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What Firms Should Know About Role-Based & Permission-Based Access Controls
Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Law firms usually have many employees who perform various roles. These roles require different levels of access to company information and the ability to execute certain actions. When choosing an information security system, you have a few choices, such as role-based access controls and permission-based access controls. Role-based access controls grant access based on an employee’s role in a system. On the other hand, permission-based access controls grant access based on each individual employee.

While these systems may sound similar, they have key differences, benefits, and drawbacks. This blog will explain more about access controls and compare the use of role-based access control to permission-based access control in legal technology. Each law firm will have to consider various factors, such as the number of employees and the division of tasks they have, to determine which law practice management software is best. 

What Is Access Control, in General?

Access control refers to a system that regulates who can see company information and perform certain functions through digital software. It’s important to note that both role-based access control and permission-based access control can be regulated with additional security systems. For example, either access control system may require authentication via password or biometrics.

As technology progresses, more and more law firms are using legal practice management software that includes access control software. According to a recent study, 63% of law firms that use legal technology reported an increase in their profitability over one year. Law practice management software offers more than increased productivity, though. It also provides increased law firm data security. Aside from access control systems, VPNs and two-step authentication can bolster law firm cybersecurity.

Such legal technologies help law firms secure their data from breaches that threaten their client’s confidentiality and the firm’s reputation. Without such security measures, data confidentiality can easily be compromised, costing a law firm far more than the price of such software. Additionally, as more and more law firms employ remote staff members, the need for increased security measures, especially access permissions, becomes apparent. It just takes one data breach to ruin a law firm’s credibility.

What Is Role-Based Access Control?

Role-based access control grants employees access to company data based on their specific role in the organization. For example, many digital documents circulate in a law firm, but only certain user roles can read, edit, or delete the document. Typical user roles include a basic user, an administrator, and an owner.

Let’s use an example of how these different user roles would interact with a company document. While the basic user would only be able to read certain documents, an administrator or owner would be able to edit or delete them.

Why Law Firms Use Role-Based Access Control

Law firms often use role-based access controls because they have groups of employees who have different job functions and responsibilities. For example, paralegals often need to view data but may not have the ability to alter certain documents. Other employees at a law firm, such as an associate attorney, would have greater access to amend certain documents.

Benefits of Using Role-Based Access Control

Overall, role-based access controls offer stronger security with less managerial intervention. For example, PracticePanther’s role-based access control allows administrators to create a specific access level for a certain user. This way, an employee can log in as a certain user to conduct specific tasks without having to request permission from an administrator. The administrator can easily add and remove employees from user roles as required.

Another benefit of role-based access control is that it reduces the risk of human error. For example, according to Digital Guardian, an administrator can allow access to third-party users by assigning them a specific user role designed for affiliates. This reduces the risk of third parties gaining unauthorized access to data.

To recap, role-based access controls offer the following advantages:

  • Stronger security
  • Less administrative work
  • Less room for human error

This access control is best suited for a law firm that has multiple employees with different roles and works with third-party consultants. Imperva suggests conducting an audit of your firm’s needs and employees’ responsibilities to determine if this is the best access control for you.

Now, let’s take a look at permission-based access controls to compare.

What Is Permission-Based Access Control?

Permission-based access control grants individual users access to certain data. Using the same example of reading, editing, and deleting within a document, permission-based access control allows administrators to tailor access based on an individual employee’s job responsibilities. One user may be able to read a document, while another employee can edit and delete content.

Why Law Firms Use Permission-Based Access Control

Permission-based access control allows for precise control over what actions or resources each user can access. This granularity ensures that users are only able to interact with the information and functionalities relevant to their tasks.

When employees at a law firm take on different roles and tasks, their administrator can assign them access accordingly. For example, a law firm may assign a case to one associate attorney and grant them access to modify certain documents. Another associate attorney would not have the same access for that case.

Benefits of Permission-Based Access Control

In general, permission-based access control allows for:

  • Data protection: As with role-based access control, permission-based access control allows law firms to secure their data by granting and restricting access to documents.
  • Secure collaboration: Unlike role-based access control, permission-based access control allows administrators to assign unique roles and capabilities to employees working together on special projects.
  • Better control: Permission-based access control allows administrators to have more control over which employees can access certain documents because they can individualize access and capabilities.

Other Access Controls

Other access controls can allow for greater flexibility when it comes to data security in a law firm. For example, a law firm may also use:

  • IP address restrictions: PracticePanther’s IP address restriction also allows administrators to set certain IP address restrictions from where a user can access the software. This can come in handy when employees are working remotely.
  • Time entry restrictions: PracticePanther’s time entry restrictions give administrators an option to restrict certain users to edit time entries that were already submitted. This allows a law firm to monitor its employees’ progress and increase accountability.
  • Clouds: Cloud-based law firms often maximize their time and productivity with the ease of access offered by using a cloud.
  • Cybersecurity insurance: Cybersecurity insurance for law firms offers extra protection against the fallout of a data breach.

How Can Legal Technology Help Ensure Security Control?

Legal technology is now essential for law firms when it comes to data security and productivity. User access controls, along with other law practice management software, help by:

  • Allowing for stronger security
  • Preventing any hacks or data leaks
  • Securing communication
  • Securing collaboration
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