Some tips to get you wired, and secure

No matter which way you turn, chances are you use some type of technology during your workday. Here are some tips to help you keep that technology serving you well.

Outsourcing

Start by outsourcing everything you can. Since lawyers typically bill for their work at higher rates than those charged by IT service professionals, outsourcing IT responsibilities can be more cost-effective than the DIY approach.

Michael Forcier raves about his nerd (a Nerds On Site representative). “He learned PC Law, he learned our accounting system,” says the Owen Sound, Ont.-based sole practitioner, adding that the nerd pulls up in his little red Volkswagen within a few hours of Forcier’s support call.

Mobile device security

IT pros can automate or handle many computing needs, but lawyers must take responsibility for certain things, such as security. And there is plenty you can do to ensure the security of your mobile device.

Consider turning off wireless connections

“Your device will automatically search for Wi-Fi connections in coffee shops,” says Dave Iverson, senior manager, specialist advisory services for Grant Thornton LLP. “Malicious users can impersonate coffee shop connections, and that allows ‘bad guys’ to potentially access your computer through such connections. Airports are a prime area for this type of activity as well.”

If you use a public Internet connection, conduct business using a VPN to your office. Also, look for networks that use encryption, such as WPA or WPA2.

Use secure logins on mobile devices

Any device can be password-protected to varying degrees, from no password to simple pass codes to complex passwords. “Lawyers must use the complex version for business devices,” says Chris Bennett, who specializes in video game and intellectual property law for Davis LLP.

Enable automatic lockout

Devices can lock themselves after a set period of inactivity. Unlocking them entails entering a password.

Devices can also shut out people who fail to enter valid passwords after a certain number of tries. Iverson suggests a limit of between five and 10 tries before the device either refuses further attempts or wipes its memory clean.

Don’t completely trust biometric devices

Iverson says the fingerprint readers near many laptop keyboards can be defeated. “They aren’t military-grade devices,” he explains, adding that he’s heard from hacker conferences that people can get past a fingerprint reader by getting an impression of a fingerprint on a Gummy Bear candy, then rolling the candy over the reader.

Facial recognition technology, a newer variant on fingerprint readers, lets owners unlock devices by looking at their forward-facing cameras. “It remains to be seen if you can fool this device with a photograph,” Iverson says.

Use a minimum of two-factor authentication

For example, using both a biometric device plus a password increases the security of a device.

Consider privacy screens

In an ad, a cartoon shows one fellow leaning over the armrest of his airplane seat, pointing at his neighbour’s computer screen and kindly noting that he misspelled “confidential.” The ad is for a clip-on privacy screen, which obscures a computer’s contents unless the viewer is directly in front of it.

Conserve battery power

Turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when they aren’t needed lowers the amount of power a device draws from its battery, as does lowering screen brightness.

Keep your systems patched

Developers of operating systems and software commonly distribute free updates to fix bugs or patch security holes. For instance, Microsoft delivers updates for its software on “Patch Tuesday” (the second Tuesday of each month). Follow Microsoft’s lead and check for updates to other software on the same day.

VoIP phones

Consider Voice over Internet Protocol phones to transmit calls over the Internet. Bennett calls any other Davis office, including the one in Tokyo, using 4-digit-dial. “It’s just like an internal call,” he says. (Author’s note: I called Vancouver-based Bennett using a 416 number.)

While smaller firms might not need this type of convenience, mobile lawyers may benefit from “softphones,” which allow them to field phone calls using their office system from their laptops.

Keep spare equipment on hand

Should a computer, monitor or other device require service, a lawyer needs to replace it as soon as possible to continue working.

Keeping spare devices need not be an expensive undertaking. When a firm refreshes its computers, for example, it can wipe the previous set of computers clean, reinstall the operating system and all required software and keep them nearby should they be needed.

Cloud or no cloud?

The city of Edmonton is following the University of Alberta’s lead in using Google Apps for e-mail, calendars and other productivity needs. Such business cases show that the cloud is business-ready, but lawyers — especially Canadian lawyers — pause at any mention of using the cloud.

Google stores client data on servers within the U.S., so that data is effectively subject to the Patriot Act. “If I’m working with a lawyer in Vancouver, I don’t want my information stored in the U.S.,” Iverson says.

To counter this type of objection, certain cloud-computing service providers keep their servers based in Canada. However, given how closely the two countries co-operate, server location outside the U.S. might not be enough to protect data on them.

For now, the security debate keeps many lawyers out of the cloud.

Check the keyboard first

When asked what model of computer he recommends, Iverson tells people to visit a retailer and find a machine with a keyboard they like. “You’re going to spend more time on the keyboard than anything else,” he points out.

Support local businesses

Technology choices can help achieve other goals. Forcier, the Owen Sound lawyer, found his aforementioned nerd via Business Networking International. Bruce Telecom provides his high-speed Internet service, phone service and phone system. He sourced his multifunction printer locally as well.

Aside from wanting to keep jobs in the area, Forcier likes the fact that “you get live people when you call.”

Talk to other lawyers about technology

“There are some great conversations on LinkedIn,” about technology used in law offices, Forcier says, adding that lawyers willingly share technology tips.

This article originally published in Lawyers Weekly Magazine. For a PDF of this article, see below.[gview file=”http://luigibenetton.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/technology_DIY.pdf”]

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