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In the web 2.0 age, redundancy programmes carry a new level of security risk. Martin Baldock explains how to minimise the threat of grudge-bearing former employees

With economic predictions for the professional services sector looking increasingly bleak as the year draws to an end, it would have come as little surprise to any observer of the legal market that almost a quarter of the UK’s top 50 law firms are considering making redundancies – as reported by Legal Week on 6 November.

So, what issues should those managing this sensitive issue be thinking about? With more and more information being held electronically by law firms, the scope for acts of workplace computer sabotage and vandalism by disgruntled employees, as well as the destruction of incriminating evidence, has dramatically increased. Consequently, it is vital for firms to implement sound procedures when employees are laid off.

It is important to remember that many of those employees being laid off will see the consultation period as an opportunity to make copies of assets such as client lists, customer price agreements and employee contracts that could be useful to a competitor. The same thought process is often evident when an employee chooses to leave of their own accord.

First and foremost, firms need to consider the ‘what if’ scenarios. What if this associate has access to our client database? What if the finance manager has copied out passkeys to our bank accounts? There should also be consideration of what digital evidence recovery techniques might be required if an investigation follows at some stage.

When recovering digital evidence, the initial step is to capture the entire contents of a user’s PC. This process is known as imaging. It usually involves removing hardware from the target computer and hosting that hardware in a controlled environment, such as a secure workshop. The process goes far beyond capturing visible files from the PC, recovering deleted files, partially overwritten files and potentially much valuable incident-related information, such as registry entries, temporary internet files and internet email – all of which could become important to prove or disprove an allegation at a later date.

Obviously, the earlier the imaging is carried out, the less the chance of spoliation. It makes sense to do this as part of the exit procedure: the ‘image’ does not have to be searched, but can be stored with the personnel file just in case something needs investigation in the future. The cost of this is minimal compared with the cost, time and potential damage to reputation that could be caused if there is no evidentially secure data to fall back on in the event of a later dispute. The process also does not take very long. In fact, after only a few hours the user’s PC can safely be rebuilt and returned with all data – both visible and deleted – preserved.

Exit procedures

While the exit policy should be run by the human resources (HR) department, it needs absolute support from partners and management. Indeed, it may be a good idea to obtain further support from external specialists in order to provide a level of independence. Here is a checklist of steps that should be taken as soon as the employee is notified of their redundancy, or indeed as soon as possible after a resignation:

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