ACC Launches Data Steward Program: An Approach to Assessing Law Firm Data Security

On December 8th, the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), which represents over 45,000 in-house counsel across 85 countries, announced the launch of its Data Steward Program (DSP) to help organizations and their law firms assess and share information about information security relating to client data. The DSP is two years in the making, collecting input from attorneys, cybersecurity and privacy experts and litigation support experts from corporations, law firms, vendors and government. The DSP, a voluntary-based program, creates a standardized framework for “assessing, scoring, benchmarking, validating and accrediting” a law firm’s stance regarding client data security leveraging existing data security frame works, such as the ISO or NIST, but also customizing “control selection, arrangement and compliance metrics” to meet a law firm’s specific needs.

The DSP was developed in response to the struggles corporations face in attempting to ensure that the law firms they utilize have adequate data security measures in place – a Fortune 500 company often has relationships with upwards of 500 law firms and vendors. Moreover, SMBs that utilize smaller sized law firms and vendors are often ill equipped to effectively perform data security related due diligence.

Of course, for all service providers, including law firms, it is critical to maintain reasonable administrative, physical, and technical safeguards when interacting with sensitive corporate and personal data of customers, as well as to ensure that adequate protections are in place to prevent and respond to data breaches. Law firms should not be surprised to see enhanced efforts, such as the DSP, to help assess those safeguards on a more consistent basis. Firms concerned about facing requests for assessments and/or maintaining their privacy and security protocols in an increasingly dynamic environment should review their cybersecurity risk management policies, procedures and practices sooner rather than later.

The ACC DSP has established a clear set of goals to help ensure the program’s success:

This is not the first time of late that the ACC has prioritized data security and privacy matters for in-house counsel and law firms. In 2017, the ACC released Model Information Protection and Security Controls for Outside Counsel Possessing Company Confidential Information (“the Model Controls”), data safety guidelines to help “in-house counsel as they set expectations with their outside vendors, including outside counsel.” The Model Controls addressed a broad range of data security related measures including: data breach reporting, data handling and encryption, physical security, employee background screening, information retention/return/destruction, and cyber liability insurance. The Model Controls were developed to serve as a “best practice” standardizing the protocols companies implement when interacting with third-party vendors who may have access to sensitive corporate data, and in many ways the DSP is a continuation of that initiative.

The DSP can be initiated in one of two ways: 1) a law firm can volunteer to participate and conduct a self-assessment, or 2) an ACC corporate member or prospective member can invite a law firm to participate. Even prior to launch, corporations were already inviting their law firms and legal vendors to undergo an assessment. 2020 has proven that data privacy and security risks must be prioritized across all industries.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2024
National Law Review, Volumess XI, Number 21