. Today’s virtual receptionists can help you all day by handling tasks a real receptionist would do. There are many companies to choose from, including Call Experts, Smith.AI, Ruby, and LexReception.
Call the Bar for free help. The South Carolina Bar has lawyers on staff to answer questions about practice management (including technology), ethics, fee disputes, pro bono opportunities, and more. Bonus resolution: join a Bar section or committee for your practice area and take advantage of the free listserv!
By Courtney Troutman
Practice Management Assistance Program
South Carolina Bar