Bar News - September 20, 2017
From the Editor: Help for Solos and Small Firms in NH
By: Kristen Senz
More than 57 percent of the 3,468 practicing, New Hampshire-based members of the NH Bar Association work in firms or organizations with five or fewer attorneys, according to NHBA records from July 2017. Those attorneys account for more than 80 percent of all New Hampshire law firms. Yet our surveys have shown that many solos and small-firm lawyers find it difficult to avail themselves of services provided by the NHBA, often because of geography or time constraints.
Last year, the NHBA surveyed a representative sample of its membership to help prioritize the benefits and services it offers. The accelerating pace of change in the legal profession and advancement in technology means the Bar Association must consistently reevaluate its efforts to provide appropriate support to New Hampshire attorneys across various practice settings. Of those surveyed, 27 percent were sole practitioners and 40 percent practice in firms with 2-10 attorneys. Among those respondents, information security was one of the top two concerns about the future, with “cost of benefits” being the other. Many of these respondents said it would be helpful if the Bar provided assistance in “understanding technology” and resources related to cloud computing and data security.
Most of New Hampshire’s larger law firms, like most medium-size businesses today, employ information technology professionals. Some have even invested in whole business units designed to leverage leading-edge litigation tools that make use of machine learning technology. But given the lower hourly rates in rural parts of the state, combined with changing client expectations and high levels of student loan debt, many solo and small-firm attorneys in New Hampshire do not have an IT professional in the office every day, and some may not yet be financially able to contract with one. I know this because I have had the pleasure of working with and talking to dozens of New Hampshire attorneys in firms large and small over these past few years as editor of Bar News.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, having reviewed the statistics reported above, I am making an effort this year to develop some Bar News content that is specifically geared toward solo and small-firm lawyers, starting with the “Solo and Small Firm Cybersecurity Guide” that you will find in the center of this month’s issue. This Bar News supplement contains ethical guidance, along with practical tech tips and resources, designed to help attorneys working in small firms improve data security right now. The two main articles in the guide were written by experts in New Hampshire and aim to answer these two questions:
Why should small-firm attorneys pay more attention to information security practices?
How can they increase the security of their data and communications without spending a pile of money on software and contractors?
By employing a specific data-security mindset and free or low-cost resources, sole practitioners and small firms can comply with the NH Rules of Professional Conduct, increase protection of communications and work product, and avoid hacks and malware attacks. Sure, a security breach at a small New Hampshire law firm probably won’t make headlines, but it might negatively affect other lines – like deadlines and bottom lines.
I hope you find the cybersecurity guide useful and that you might even stash it in your desk for future reference. Look for a PDF version online later this fall with live links to the resources provided. On a related note, please also heed the important warning about potential border searches of attorneys’ devices that Mona Movafaghi writes about on the next page. As the expectation of privacy becomes more elusive, protecting data and devices will require increasing vigilance.
Regardless of your practice area or practice setting, I hope you will find something in this issue that is relevant and useful for you. Please feel free to drop me a line and let me know your thoughts about the cybersecurity guide, other content in this issue, or about how Bar News and the NHBA can better serve members. I would especially appreciate hearing from some of the 2,000 subscribers who practice alone or in small firms.
– Kristen Senz
P.S. This is my first editor’s column, but I plan to write more. I hope it will be helpful in providing context and sharing additional perspectives with you.