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:

  • Exacting and Thorough Assessment
    • Requiring a “rigorous and thorough review” of a law firm’s data security status, detailed enough for both law firms and clients to make adequate business decisions. This is satisfied by “selecting and/or modeling controls” from established data security frameworks including ISO and NIST.
  • Value to All Participants
    • The DSP aims to ensure all relevant parties are involved in the standard setting process. “The balanced needs of all parties were represented (and will be maintained) by putting the DSP under the creative control of an ACC-sponsored working group of industry experts, including ACC Members, law firm partners, information security officers and CIOs, legal industry service providers and data security assessment firms who truly understand the issues and practices of the legal industry.”
  • Secure Platform
    • The DSP data-sharing program titled Data Steward Exchange or DSP-X operates on a third-party SaaS platform with “an established record of security and has recently passed its latest SOC-2 audit”.
  • Open Standard Benchmarking
    • The DSP algorithm for scoring is 100% transparent and available to all participants.
  • Accommodate Legal Practice Diversity
    • The practice standards established by the ACC Working Group were designed to be applicable to law firms across all sizes and specialties, and all law firms are invited to participate in the DSP.
  • Independent Assessor Neutrality
    • The DSP establishes that an ACC accredited assessor performing a review may not perform either data security prevention or remediation services for that participant six months prior to or following an accreditation validation, to ensure neutrality.

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.

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Joe also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits practice group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Joe counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Joe’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Joe speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Joe served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.