For small law firms, network availability and accessibility are keys to business success. Smaller firms don’t always have the resources to fully invest and understand their IT solutions, often opting for the lowest-barrier option that offers reliability, responsiveness and a positive effect on their firm’s day-to-day needs.
In order to fully understand and evaluate your IT solution, let’s look at three aspects of networking that are essential to small law firms and the considerations for selecting the best option.
Reliable Network Connectivity
Because a firm must be highly responsive to its clients and to the courts, attorneys require a reliable and high-speed network connection to access client data at all times.
Attorneys often work with large files, such as exhibits for petitions, multi-page digitally searchable scanned documents and color PDFs. They may also use video conferencing to collaborate with clients and electronic document-signing solutions to execute contracts, requiring even more bandwidth from their networks.
Two common types of networks in small firms are wired (Ethernet) and wireless access points commonly known as WiFi, both of which offer shared Internet connections for several users. Attorneys have historically preferred wired networks because they tend to offer higher speeds – files move across the network quickly and video conferencing is usually lag-free. But today’s WiFi networks are easy to set up and expand, require relatively few cables and come close to the bandwidth of wired networks. Additionally, providers can manage WiFi networks for you, monitoring the security of the platform and delivering automatic updates. Finally, dual-band WiFi gives you the option of running both public and private networks. That means you can provide WiFi Internet access for customers at your location, while protecting the privacy of your internal business data.
When evaluating network vendors, ask each representative to recommend a wired plan and a WiFi plan, stating the realistic speeds you can expect for each and pricing. Also, find out if support is available 24/7/365. Your vendor of choice should be accessible when you need them.
Accessibility of Network/Data from Remote Location
A major decision for legal firms is whether or not to use a cloud-based solution for data storage. It makes sense to store data in the cloud because it’s accessible from any computer or device from any location. Attorneys must ensure they have a secure Internet connection, which means avoiding public Internet connections at coffee shops and airports.
If your firm prefers to keep all files in the office, you’ll need to have some form of remote access to in-house computers. A virtual private network (VPN) is one option, which enables you to connect securely over the Internet using settings within Microsoft Windows, Apple’s macOS or Linux. A VPN can expand your access to printers and other connected devices as well. Similarly, third-party tools such as LogMeIn and GoToMyPC enable you to connect to a networked computer easily and quickly.
Secure Data and Connections
Law firms, regardless of size, are targets of attacks. Because of the sensitivity of a law firm’s data, a breach can result in a significant financial loss to a firm and greatly tarnish a client’s reputation.
All kinds of defense measures are available to help protect a network and its systems from security breaches. At a minimum, invest in a good-quality firewall. These are typically appliances that check all traffic coming from outside the network, allowing only safe traffic through. Trusted vendors in this space include SonicWall, Cisco and Check Point, among others. For small shops with a single shared Internet connection, your service provider likely provides firewall software with your router.
Firms should also enable software-based firewalls and anti-malware applications on all client computers and mobile devices. Many companies, such as Symantec, offer high-rated endpoint protection products that take just a few clicks to install and continuously run in the background.
If you store data in the cloud, the connection between your computers and the cloud service should already be encrypted by default. For another layer of protection, however, consider using Boxcryptor or a similar application to encrypt files stored in the cloud.
Attorneys don’t want to interact with an IT provider unless a problem comes up. Should an issue arise, it needs to be solved quickly to allow attorneys to continue focusing on business needs. Selecting a reputable Internet and network service provider is the first step toward keeping your business running smoothly.