Legal administrators are the “kings of the castle” when it comes to maintaining the intellectual security of law firms, says former Federal Bureau of Investigation operative Eric O’Neill.
O’Neill, now a senior associate in DLA Piper’s Washington office, spoke to the Association of Legal Administrators Thursday about how to keep the secrets of a law firm’s clients from falling into the wrong hands.
Economic espionage is a growing concern for law firms in the Internet Age, O’Neill says. And he should know.
Before he was a private practitioner, O’Neill was an FBI operative who helped bring down his boss Robert Hanssen, perhaps the most damaging spy in U.S. history. O’Neill later served as a special consultant on the movie “Breach,” which was based on that counter-espionage operation. O’Neill was portrayed by Ryan Phillippe in the movie. (O’Neill says he thinks Phillippe did some of the best work of his career in “Breach.” Not that he’s biased or anything.)
In his speech to more than 100 legal administrators and other professionals, O’Neill outlined steps a firm can take to keep its clients’ secrets from being stolen or passed to competitors.
“Shredding just doesn’t cut it,” he says. “When I was in the FBI, we used to piece documents back together all the time. Dumpster diving is much easier and more prevalent than you would think.” Burning is the way to go, he says.
Complete destruction of computer files is just as important. Unless they are wiped completely clean, it is not much of a challenge for a motivated person to glean information from old computers.
But the main thing legal administrators should focus on is getting to know the people with whom they work. Citing the man he helped send to the Supermax Prison in Colorado, O’Neill says, “The spy is always in the worst possible place, the place where they can cause the most damage.”