In the world of law, data protection and client confidentiality are paramount. Lawyers and law firms have a duty to protect their client's sensitive information from unauthorized access or disclosure. However, even the most advanced security measures can be rendered useless by a relatively simple tactic: social engineering.


Social engineering is a form of psychological manipulation used to trick people into divulging confidential information or performing actions that they otherwise would not.


This is an area of cybercrime that is constantly evolving because criminals are always looking for weaknesses in an organization’s processes. These social engineering schemes can open up your firm to claims from clients, banks, and other parties- not only resulting in monetary losses but damage to your hard-earned reputation.


This article will explore the threat of social engineering to lawyers and law firms, and provide practical tips and strategies for protecting against it.

Types of Social Engineering Scams


Cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated in their tactics, and social engineering has become a significant threat to the legal profession, especially small law firms.


Social engineering is a term used for a broad range of tactics, all used to manipulate individuals into divulging sensitive information or granting unauthorized access. Scams are carried out online, through email, social media networks, by phone, or even in person. The following are five of the most common forms of social engineering attacks.


Phishing Emails

Phishing emails are one of the most common forms of social engineering attacks. Cybercriminals create emails that look legitimate, often using the name and branding of a trusted company or organization. The email will typically ask the recipient to click on a link or provide login credentials. In the legal industry, phishing emails may be tailored to look like they are coming from a client, opposing counsel, or even a judge. If the recipient falls for the trap, they may unwittingly provide sensitive information or grant access to their systems.


Sarah is a lawyer at a small law firm that specializes in employment law. One day, she receives an email from someone claiming to be from the state's Department of Labor. The email looks legitimate, with the correct logos and branding, and the tone is urgent. The person on the email requests that Sarah provide confidential employee information for a compliance audit.

Feeling that she has no reason to doubt the authenticity of the email, Sarah sends the requested information. However, the email was a phishing attack and the attacker was a cybercriminal looking to steal personal information that could be used for identity theft.


When the employees whose information was compromised discover the breach, they hold Sarah's law firm responsible for failing to protect their confidential information. The firm is now facing a legal claim for damages.


Spear Phishing

Spear phishing emails are similar to normal phishing emails, but the attacker targets specific individuals or organizations rather than a broad audience. Spear phishing attacks are often more effective than traditional phishing attacks because they are extremely individualized.


In a spear phishing attack, the attacker gathers information about the target, such as their name, job title, and email address, and uses this information to craft a personalized email or message that appears to be from a trusted source.


The email or message may contain a request for the target to take some action, such as clicking on a link or downloading an attachment, or it may ask for sensitive information, such as login credentials or financial data. The email or message may also use urgency or fear tactics to create a sense of urgency, such as claiming that the target's account has been compromised or that they will face legal action if they do not take immediate action.


Deborah is a lawyer at a small law firm that specializes in real estate law. Deborah receives an email from a client requesting to change their wire instructions and funds should now be wired to a new account. The email appears to be from the client's email address and includes the client's signature block. Deborah follows the instructions and wires the funds to the specified account.


However, Deborah later discovers that the email was not actually from the client, but from a fraudster who had gained access to the client's email account through a phishing attack. The fraudster had provided the law firm with false information and had tricked them into wiring the funds to the fraudster's account.


In this scenario, Deborah may face legal liability for the wire transfer, as she failed to properly verify the authenticity of the email and the instructions. The law firm may also face reputational damage and loss of client trust as a result of the incident.



Pretexting is another form of social engineering that involves creating a fake scenario to gain access to confidential information. Pretexting can be difficult to detect, as the attacker may use a variety of tactics to gain the victim's trust. The attacker may impersonate a trusted individual or authority, such as a bank representative or IT support, to gain the victim's trust and obtain the desired information or action. Pretexting attacks often involve extensive research and preparation to create a believable pretext and increase the chances of success.


John works at a law firm that specializes in intellectual property law. One day, he receives a call from someone claiming to be from a client company. The person on the phone says that they are having trouble accessing their account and need John's help to reset their password. The caller provides the client's name and other details that make the call seem legitimate. John is eager to help and reset the password for the client's account.


Unbeknownst to John, this was a pretexting attack. The caller was not actually from the client company but was a cybercriminal looking to steal valuable intellectual property data. The attacker used the password reset as a way to gain access to the client's account and download sensitive information.


When the client company discovers the breach, they hold John's law firm responsible for the loss of their intellectual property.


