If you aren't encrypting your laptop, you are committing malpractice. According to me. As far as I know, there is no ethical authority that agrees with me, but they should. Here's why.
Encrypting a laptop is now trivial. Seriously. Here is how to do it:
Windows Vista Ultimate and 7 Ultimate. Control Panel > Bitlocker. Turn it on. (Using a "home" version of Windows for your law practice should be unethical, too, but that's another post.)
Windows 8 Pro. Start typing "bitlocker" at the Start screen. Turn it on.
In other words, with 2–3 clicks, you can encrypt your laptop, securing the information on your hard drive from prying eyes (the NSA, malicious hackers, identity thiefs, etc.). It won't even slow down your computer in any noticeable way, unless you are doing resource-intensive things like high-end video editing.
If you have a laptop running an operating system that makes encryption this easy (i.e., Windows 8 or any version of OS X dating after 2003), you should be sanctioned if you have not turned it on.
When the cost of encryption — however you calculate that cost — approaches zero, and the risk is so great, there can be no legitimate excuse for failing to encrypt.
If you don't encrypt, and you misplace your laptop, or someone walks off with it, you can safely assume your clients are at high risk for identity theft, at a minimum. If this happens to you, go ahead and buy all your current and former clients whose information was stolen a year of credit monitoring.
Or, you could take less than a minute, encrypt your laptop, and stop worrying about it.
(You should also, by the way, ensure that your laptop asks for your password when you wake it up from sleep.)
Why laptops, in particular? Because they can leave your office. The computer(s) locked up in your office are probably fine, but any data that can move is at risk, and you should secure it. That starts with encryption. Turn it on.
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