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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    May 14, 2008

    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 practice?

    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 81, No. 5, May 2008

    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 practice?


    Reduce Risk of Loss to Speed Recovery

    Art Saffran

    Here are some practical steps you can take to reduce the risk of computer data loss and to recover faster in the event of a disaster.

    1) Risk reduction. Store your office files on a central computer that acts as a file server. This puts all your critical files in one repository that is easy to back up and restore. Data files include documents, time records, financial data, practice management databases, and, of course, email. Establish a firm policy for staff to save data on the server, not on their computers.

    2) On-site backup. Set up a simple system to back up all the office data every night. If possible, configure the file server with a mirrored hard 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 entire computer without reinstallation of the operating system and any other installed software. Imaging software will not miss any files that might be overlooked when setting up a traditional file-based data backup system. Look for a system that sends an email report after each backup so you are alerted of any failures. Assign someone the responsibility of reviewing these reports daily.

    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, or other disaster. One option is to rotate three USB hard drives between the office and an off-site location. Two drives remain off site while the office drive performs backups for a week. At the end of a week, one off-site drive is brought to the office and the on-site drive is taken off site. Three drives eliminate the 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 high 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 location so you don't overwrite working files. This will validate your data backup and will familiarize you and your staff with the steps to do a simple file restore. 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

    Tom Watson

    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 without disruption to their clients if their office is destroyed by fire or tornado 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 of income and clients? How do they protect their paper files? Do they have property insurance to cover any loss? Do they have business interruption coverage? Do they have a plan for contacting all their clients in the event that client files are lost? All these questions and others are part of this scenario.

    If lawyers think checking with an information technology (IT) person is all they have to do to be protected from fire, tornado, extended absence from work and so on, then they won't be adequately prepared for any of those things.

    - Thomas J. Watson, Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Co., Madison

    Back Up Electronic Files

    We all experience panic when we can't find a client file in the office, but 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 the office, at least we could restore a portion of our files from the backup tapes. At a very basic level the backup tapes would, at a minimum, provide us with a list of current client files from our database. Although portions of our files may have been scanned and saved as electronic documents and thus would be recoverable, there would certainly be gaps.

    Even in the face of loss, however, there is a note of encouragement from lawyers who have experienced office disasters. They have told me that in almost all cases judges and opposing counsel have been quite understanding and 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

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