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ALPS In Brief Podcast - Episode 77: 25 Holiday Risk Management Tips

9 min read

ALPS In Brief Podcast - Episode 77: 25 Holiday Risk Management Tips

 

In this episode of ALPS In Brief, our Risk Manager Mark Bassingthwaighte shares his 25 holiday risk tips to keep your law firm's cybersecurity happy and healthy as we roll into the new year!

Transcript: 

Hello, I'm Mark Bassingthwaighte, the risk manager here at Alps, and welcome to another episode of Alps In Brief, that podcast that comes to you from the historic Florence building in beautiful downtown Missoula, Montana. As you can tell, it's the end of the year and I'm trying to get ready and set for the holiday celebrations and whatnot, just having a little fun. 

So I thought about what to do for this month's podcast. I thought, why not share my 25 holiday risk tips as a countdown. And these are risk tips for 2023, the end of 2023, and maybe we'll do this every year. Who knows? We'll see. Let's jump right in, shall we? 

Number one, don't wait for that after Christmas sale. Make sure your firm's security software and operating systems on terms of all the devices, the servers, the computers, the laptops, everything. These updates need to be current systems need to be patched, and the reason is I just want to make sure you're properly protected during all of that online holiday shopping. 

Number two, the turkey helpline. I remember back in the day, they used to have these shows you could listen to, and my memory was it's on the radio, but you could listen to people calling in. They record some of these crazy calls to the Turkey hotline. I remember a woman very upset that her bird tasted like soap. And apparently what she had done was read in the instructions, you should clean your turkey before cooking it, then rinse it out, that kind of stuff. 

And apparently she used a lot dish washing soap and that's going to taste like soap. That's not how you clean a turkey, but I always got a kick out of that. But sometimes things don't work out quite as planned when it comes to the holiday bird, and some people really don't know what they're doing with these turkeys. And there is a turkey hotline out there to help you out, use it. 

Well, in a similar vein, if you have no idea how to properly secure your smartphones or other devices, the files that you have in cloud storage, even your home router, if you're using it for work, rest assured there's a support line for you too, and that's just called your IT support. Whoever he/she/they may be, please don't hesitate to reach out and get the help that you need. 

Number three, untangling the lights. As you search your attic or your basement, wherever you have your holiday decoration stored, remember to protect and organize your firm's virtual storage space so your digital files don't end up sort of in a similar mess. I remember year after year for a lot of years, trying to untangle all of these light strings and checking for the bulbs, etc. It's just a headache, just a headache. So, let's try not to let that happen with our client files that are virtually stored. 

Number four, make a list and check it twice. And before taking on a new matter, make certain that you and your client are in total agreement on the scope of representation, and that might even include discussing what you're not going to do. And then of course, make sure that you thoroughly document all that in writing because after all, memories really can be short. I mean, even Santa, after all, why do you think he has a list. 

Number five, up on the house top. Some of us excel at navigating a snow covered roof to hang the lights. Boy, there's some guys around here, I've seen this here, I'm thinking, these guys don't excel and you're just worried that dickens that somebody's going to take a fall. But on others, you really do need to learn that the annual trip to the ER can get expensive. 

The point of all this is no one excels at everything. Learn to say no when you really know that you should don't dabble and don't take on clients that you can't work well with. Otherwise, the control of your professional life is going to end up in someone else's hands and that someone else could easily be a problem client that just isn't worth it. 

Number six, let's talk about Santa's laptop. If you're traveling for business or a family gathering, always carry your laptop with you rather than checking it with your baggage, because sensitive information, perhaps your naughty and nice list, could end up missing. I really can share over the years when I look at some of the cyber claims that we've had, stolen laptops, lost laptops are not uncommon. So really try to stay in control of that as you travel. 

Wrapping the gifts, when it's time to wrap up a client matter, tell the client what your file retention policy is and document what they want to have happen to their file at the end of your file retention period. This is one of the most common calls that I get to this day. What do we do with these old files? Because we've never dealt with it. We've never informed clients what to do or what our policy is. And taking care of that at the time you know where your client is and you're closing a file can really solve a lot of headaches down the road. Or I should say prevent a lot of headaches down the road. 

Number eight, to Grandma's house we go. If you need to check in with the office on your way to wherever you're traveling, remember to use a VPN when traveling. This is especially important if you're going to be using open public wifi, if you're using a hotel signal or even a signal at a friend or family's home, you need to encrypt your data stream in these situations. It's just essential as I see it. 

Number nine, remember the reason for the season. Providing pro bono legal services is really a wonderful way to not only bring a little holiday cheer to someone else, but it really may just change their life. Don't minimize it. Give back. 

Number 10, hang your stockings with care. According to the most recent ABA profile of legal malpractice claims, almost 52% of reported claims in recent years were based on a substantive misstep, such as a failure to know the law or properly apply the law, and conflicts of interest. So don't dabble and don't short shrift your conflict resolution process unless of course you enjoy finding coal in your stocking. 

Number 11, no two snowflakes are alike. As with client expectations, no two clients are going to be alike either. Really take the time, learn to listen, ask the questions, try to determine each and every client's unique legal needs as well as their desired outcomes in order for you to meet their needs as best as you possibly can. 

Number 12, don't become Scrooge. If a client becomes delinquent on their account, investigate early, and either work out an alternative arrangement or get out if you can. Allowing someone's past due balance to soar when they are already unable to pay and then suing them for your fees when you're finished could result in a haunting tale of a malpractice counterclaim. Not fun, not good. 

Number 13, bells will be ringing, while a wonderful sound this time of year. Be careful not to have an alarm sound due to a shortfall in your trust account. Never allow the proceeds of a check to be dispersed prior to that check clearing. And remember, there's a difference between a bank saying, "The proceeds are available," and those funds being collected in good funds. And often that difference is five to seven business days and can even be longer in some instances. Caution is in order. 

