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Digital Certificates and PKI for Lawyers

PKI (public key infrastructure) technology is used worldwide to enable the secure authentication and exchange of digital information. As an attorney, earning and keeping your clients’ trust is paramount, and using PKI-related products such as SSL/TLS and document signing certificates is a great way to do just that. 

Obtaining an SSL/TLS certificate for your website is key to retain the trust of your clients. Document signing and S/MIME certificates can help guarantee the integrity and authenticity of your email and signed documents.

Need a Certificate? SSL.com provides a wide variety of digital certificates, including:


How Can SSL/TLS Help Lawyers?

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) and its successor, TLS (Transport Layer Security), are protocols for establishing authenticated and encrypted links between networked computers. The most current version is TLS 1.3, but it is still common to refer to these related technologies as “SSL” or “SSL/TLS.”

SSL/TLS works by binding the identities of entities such as websites and companies to cryptographic key pairs via digital documents known as X.509 certificates. Each key pair consists of a private key and a public key. The private key is kept secure, and the public key can be widely distributed via a certificate. Because of the special mathematical relationship between the public and private key, messages encrypted using the private key can be decrypted by the public key, and vice versa.

SSL/TLS certificates can be used to secure web domains and enable the HTTPS protocol, which is vital for those looking to build a secure, SEO-optimized web presence. An HTTPS web server can sign data like web pages, images, and javascript with its private key, allowing web browsers to verify the data’s integrity with the public key in the site’s certificate. In turn, a web browser can use the website’s public key to send messages that only the server can read. Via the SSL/TLS handshake, a web server and a user’s browser can negotiate an encrypted browsing session to protect information from potential eavesdroppers and attackers.

Why is HTTPS Important to Lawyers?

The HTTPS protocol makes it possible for website users to transmit sensitive data such as credit card numbers, banking information, and login credentials securely over the internet. For this reason, HTTPS is especially important for securing online activities such as shopping, banking, and remote work. However, HTTPS is quickly becoming the standard protocol for all websites, whether or not they exchange sensitive data with users.

As an attorney, having a secure, HTTPS-enabled domain is just one more way to earn the trust of site visitors and clients. It will give them the confidence to know that sharing or submitting sensitive information using your online services. If your certificate is Organization Validated (OV) or Extended Validated (EV), your clients can check for information about the business that runs the website from the certificate, an added layer of assurance and another way to earn their trust. 

EV certificate

Using an SSL/TLS certificate to enable the HTTPS protocol on your domain is also important for SEO (search engine optimization), the practice of optimizing a website to perform well in search engine rankings. This means that an SSL/TLS certificate can potentially help you obtain more clients for your practice. 

Furthermore, any website without an SSL/TLS certificate in 2021 will be visibly flagged as “insecure” by modern browsers.

What is a Document Signing Certificate?

A document signing certificate is another type of X.509 certificate. A publicly trusted certificate authority (CA),such as SSL.com, checks information submitted about an applicant and, if valid, issues a signed certificate. The certificate can then be used to create digital signatures. 

Document signing certificates from SSL.com are delivered on FIPS 140.2 YubiKey USB tokens. Your private signing key is stored on the device, is not exportable, and can only be accessed by a PIN. It fits on your keychain to go anywhere with you for ease of use whenever you need it.

SSL.com’s document signing certificates are trusted by major software publishers  including Microsoft and Adobe, so you can be confident that your signed PDFs and Word documents will be trusted by your recipients’ software

Digital signature in Adobe Acrobat

S/MIME Email

SSL.com’s document signing certificates also include S/MIME capabilities. S/MIME (Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) uses PKI and asymmetric encryption to provide authentication and encryption of email messages. By signing your email with an S/MIME certificate from SSL.com, you can assure receivers that the messages you send are really from you, and they can prove that you really sent them. 

Furthermore, you can use S/MIME to encrypt your email communications securely, shielding them from prying eyes while in transit. When S/MIME email is deployed throughout a business or other organization, employees can be certain that messages from their colleagues are genuine, and clients and customers can trust email sent from within the organization. For a law firm, this can be vital technology to enable safe transit of sensitive documents. 

Last Word

PKI technology, document signing certificates, S/MIME, and SSL/TLS certificates are a great choice to offer more trust for your clients. Making the extra investment can help safeguard information, provide authenticity, and promote trust between you and your clients.

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