Legal professionals, even in times lacking deadly pandemics and the precautions they require, face many challenges—from new technical regulations and cyberthreats to changing practices and laws. The coronavirus pandemic has only increased the uncertainty and precarity felt by many in the legal community. Planning for your law firm’s business continuity during natural and man-made disasters is essential to maintaining your firm’s operations, decreasing the anxiety of employees during the event, and ultimately, returning society to a new normal.
Over the past four months, we have worked closely with many in the legal community to help overcome obstacles to providing services to clients after the unexpected issuance of stay-at-home/shelter-in-place orders throughout the United States. We listened and gained insight as to how to best position law firms for operational resiliency in uncertain times.
Our discussions with clients and colleagues over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic illuminated the areas in which many felt their firms were well- or underprepared to continuing providing the expected level of service to clients. Here are a few of the most common obstacles we found legal professionals encountering, and our suggestions for overcoming or removing them.
Business Continuity Plans
As it has for large swaths of the economy, the novel coronavirus pandemic offered many U.S.-based law firms their first opportunity to put their business continuity plans to the test. Whether firm leadership relied on established, written-down plans or winged it with ad hoc fixes as problems arose, the sudden issuance of various stay-at-home/shelter-in-place orders (and the sputtering reopening) has driven home the need for planning to continue operations under less-than-ideal or expected conditions.
Recent experiences prove that organizations with business continuity and disaster recovery plans in place are better prepared for operational resiliency in times of destabilized uncertainty.
Working from Home/Remote Access
The rapid transition to working from home presented some difficulties for law firms that had postponed moving anything to the cloud. Requests for server farms and links to access remote systems skyrocketed. Fortunately, as an almost entirely remote company, we were able to continue our own operations and help many firms bridge their technological gaps so they could get back to work.
We have long recognized and advocated that firms able to move some of their operations to the cloud should do so. This is now clear to most firms. In fact, we have heard from several clients that they were surprised—delighted even—at how easy it was for many of their employees to quickly begin working from home.
Videoconferencing and other virtual meeting options were also high on the list of immediate implementations requested by many firms in the first weeks of the pandemic. The sudden growth in the number of Zoom users—from 10 million to more than 200 million in just three months, according to VentureBeat—illuminated the dangers lurking in the shadows of working from home, though.
Cybersecurity, COVID-19, and Computers
As the Zoom user base rapidly exploded, cybercriminals and other hackers took advantage of latent security vulnerabilities in the company’s software. While Zoom patched its platform, these incidents exposed the hazards present when law firm employees are outside the office network and possibly using noncorporate, unmanaged devices.
Conducting business using a child’s iPad over an insecure home network is not unheard of within our remote support logs. It also is not conducive to practicing proper information security. Unfortunately, we found a surprising number of firms not prepared to provide their professionals with the needed laptops and other equipment to effectively serve clients from home.
Further, rarely—if ever—will you find a managed service provider prepared to service and support all possible devices. This indicates that firms should be looking at offering their professionals the tools needed to achieve their goals no matter where they may be.
The New Normal and Information Security
Overall, our experiences during the initial stages of the pandemic suggest most law firms were able to begin serving clients again within days of being forced to close their offices. As courts begin to slowly reopen, even if only virtually, ensuring legal professionals continue their work with heightened security awareness is key. Cybercriminals are actively taking advantage of the confusion caused by so many changes and so much uncertainty occurring simultaneously.
Law firms should be enforcing two-factor authentication policies, reviewing who has access to their systems and information and training all employees to be security-sensitive and conscious of risks in the office, at court, and in their homes. Effective operational resiliency requires not crippling one’s organization by overlooking simple things when planning to survive disasters.
As the world slowly comes to terms with a new normal, cybersecurity remains a key area for improvement for the legal industry. Business continuity and disaster recovery planning are likewise areas many law firms will now look to engage in. This is one of the few positive outcomes of our current pandemic.
About the Author
Ted Glutz is Innovative Computing Systems’director of sales and marketing, with nearly 40 years of experience working with attorneys. Contact him on Twitter @tedglutz.