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.
Vol. 76, No. 8, August
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
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
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
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
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
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 www.wilmic.com 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
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
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
Who will be responsible for backing up your firm's
records? Who is that person's backup when she or he is out of
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
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
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
After a disaster
Wait for the fire department's permission to reenter the
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.