Law firms are particularly susceptible to cybersecurity attacks as they store highly sensitive information regarding their clients and their court cases. Cybercriminals target law firms in the hope that they can infiltrate their systems, exfiltrate their data, then hold the firm to ransom for large sums of money. According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, 75% of law firms have been the target of a cyber-attack. The SRA also found that 23 of 30 cases they analysed involved more than £4m of stolen client money.
Successful cybersecurity breaches are highly damaging for any business, however, attacks like these are particularly costly for law firms. The financial impact can be devastating, particularly for smaller firms, and the reputational impact could result in some firms going out of business.
Reducing the threat posed by cybercrime involves rigid compliance with the regulations, high-quality cybersecurity solutions, and training. For law firms based in the UK, there are various laws they must be compliant with. Here we look at the key regulations and guidelines, together with information on how firms can better protect themselves.
Regulations and Guidelines for Law Firms in the UK
Achieving and surpassing cybersecurity compliance requires consideration of the following laws, regulations, and industry standards. All firms based in the UK need to consider, create procedures and technical measures around, the following:
- The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – While the GDPR is a European Union (EU) regulation, the UK has adopted its principles into domestic law after Brexit, with the UK GDPR. This regulation is all about the protection and free movement of personal data. Law firms, which often handle a lot of sensitive personal information, need to ensure they comply with GDPR requirements concerning data protection, data breaches, and the rights of data subjects.
- The Data Protection Act 2018 – This UK-specific legislation complements and fills in the gaps of the UK GDPR. It provides more detailed provisions on data processing, data subject rights, and enforcement.
- The Network and Information Systems (NIS) Regulations 2018 – This regulation aims to raise the security standards of network and information systems across various sectors. While primarily targeting essential service providers and digital service providers, its focus on promoting cybersecurity can have implications for law firms as well.
- Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Standards and Regulations – The SRA sets standards for solicitors in England and Wales. As part of these standards, there are requirements relating to the protection of client money and data, which have cybersecurity implications. Law firms are obliged to report any breaches of these standards to the SRA.
- Cyber Essentials – While not a regulation per se, Cyber Essentials is a UK government-backed scheme that sets out a baseline of cybersecurity for businesses. Achieving Cyber Essentials certification can demonstrate a firm’s commitment to cybersecurity, potentially providing a competitive advantage and reducing risk.
- Legal Professional Privilege – While not a cybersecurity regulation, it’s worth noting that law firms have an ethical and legal obligation to protect communications between lawyers and their clients. Failing to maintain strong cybersecurity could compromise this privilege.
- Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) Regulations – For law firms involved in certain financial transactions or advising on them, the FCA’s rules and guidance around data security may be relevant.
- Other Industry-Specific Guidelines and Regulations – Depending on the areas of practice, law firms may also need to be aware of cybersecurity requirements in specific industries (for example, if they are dealing with healthcare or financial services clients).
For further information on maintaining cybersecurity compliance in the legal sector, this June 2023 report by the National Cyber Security Centre is very useful.
How can law firms ensure their cybersecurity procedures are compliant with all the regulations?
Key steps UK firms can take to improve their cybersecurity postures include the following:
Understand the Regulations
The first step is understanding which regulations apply to your law firm. For all UK-based firms, the GDPR, the Data Protection Act 2018, and SRA regulations are essential. Engage in regular legal and regulatory updates, training, and consultations.
Conduct a Risk Assessment
Identify where personal and sensitive data is stored, processed, and transmitted within the firm. Assess current cybersecurity measures and identify vulnerabilities. Use this information to prioritise areas of improvement.
Develop and Implement Policies
- Data protection policy – Outline how personal data should be processed and stored.
- Incident response plan – Detail the steps to be taken in the event of a data breach or cyberattack.
- Access control policy – Define who has access to which data and systems.
- BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy – If staff use personal devices for work, outline the security measures they must follow.
- Implement Firewall and Intrusion Detection/Prevention Systems – To protect against unauthorised access.
- Use Encryption – Encrypt sensitive data, both at rest and in transit.
- Regular Backups – Ensure data is regularly backed up and that backups are stored securely.
- Multi-factor Authentication – Implement MFA for accessing the firm’s systems, especially for remote access.
- Regularly Update and Patch Systems – Keep all software, including operating systems and applications, up to date.
Training and Awareness
Regularly train staff on cybersecurity best practices and the firm’s policies. This should cover topics like spotting phishing emails, proper data handling, and password best practices.
Vendors and Third Parties
Ensure that third-party vendors, such as cloud providers or IT service providers, also comply with the relevant regulations. This can be done through contractual clauses, audits, or third-party certifications.
Periodically review and audit your cybersecurity measures to ensure compliance. This can be done internally or with the help of external experts.
Prepare for potential breaches by having a clear incident response plan. This should include processes for containment, eradication, recovery, and communication with stakeholders (including regulatory notifications if needed).
Consider cybersecurity or cyber liability insurance to mitigate financial risks associated with potential breaches or cyberattacks.
The cybersecurity landscape, as well as regulations, are constantly evolving. Stay informed about new threats, best practices, and any changes in relevant regulations.
It can be beneficial to hire or consult with cybersecurity experts or legal consultants specialising in cybersecurity regulations. At help4IT, we provide a range of cybersecurity solutions that meet regulatory compliance requirements for the legal sector. Book a risk assessment with us today or visit our law firm IT support page for further details.