Vol. 81, No. 5, May
What Keeps You Awake at Night?
How Would I Recover If My Office Was Destroyed?
I worry about keeping my practice
going if disaster strikes and my files are destroyed. The "what
ifs" are making me lose sleep
- what if there's a fire, what if there's a burst water pipe, what if
there's a tornado or a flood. What can I do now to protect my
Reduce Risk of Loss to Speed Recovery
Here are some practical steps you can take to reduce the risk of
data loss and to recover faster in the event of a disaster.
1) Risk reduction. Store your office files on a central
acts as a file server. This puts all your critical files in one
is easy to back up and restore. Data files include documents, time
financial data, practice management databases, and, of course, email.
a firm policy for staff to save data on the server, not on their
2) On-site backup. Set up a simple system to back up all
data every night. If possible, configure the file server with a mirrored
drive that contains an exact copy of the first hard drive. Backing up to
inexpensive external USB hard drives is an excellent alternative to
tapes and tape
drives. Consider using drive imaging software that takes a
"snapshot" of your
entire computer hard drive. Imaging software allows rapid recovery of an
computer without reinstallation of the operating system and any other
software. Imaging software will not miss any files that might be
when setting up a traditional file-based data backup system. Look for a
that sends an email report after each backup so you are alerted of any
failures. Assign someone the responsibility of reviewing these reports
3) Off-site backup. An off-site copy of your office data
will allow you
to recover your critical data files in the event of fire, flood, theft,
other disaster. One option is to rotate three USB hard drives between
and an off-site location. Two drives remain off site while the office
performs backups for a week. At the end of a week, one off-site drive is
the office and the on-site drive is taken off site. Three drives
risk of having all backup drives in the office on the day the drives are
swapped. Another off-site backup option is an online data backup service
to back up
your office data via broadband Internet connection. These services use a
level of encryption to protect your private data. Data restoration can
be done via
the Internet for a few files or via CD or DVD for recovery of all files.
4) Testing. Take a few minutes each month to restore a
folder of data
(using a different folder each time). Restore the files to a temporary
you don't overwrite working files. This will validate your data backup
will familiarize you and your staff with the steps to do a simple file
Be sure to test both your on-site and off-site backups.
- Art Saffran, Saffran Technology, Madison
Think About How You Are Protecting Your Practice Generally
This is not solely a "technology" question. It invites
lawyers to think
about how they are protecting their practice as a whole - not just their
electronic files. Do they have a plan to open a new office immediately
disruption to their clients if their office is destroyed by fire or
burglarized? Do they have backup in place if a lawyer in the office
cannot work for an
extended period of time? How would they deal with even a temporary loss
income and clients? How do they protect their paper files? Do they have
insurance to cover any loss? Do they have business interruption
they have a plan for contacting all their clients in the event that
are lost? All these questions and others are part of this scenario.
If lawyers think checking with an information technology (IT)
all they have to do to be protected from fire, tornado, extended absence
work and so on, then they won't be adequately prepared for any of those
- Thomas J. Watson, Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Co.,
Back Up Electronic Files
We all experience panic when we can't find a client file in the
at least we know it must be around the office somewhere - it isn't
really lost. A much more catastrophic event is the type that
actually destroys the files.
The event could be natural, such as fire or flood, or it could be
technological, such as an electrical surge that wipes out a hard drive.
In our office, we
back up our hard drive every night and remove the tape from the office
at the end
of the following day. Although losing files would have a major impact on
office, at least we could restore a portion of our files from the backup
At a very basic level the backup tapes would, at a minimum, provide us
list of current client files from our database. Although portions of our
may have been scanned and saved as electronic documents and thus would
recoverable, there would certainly be gaps.
Even in the face of loss, however, there is a note of
from lawyers who have experienced office disasters. They have told me
almost all cases judges and opposing counsel have been quite
helpful, with courts extending deadlines and opposing counsel willing to
offer nonprivileged material to recreate the lost files.
- Mark C. Young, Trapp & Hartman S.C., Brookfield