Dedicated to change

Call them what you will, Generation Y, the Millennials or perhaps Generation Why? as they question everything, this social group that grew up with the internet is now firmly entrenched in the workplace. In fact, the first Gen Y CEO to lead a FTSE 350 company will be appointed by 2016, according to a report published by Deloitte. And with it, comes a whole new way of working.

Dedicated to technology, the Millennials are as praised as they are berated for their devotion to social media and dexterity in switching from one device to the next. This brings opportunities as well as challenges for both employer and employee. Witness, for example, the surge in popularity of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) where employees use their own tablets, phones and laptops for work.

But while BYOD offers flexibility, it is a potential security risk. Less than a third of businesses in Europe with more than 1,000 employees have a formal BYOD policy, but almost all British businesses (97%) have suffered or anticipated a BYOD security breach, according to a study by Samsung.

And even for businesses that do have a policy, Millennials seem happy to flout the rules. A survey of Generation Y by network security company Fortinet found that while respondents are positive about their employers’ BYOD policy, with 45% agreeing it ‘empowers’ them, 51% stated they would contravene any policy in place banning the use of personal devices at work or for work purposes.

The research looked at awareness among the group on security threats such as denial-of-service attacks with up to 52% uneducated about the problem. Interestingly though, the findings suggest that the more frequent the BYOD habit, the better a respondent’s understanding of the threats.

The implications for law firms

So, while Generation Y is adamant that BYOD is here to stay, businesses are grappling with the issues that entails. On the one hand, it can save businesses money (Samsung reckons that companies that permit BYOD save 17%, or £6 million, on average, on their yearly communications costs). But at the same time the security risks loom large. It has implications not only for the business but its clients too, as law firms, with all the inherent issues over client confidentially, are finding.

It was recently reported that financial services firms on Wall Street do not want their outside law firms to allow employees to bring their own mobile devices to work, but a study by American Lawyer found that 70% of respondents said that BYOD programmes benefit their firms by producing ‘more cheerful users’. Cheerful, perhaps, more productive almost certainly.

Indeed, law firms are increasingly seeing BYOD as a way to better support clients on demand, as well as enabling more efficient collaboration. But with it comes major responsibilities. Pinsent Masons points out that under new guidance from the UK’s data protection watchdog, the ICO, organisations are duty-bound to look after the data they are responsible for regardless of the ownership of the device used to carry out the processing.

Companies must ensure that devices used for work purposes are password-protected, and that data is encrypted when being transferred as well as being stored. Staff should also be issued with guidance on how to use Wi-Fi networks securely and made aware that devices may automatically connect to open Wi-Fi networks.

Pinsent Masons advises businesses to implement a formal BYOD policy that addresses the specific issues around security and the conditions under which employees are permitted to bring their own device. Signed acceptance of the policy should also be secured to help the organisation deal with any breach of the policy as a disciplinary issue.

While it is not just the Millennials that have adopted BYOD, it is certainly more prevalent among younger workers. Their growing power in the work-place means this is not a trend that will disappear anytime soon. Forewarned is forearmed – law firms, and anyone considering a career within the legal industry, needs to be aware of both the benefits and the risks of using all such technology.

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