Your secrets are safe with us

The former media firm Wright Webb Syrett recently hit the headlines when stacks of client files were dumped in a building skip.

Nearby drinkers who came across the files were treated to details of the affairs of a string of celebrities including Sean Connery, Gillian Taylforth and Bill Wyman.

With the information super highway offering a gateway to computer-held information, firms are understandably on their guard about keeping client information confidential.

When Eversheds installed its nationwide electronic communications network earlier this year, security was a high priority.

Each of the 12 UK offices and Brussels and Jersey have now been linked by email so desk-to-desk communication is becoming a normal part of life for lawyers and support staff.

Novell Groupwise has been adopted as the nationwide email product and there are a number of effective security measures built into the software that help keep confidential information secure.

Sensitive information can be effectively screened from unauthorised access and the sender uses the 'notify when opened' feature so they know when the message has been read by the recipient.

We use private leased lines rather than commercial telephone networks for all inter office communication which gives us additional security.

Great store is placed on computer security generally and, as well as strong physical security in our offices, we also use password access controls at log on and password-controlled screen savers.

Every disk that is sent to us by clients, counsel or other sources is checked for viruses.

Our document management software, Softsolutions, has a document check out feature so our daily scrutiny of the network logs shows every document that has been copied from the network onto disk and taken off site.

Security of information is even more of an issue as teleworking becomes more commonplace. Lawyers often work away from the office on laptop computers and dial in to the network via normal or mobile telephone lines. Again, access has to be closely controlled and monitored.

The ability to check quickly for conflict problems is important. A nationwide communications network has been set up so that each office can dial into a central database before new matters are taken on.

We are working on a convergence program for practice management systems in each of the offices so there have been a number of technical difficulties in getting the information into the same format from around the country but these have now been overcome and our conflicts checking procedures are working well.

Eversheds has decided to adopt the same practice management system in every office and this will make it much simpler to collate our financial and marketing information, as well as client conflicts information, on a national basis.

When this level of information is regularly transmitted between offices we will start using data encryption.

Video conferencing equipment has also been installed in a number of our offices for an extended trial. The benefits of this technology are obvious but the costs are substantial.

It also poses some interesting security issues and we have to resolve these before we make this investment.

Security of electronic information is a major issue for all businesses large and small. Lawyers have adopted electronic funds transfer and computer banking enthusiastically and are used to the rigorous security measures in this area.

We are all aware of the risks from unauthorised "hacking" into our networks and communication systems and we have specified in our IT strategy the same standards for data transfer as we have for funds transfer.

We are very aware, however, that this is an area where we have to keep developing our practices and systems to maintain the confidentiality that our clients expect.

John Oliver is director of finance and administration at Eversheds, London.