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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    August 01, 2003

    Managing Risk: Electronic Records Plan Aids Recovery

    Find out how to protect electronic records in this third and final column in a series about managing your firm's most valuable tangible assets - your records - in a disaster.

    Ann Massie Nelson

    Wisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 76, No. 8, August 2003

    Electronic Records Plan Aids Recovery

    Find out how to protect electronic records in this third and final column in a series about managing your firm's most valuable tangible assets - your records - in a disaster.

    by Ann Massie Nelson

    Ann Massie NelsonAnn Massie Nelson is a regular contributor to Wisconsin Lawyer and communications director at Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Co. (WILMIC) in Madison.

    One-fourth of businesses never reopen following a disaster, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Institute for Business & Home Safety. Will your firm be one of them? Back up every byte of information that passes through your law firm, some experts say, and you will never be caught off guard. But is the risk of losing vital records in a disaster worth the cost of creating and maintaining a mammoth electronic warehouse?

    Electronically storing all the contents of your files - including externally created documents - entails considerable human effort and discipline. Costs include staff time, scanning equipment, imaging software, storage media, and the continuous need to convert data to newer and better configurations.

    Most importantly, finding and reproducing the information you need in the days and weeks following a disaster could be a Herculean task, the proverbial needle in a bitmap.

    Recovery begins with a plan

    Plans made in anticipation of Y2K often are credited for the quick recovery of organizations struck by subsequent disasters. According to Robert Hagness, a Mondovi sole practitioner and vice chair of the State Bar's Law Practice Section, an effective electronic records management plan gathers input from lawyers and staff and answers the following questions.

    • What information will you store electronically? You will want access to current client matters, prototype documents, electronic forms, calendar and docket systems, contact information, time records, and firm financial data.
    • Will you scan and store incoming information as well as firm-generated documents? "To image everything that comes into the office could be difficult, but it's not hard to make a copy and send it to the clients," Hagness says. "Combine that with referencing all the important points made in incoming correspondence in your own outgoing correspondence, which routinely is copied to the client and also is part of your internal backup system, and a lot can be salvaged without the paper file."
    • How will you identify records? Is your file and document naming convention descriptive, intuitive, and scalable?
    • What formats will your firm use to archive information? Hagness recommends portable document format, better known as .pdf, for archiving records. "The federal government has bet all its marbles on .pdf. I believe all future data-retrieval software will work with existing .pdf files. The latest version of PaperPort® now scans directly to .pdf files. Corel WordPerfect® has .pdf format as one of its 'save document' formats. There is an add-in for Microsoft® Word to do likewise," he says.

      Recovering from Disaster

      "Recovering from Disaster: Step by Step" (Script, Train, Execute, Process), a morning-long continuing legal education seminar for attorneys and staff, will be presented this fall at these four locations:

      Thursday, Sept. 18, Skyline Golf Course, Black River Falls

      Thursday, Sept. 25, The Waters, Minocqua

      Friday, Sept. 26, The Osthoff Resort, Elkhart Lake

      Friday, Oct. 10, Dodge Point Country Club, Dodgeville

      Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company will apply for 3.0 CLE credits, including 2.0 EPR credits. All programs begin at 9 a.m. Call WILMIC at (800) 373-3839 or visit for details.

    • How will you recover your electronic records after a disaster? Can you electronically search multiple formats? Software exists that can search scanned documents and .pdf files as well as internally generated documents for key words and phrases. Make sure you archive earlier versions of operating systems and software to access stored information.
    • What hardware and software will you need to access your data? Periodically test your ability to recover data from backup media at a remote location. If your computer equipment is damaged by water, smoke, heat, flying debris, or other hazards, a data recovery service may be able to retrieve data from computer hard drives and magnetic media. Check your property insurance to see if the cost of data recovery is covered.
    • What media will you use for electronic records storage? Magnetic storage media (disks, tapes) have a life span. Maintain a regular schedule for replacing tapes and disks. Alternatively, there are Web-based data storage services, where you can rent space by the gigabyte or by the month, according to Hagness. Evaluate the information security measures used and the long-term viability of the service provider.
    • How frequently will you back up the information? Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly? If a tornado destroys your firm at 3 p.m. today, will current work product - probably the most urgent, got-to-have-it-now information - be secured? "Law offices should think about what they can do to capture today's work product, as well as all prior work product. Try automatic file saves to multiple storage locations, for example, Zip disks, external universal serial bus (USB) hard drives, or flash memory products," Hagness recommends. At the end of the workday, Hagness backs up critical work on a USB flash memory device that fits in a shirt pocket and plugs into any computer. Once a day, all firm documents are recorded automatically on compact disk (CD). Once a month, the entire system is backed up on CD.
    • How long will you keep electronic records? As noted in a previous article, the Wisconsin statute of limitation for attorney malpractice is six years from the date of discovery of the error or omission. Ethics grievances may be investigated for up to 10 years. At the time you close a file, assign a date for future review and purging.
    • How will you ensure confidentiality of client information? Who will have access rights to electronically stored documents? If you work with outside service providers or store your data on commercial Web storage systems, take steps to safeguard confidential information.
    • Who will be responsible for backing up your firm's records? Who is that person's backup when she or he is out of the office?
    • Where will the backup media be stored? You need to store backup media off site, far enough away so that they won't be affected by the same disaster, yet in a place where you can access them.

    An ounce of prevention

    • Locate your computer servers in a secure place, off the floor, away from windows, water pipes, radiators, and other potential hazards.
    • Save valuable time after a disaster by making sure now that your software licenses, including virus detection software, are current.
    • Keep an up-to-date list - off site - of all software, hardware, and peripherals. Include model, serial, and license numbers; purchase dates and prices; suppliers and service providers; warranties and related information. You will be grateful for this information if you need to lease or replace equipment in a hurry. Furthermore, this documentation will expedite processing of property and business interruption insurance claims.
    After a disaster
    • Wait for the fire department's permission to reenter the building.
    • Protect computer servers and storage media from further damage; remove if possible.
    • Rinse damaged electronic media in clear water. Store in sealed, waterproof bags. Do not attempt to dry or freeze disks and tapes, as you would paper documents.
    • Dispose of damaged computer equipment properly. Landfills cannot accept computer equipment until hazardous materials within have been removed. Plus, confidential information stored on hard drives or electronic media may still be accessible.

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