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Stupid Mistakes Lawyers Make with Technology

By Sharon Nelson and John Simek

Given everything they have to do to keep their practices going and their clients well served, lawyers typically can’t be expected to be full-on tech experts. Nonetheless, some of the basic rules that many fail to follow are amazing. Wow.

This could be an epic novel—but no worries, we will restrain ourselves to a few of the top gaffes for this post. Here, then, are the things we see most often in law offices that make us crazy.

  1. The computer stays on at night for remote access with no screen-saver password set up. This is fine if you’d like to invite the janitorial staff to load your network with pornography or otherwise browse your files at will.
  2. The machine never gets turned off. Computers, you have noticed, are imperfect. Processes don’t terminate the way they should, applications get tangled, and the user’s tendency to have 15 programs running at once tends to create collisions. Basically, lots of stuff hangs around impeding the performance of your machine. The fix is easy: Either turn it off every night or, if you need it for remote access, turn it off when you go to lunch. Once a day is the rule.
  3. The passwords are too short to be secure. Nowadays passwords need to be 12 characters long—there should be no exceptions to this anymore. Anyone with any IT sophistication can crack an 8-character password with current tools, no matter what it is, in less than two hours. But with 12 characters, it will take 17 years to crack. Most bad guys can’t wait that long. Make it easy on yourself and create a passphrase—for example, GoingonanAlaskancruisein2011! is perfect and easy to remember.
  4. Passwords are kept in overly obvious places. It seems many are pathetic when it comes to remembering their passwords and log-on IDs. We find passwords taped on monitors, under keyboards and in the top right-hand drawer of the lawyer’s desk. We would guess that the bad guys can figure those places out, too.
  5. There’s illegal software on the computers. Being penny wise and pound foolish is far too common—i.e., the installation of illegal software in law offices is horrifying. The Business Software Alliance is not amused by illegal software. And at $150,000 per copyright violation, you are unlikely to be amused if it’s discovered in your office. By the way, most of the BSA’s tip-offs come from employees. Do all of your employees adore you?
  6. Backup media goes bad. Inevitably. No matter what kind of backup you use (and shame on you if you’re not backing up), you must—absolutely must—do test restores of the data to ensure that all is well. That is true even if you are using an online backup provider. We once saw a major online backup provider lose five years of law firm data—and, you guessed it, they had never done a test restore.
  7. Autocomplete is used without restraint. Autocomplete is the Outlook function that helpfully suggests an e-mail address when you begin to type. Unfortunately, it isn’t always the right address. (In the past week alone, we’ve received three e-mails meant for other people.) One option is to simply turn Autocomplete off. But a different option for those who like Autocomplete is to do this as a firm rule: Whenever you finish preparing an e-mail, take your hands off the keyboard until you have verified that the addresses on the e-mail are really those of your intended recipients. Without this rule, you too could be among the hordes of lawyers who have, at the very least, embarrassed themselves. On the harsher end, one lawyer who meant to send a very important e-mail to co-counsel ended up sending it to a New York Times reporter instead! So, again, take your hands off the keyboard.
  8. There’s no PIN on the lawyer’s smartphone. Remember that rule about keeping client data confidential? How lazy can you get? If you don’t have a PIN on your smartphone, run, do not walk, and get one installed.

It’s funny how easy it was to come up with these eight. Maybe we’ll have to do a Part II.

Sharon D. Nelson and John W. Simek are the President and Vice President of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a digital forensics, legal technology and information security firm based in Fairfax, VA. Popular speakers and authors, they have written several books and articles, including The 2011 Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide (ABA Law Practice Management Section). Sharon also writes the electronic evidence blog, Ride the Lightning.

Illustration © Image Zoo.

Categories: Daily Dispatch, Legal Technology
Originally published March 17, 2011
Last updated October 19, 2019
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