Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

One in 5 Law Firms Hacked Last Year

hackersFirst, the bad news: 22 percent of law firms experienced a cyberattack or data breach in 2017 – up from 14 percent a year ago.

Now the good news: lawyers – more so than other professionals – have gotten the message and are taking cybersecurity seriously.

These are two takeaways from the ABA 2017 Legal Technology Survey.

“Confidential data in computers and information systems, including those used by attorneys and law firms, faces greater security threats today than ever before,” says Pittsburgh PA attorney David Ries, who writes for the ABA on cybersecurity and privacy issues. “And they continue to grow.”

Other key findings: 11 percent of law firms had to notify their clients of a data breach in 2017, and 17 percent reported an incident to law enforcement.

The 2017 Legal Technology Survey is divided into six volumes:

  • Technology Basics and Security
  • Law Office Technology
  • Litigation Technology and E-Discovery
  • Marketing and Communication Technology
  • Online Research
  • Mobile Lawyers

You can purchase the survey here for $350 ($300 for ABA members). Or you can save money by reading ABA TechReport 2017, a series of articles written by members of the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center that combine survey data with expert analysis, tips and predictions.

Good News for Solo Lawyers

In prior surveys, the frequency of cyberattacks increased with the size of the firm. Last year, however, that trend did not hold.

Firms with 10-49 attorneys were most frequently attacked (35 percent), followed by firms of 50-99 attorneys (33 percent) and firms of 2-9 attorneys (27 percent). Twenty-three percent of large firms with 500 or more lawyers were attacked. Solos had the lowest incidence of 10 percent.

And while every attack likely caused heart palpitations within the firm, few of them resulted in client information being actually misused.

“The most serious consequence of a security breach for a law firm would most likely be unauthorized access to sensitive client data,” writes Ries. “The 2017 Survey shows a very low incidence of this result for firms that experienced a breach—about 1 percent overall, slightly down from last year. The reports of unauthorized access to client data by firms that experienced a breach show none for solos and firms with 2-9, 50-99, and 100-499. While the percentages are low, any exposure of client data can be a major disaster for a law firm and its clients.”

Cyber Insurance is Hot

The survey also found that firms are increasingly purchasing cyber liability insurance, since their professional liability policies likely do not cover data breaches.

Twenty-six percent of firms said they had cyber coverage. While that figure is still relatively small, it is a significant increase from 2016 (17 percent) and 2015 (11 percent).

“A review of the need for cyber insurance coverage should be a part of the risk assessment process for law firms of all sizes,” Ries says.

Click here to learn more about cyber insurance options.

The bottom line: data security is not a “one-and-done” proposition. It is an ongoing process that requires education, teamwork and awareness.

What steps are you taking to protect your data?



Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. During the course of his 35- year career, he has been a solo practitioner, corporate lawyer, legal editor, Legal Aid staff attorney and insurance risk manager. Today he helps lawyers and firms succeed through marketing, work-life balance and reclaiming passion for what they do. He is available for consultations, retreats and presentations ( Contact or 919-619-2441 to learn how Jay can help your practice.







About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

Read More by Jay >

Related Posts