Business Email Compromise (BEC)

Business Email Compromise (BEC) is a type of social engineering attack where the attacker gains access to a company's email system, either through a phishing attack or by exploiting a vulnerability.


Once inside, the attacker monitors email traffic, looking for opportunities to impersonate a legitimate source.


BEC attacks can be difficult to detect, as the emails often look legitimate and the attacker may have done extensive research on the company and its employees. The attacker may also use social engineering techniques to create a sense of urgency or importance, such as claiming that the funds are needed immediately.


Tom is a lawyer at a medium-sized law firm that specializes in intellectual property law. One day, he receives an email from his managing partner, requesting that he transfer a large sum of money to a new vendor for a recent project. The email looks legitimate, appears to have come from the partner’s email address, and the tone is urgent.


Feeling that he has no reason to doubt the authenticity of the email, Tom transfers the requested funds. However, the email was a BEC attack. In this case, the attacker had gained access to the managing partner's email account and used it to send the fraudulent email.


Tom’s law firm was responsible for the data breach and the loss of the funds. This scenario highlights the importance of being diligent when responding to requests for sensitive information or funds, even if they appear to be legitimate.



Scareware is a type of social engineering attack that uses fear and intimidation to trick users into taking a particular action, such as downloading malware or purchasing fake antivirus software.


In a scareware attack, the victim typically receives a pop-up message on their computer screen that claims their system is infected with a virus or malware. The message may look like a legitimate warning from their antivirus software or operating system. The message will often use language designed to create a sense of urgency or panic. The goal is to scare the victim into taking immediate action to resolve the perceived threat.


In reality, the program is malware that will allow the attacker to steal sensitive information or take control of the victim's computer.


Lisa is a lawyer at a law firm that specializes in personal injury cases. One day, she receives a pop-up message on her computer screen that claims her computer has been infected with a virus. The message states that she must call a number immediately to have the virus removed or risk losing all of her data.


Feeling panicked, Lisa calls the number and is connected to a person claiming to be a technical support representative. The representative instructed Lisa to download a program that would allow them to remotely access her computer to remove the virus. Unbeknownst to Lisa, the program was actually malware that would allow the attacker to gain access to her computer and steal confidential client information.


Lisa's law firm is held responsible for the loss of their client’s confidential information. In this scenario, Lisa may face legal liability.


Lisa’s experience highlights the importance of being cautious when receiving pop-up messages on your computer screen, especially if they claim that your computer is infected with a virus.


Protecting Against Social Engineering

Protecting against social engineering attacks can be challenging, but there are several steps that individuals and organizations can take to reduce the risk of falling victim to these types of attacks. Here are some tips for protecting against social engineering:


Education and Awareness: Education and awareness are key to protecting against social engineering. Attorneys should educate themselves and their employees about the different types of social engineering attacks, how they work, and how to recognize them.


Strong Passwords: Strong passwords are an important defense against social engineering attacks. Use strong, complex passwords, and avoid using the same password for multiple accounts.


Two-Factor Authentication: Two-factor authentication is an additional layer of security that can help protect against social engineering attacks. It requires users to provide a second form of authentication, such as a code sent to their phone, in addition to their password.


Email Security: Email is a common vector for social engineering attacks. Individuals and organizations should use email security measures such as spam filters, anti-phishing software, and email encryption to protect against these attacks.


Regular Updates and Patches: Regularly updating software and installing security patches can help protect against social engineering attacks that exploit vulnerabilities in software.


Create Procedures and Protocols Around Wire Transfers: Proper procedures and protocols around wire transfers can reduce the risk of wire transfer fraud. Ensure your staff follows the procedures you put forth every time a wire transfer is done. Require two people to execute a wire transfer. Establish a protocol where one employee initiates a wire transfer and another employee approves it.

Confirm everything and verify the writing instructions are correct before sending. Set up a verification process that every wire transfer request is verified by phone. This is especially prudent if a wire transfer request is made via email. Be suspicious of any changes to wiring instructions.

Skepticism: Finally, approach all unsolicited requests for information or funds with skepticism. They should verify the identity of the sender and the legitimacy of the request before taking any action.



Social engineering is a serious threat to lawyers and law firms, and one that cannot be ignored. By understanding the tactics used by attackers and implementing effective security measures, legal professionals can protect their client's confidential information and safeguard their own reputations. The key is to stay vigilant, stay informed, and stay one step ahead of the attackers.