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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    May 01, 2017

    Your State Bar
    Safekeeping Our Most Precious Assets

    Maintaining the confidentiality of client information is vital; even more important is protecting human beings, including those who work in and visit law offices and courthouses, from physical harm. 

    George C. Brown

    Security issues in the practice of law seem to be everywhere you turn. Not that long ago, the biggest safety concern was protecting client information by locking file cabinets and briefcases. Now, cybersecurity and courtroom, bar center, and law office security issues are regularly addressed in publications and at conferences.

    George C. BrownGeorge C. Brown is the executive director for the State Bar of Wisconsin.

    Maintaining client confidentiality in the law office is nothing new. But cybersecurity concerns make protecting privileged information much more challenging. Sometimes hackers are interested in information for reasons that are not obvious. Several years ago, a presenter at a national conference explained that hackers want to get into law office email systems not necessarily to get client file information but to gain access to the clients themselves, such as the head of litigation or the CEO for a multinational corporation. Clients are the real targets, and law offices are seen as access points. Getting hacked is not a matter of if but when.

    At this same conference of more than 70 bar association executive directors, the entire morning was spent on security issues, both cybersecurity and physical security. Security levels vary among bar associations. As you would expect, bar centers in large cities have secured entrances, while many in smaller cities and towns require a key card or recognition from the receptionist before the front door is unlocked. Some have considered hiring armed guards and many have engaged in active-shooter training. The State Bar of Wisconsin has put in place security and emergency procedures, including staff engagement in active-shooter training last autumn.

    Law office security is just as varied. Offices in larger cities in high-rise buildings usually have substantial security. Anyone visiting these offices would expect security measures to be in place, just as with any other business in a similar building. But smaller offices, certainly in a small town but even in a larger city, might have no security. Clients expect to be able to just walk in and might be upset if they must deal with layers of security. 

    Courthouse security is an ongoing issue. Last year, the State Bar’s Bench Bar Committee conducted a survey of judges statewide, and courthouse safety was a principal concern. This was of greater concern in the smaller counties than in larger counties such as Milwaukee or Dane, which already have relatively strong security in place. Some rural county courthouses, such as in Barron County, are very safety conscious, while in others, anyone can walk through almost any door at any time during working hours. Courthouse security is a county funding issue and is always changing. Recently, for example, Sawyer County chose to upgrade its security by placing armed sheriff’s deputies in the courtroom during session.

    The challenge in all these situations is achieving the right balance between accessibility and safety for the community and for those in law practice.

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