Protecting personal and company data is a legal requirement, as outlined in the Data Protection Act 1998. The main piece of legislation that governs the protection of personal data in the UK, it highlights the importance of processing personal data in a fair, private and secure manner. Breaching any terms of the Data Protection Act can lead to a fine of up to £500,000 – so falling foul of the act, even as a consequence of an innocent mistake or oversight, could be a costly experience for your business. The legal industry is one which has to exercise particular care when processing information, as the nature of its work means it will be processing sensitive information regarding clients, cases and more every single day.
What Does The Data Protection Act 1998 Consist Of?
The Act has been put in place to ensure that everyone’s personal data is processed, used and disposed of in the right way. Following the following principles of the Act protects a legal practice from damage to its reputation and the risk of a fine:
- Personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully. All individuals and companies whose personal information is being used (whether it is in case files or more) should be notified that it is being kept on file, and for what reasons.
- Personal data should only be used for the specified purpose. Misusing data and using it for any other purpose other than those noted in any way is an immediate breach of the act’s terms.
- Personal data should be accurate, and updated when there are any changes. Only information deemed relevant to the cause should be processed.
- Do not keep individual or organisational data for longer than necessary. In the case of legal firms, once the case has been closed and you have no further dealings with the individual or company, then the information should be removed off in a secure manner.
- All information no longer needed should be shredded and removed from site in a professional manner. Using Datashredders’ commercial document and data shredding services to destroy confidential information for you is the most accurate way of ensuring it does not fall into the wrong hands.
With such a high amount of information doing the rounds in the legal industry, it is crucial that the processing of data is done in accordance to these guidelines. If you’re working in law, simply familiarising is not enough – but making a few simple changes to the way you do business until they become second nature to yourself and your staff should mean nothing slips through the net.
- Always ensure that you make a note of when the information was received, and when it is no longer needed. When the allotted time is up, please be sure to remove it from any electronic devices and shredded securely if the data is stored on paper documents.
- Any information kept on electronic devices such as a computer or tablet must be securely protected. Ensure that they have all been password-encrypted (using a secure password), whilst firewall, anti-virus and anti-malware software must be installed. A computer without any type of protection software will be infected eventually. Never discuss private information freely. For instance, discussing a legal case with others leads to many implications, such as misused information, and the passing on of incorrect stories. People can have a habit of embellishing stories, thus spinning it in an entirely different way as to what is actually happening. You can stop any incidences like this by only discussing information with the allocated people in a private place away from others.
- Always ensure that information is disposed of in the proper way. Datashredders will destroy any documents and computer devices on your behalf, and will remove and incinerate the shredded documents after.
- Lock away any private information when it is not in use, with only the allocated members of staff allowing access to the keys/passwords, etc. Ensure all of your staff are trained accordingly to deal with private information that will often be encountered and dealt with in the legal industry.
What a Breach of Data Protection Can Do For the Legal Industry
UK law firms were investigated 187 times by the Information Commissioner last year for possible breaches in the Data Protection Act. Regardless of how many of these investigations actually ended in a breach of the act or not, this is still a shockingly high number of cases. Breaching the Data Protection Act has serious implications for both the legal industry and the law firm in question. But what exactly can a breach in the Act do?
It’s worth stating again for emphasis – a breach in the Data Protection Act 1998 can result in a whopping fine of up to £500,000 for the individual or legal firm involved in the breach. This can be financially damaging to whoever is involved – some firms in the legal industry do not always make a full recovery from such a loss.
Damaging to Reputation
All businesses rely on positive feedback. A serious breach of the Data Protection Act may even receive press coverage, bringing details of the incident to potential clients – and who would trust a law firm that cannot respect, enforce and properly follow the terms in a government enforced regulation?
The legal industry is deals with confidential personal information more than any other, so it is crucial that everyone involved in this industry follows the terms of the Data Protection Act accordingly. Remind yourself of the importance of data protection, familiarise yourself with the Act’s terms and revise whenever there are changes. It’s better to stay in the know and protected than find yourself in breach of it.