On September 11th, 2010 many attorneys with offices in downtown Manhattan were hit with a dose of reality about managing their practices. For some, it was a hard lesson about what can happen if you forget to backup your computer data, client contacts, and practice management information. Yet the fact remains that backing up data is a lot like talking with your dentist about flossing: it's something that you probably hate doing.
Feeling guilty yet? Don't take it personally. There are plenty of legitimate business reasons for you to back up your computer data early and often. In addition to keeping your cash flow rolling, chances are probably pretty good that your business insurance agent has asked your firm about its computer backup systems in your malpractice application.
Before you begin any spring-cleaning, take a look at the kind of backup solutions that are in place your firm. It's never a bad time to re-examine your storage needs for your own piece of mind and that of your clients.
Backup Solutions Examined
Making hard copy backups of data using disks, tape, portable hard drives, or other portable storage devices can be relatively inexpensive, but in order to work effectively, you should keep multiple copies of backup tapes and materials at multiple locations offsite. A fireproof safety deposit box is one possibility, as well as hiring the services of a remote data storage company that can securely dial into your network each day to retrieve newly created files.
Another advantage to having a third-party provider help you with data backup is that you reduce the chance that disgruntled, terminated employees can hold your firm hostage by taking backup files or access to data with them when they're no longer at your firm.
Extranets, like West's WorkSpace, let attorneys access client case information, calendaring programs, client data, and billing from a server that is located offsite. Whether working at the office, at home, or in temporary quarters, all the data remains accessible. That can give your firm peace of mind. Develop a disaster recovery plan before you need to use it. Hopefully, your office will be ready if disaster strikes near you.
Here is a quick review of storage options that you and your firm should consider:
- Small Removable Media: mega's 100 or 250 MB Zip disks and 3M Corp.'s 120Mb Superdisks hold far more than antiquated floppy disks. Although they're easy to use, the disks are expensive and hold far less data than other media. If you're a sole practitioner, or are on a tight budget, these disks could do O.K.
CD-R and CD-RW -- Most new computers these days feature CD-RW drives that let you backup your files on "read only" CD-R disks, or on readable and re-writeable CD-RW disks. They're cheap, relatively durable and easy to use, and have a bigger capacity than Zip disks (approximately 650MB). One drawback is that even at this size, you'll need to use quite a few to backup everything on one computer. While solos and very small firms could get by with using CD-RW's, they'll spend a lot of time doing it, and they're impractical to use for an office-wide network backup.
- DVD-RW: Hewlett-Packard and Apple's SuperDrive now offer readable / writeable DVD-RW disk drives that -- at 4.7GB capacity per disk -- deliver nearly eight times as much storage capacity as a singe CD-R or CD-RW. While that's a lot of convenience, DVD-RW disks can be far more expensive than their CD-RW or CD-R cousins, but will save time over using CD-R / CD-RW disks.
- Hard Drives: You can buy a FireWire / IEEE high speed hard drive or USB hard drive to get a fast, pluggable backup solution for your computer needs. These drives can range in size from 6GB to 400MB. If you're going this route and have the port capabilities, opt for a FireWire drive over USB. FireWire is simply much faster, and USB is currently being eclipsed by USB2. Expect to pay a slight premium for portable Firewire hard drive storage devices compared to their USB counterparts ($99 -- $800)
- Tape Drives: You can store a lot of data on tape drives (20 MB - 100 MB), and the cartridges are reasonably priced given what you're getting (approximately $35 - $200 per tape). They're great for a law firm's computer network, given the possibility of backing up the entire office at once. There are a number of drawbacks, however, for which you'll need to plan ahead. The strength of a tape itself can be limited to a certain number of backups before its reliability can fail. This means that your firm will need to keep close tabs on how many backups each tape has had, and be ready to purchase new tapes regularly.
Off-Site Backup Solutions: Redundant storage and backup of your data offsite in a remote location can give your firm considerable peace of mind. Using a solution like West's WorkSpace or a remote, automated data storage company to archive your data, client work-product, and office network can take a huge weight off your firm's shoulders. While you'll pay a little more for an offsite network storage and backup solution, you're firm is likely to get back up to speed far quicker in the event of a fire, flood, or other catastrophe affecting your office.
Technology changes quickly. For a more up to date discussion on this topic, please visit the Computer Networking & Storage section at FindLaw’s Technologist blog.