Number 14, look out for the Grinch. Take the time to ask what can be learned from an experience with one of those problem clients, once the representation of course has ended. The failure to do so often means that another Grinch could be in your future. If you don't learn, you're likely to make the same intake mistake again. Ask the questions, look for the learning. 

Number 15, not a creature with stirring. To make certain no unwanted creatures are stirring in your office network, confirm that everyone in the office knows to never open an email or click on a link sent from an unknown source. Better yet, institute an ongoing mandatory social engineering training program that everyone must attend, everyone who works at your firm, including you. 

Number 16, let it snow. Clients will tend to more readily pay bills that are sent on a regular basis and that provide detail on each charge. Tell your story in the process of creating and presenting your bill. There is a huge difference as an example between saying, "Research five hours," and "Research case law on inviting nuisance, five hours." Let the client know the value they are getting, what they are getting, for the money that they're being charged. 

17, the ghost of files past. When it comes to computer files, delete is not always what it seems. If you don't want the recovery of deleted files rattling around late at night, you really need to electronically shred all that data by using a program that will overwrite it, thus making it unrecoverable. So before you recycle those phones or donate some laptops or whatever it might be, don't just delete files. You need to digitally erase them. 

Number 18, It's a Wonderful Life. George Bailey, if you recall, saw what his town would've been like if he were never born, such a great film. If you're a solo, however, what would happen if you were no longer around? Name a successor attorney to ensure that your clients and their matters will be properly cared for should the unexpected ever happen to you. Then sleep better knowing that you did the right thing. Succession planning folks is absolutely an essential obligation as I see it. Please take the time to do so if you already have it done so. 

Number 19, The Little Drummer Boy, just listening to some music last night. It was that time of year, once Thanksgiving rolls around, my wife has a rule, Christmas music is it until the end of Christmas. But bang that drum to get your message across. Make sure your colleagues are in step with the confidentiality rule. No files, for example, should be left accessible after hours. 

No one should use open public wifi networks or free email accounts like Gmail for professional purposes. And don't talk about client matters in public places. Sometimes maybe just a little review. Get the staff together for a 10 or 15 minute meeting over the lunch hour, have a little pizza or something. Maybe do this monthly. But just these gentle friendly reminders really can help keep the rules and our obligations fresh in our minds. That can be very, very helpful and very beneficial. 

Number 20, how about those New Year's resolutions? Enjoy the holiday party season more by learning what callback phishing is and how not to fall prey. Then relish in knowing that you now have a cybersecurity leg up on most of the other attorneys in the room. You really will. If the FBI just issued an alert talking about callback phishing, so binging it, Google it, or you might even go to a wonderful site. This is just an excellent, excellent resource. 

It is Know Be4, K-N-O-W-B-E, the number four, knowbe4.com, and look at some of their resources that are available for free. You could search callback phishing on their blog, and I assure you, you'll get some information and it's well worth knowing about. 

21, the night before CLE deadline, fulfill your CLE requirements on time. You might look with the Alps. We have a lot of CLE out there, online, on demand, and if you're not familiar with it, it's www.alpsinsurance, one word A-L-P-S, insurance, one word, .com/cle. After all, that December 31st deadline for some of us is fast approaching. 

22, setting out Santa's cookies. When do I remember those days? Our kids are all grown and adult now, and we are Brady family, but we had five kids in our blended family, and I do remember, and it was a lot of fun, setting out the cookies and doing all the things that we did. For many families, this is one of the last things done before the kids are tucked in and that little detail counts. 

Similarly, once a matter is closed. Don't overlook the last important detail of properly preparing a file for storage. Use a file closing checklist to make certain that all the closing tasks are taken care of. If you don't have a file closing checklist, I invite you to get one of ours. I have one available on our website. Again, it's alpsinsurance.com, and you can click under resources and there's a section there for sample forms, a sample checklist, and you will find a file closing checklist there. Perhaps that might be helpful to you. 

23, giving thanks. You really are being honored. Every time a client places a new matter in your capable, competent hands. Honor them back by sending a thank you note at the conclusion of every matter. Just say, "Thanks, it's been a pleasure." You may find that referral and repeat work just starts to go up and maybe even soar, because you understand and remember who has hired who. 

  1. Give yourself a gift, and this is so, so important in my mind. Remember, one of the best ways to serve your clients well and truly to keep your practice thriving is to prioritize taking care of yourself. After all, gingerbread, which I love, always tastes better when life is good. Take care of yourself, and don't forget to nourish the relationships that you have with your support systems, whoever they may be. You want them around years from now as well too. So take that time.

And finally, 25, we're just looking through the years. I have been in this role of risk manager here at Alps just shy of 26 years, and I really have felt so honored and blessed to have had this opportunity. And don't misunderstand me, I'm not going anywhere. I hope to be here for a number of years yet. We'll just see. 

But it really has been just an incredible honor to serve as a risk manager, as your risk manager, to be a risk manager and a resource in the legal community at large. So with that in mind, I'd simply like to say, may your holiday season be both merry and bright and most importantly blessed. I hope you found something of value in my short, quick countdown this year and stay well. Take care of yourself. Bye-Bye. 

 

Since 1998, Mark Bassingthwaighte, Esq. has been a Risk Manager with ALPS, an attorney’s professional liability insurance carrier. In his tenure with the company, Mr. Bassingthwaighte has conducted over 1200 law firm risk management assessment visits, presented over 600 continuing legal education seminars throughout the United States, and written extensively on risk management, ethics, and technology. Mr. Bassingthwaighte is a member of the State Bar of Montana as well as the American Bar Association where he currently sits on the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility’s Conference Planning Committee. He received his J.D. from Drake University Law School.

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