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Law Firm Backup Plan Best Practices

Do You Need a Backup System?

Do you have casualty insurance on your home? Of course you do, and you would even if the mortgage didnít require it. Itís worth a couple of hundred dollars per year to insure your home against its loss by fire, flood, hurricane, etc., even though the chance of them happening is very low. To lose your house and all its contents to a fire or other catastrophe would result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars. It doesnít make sense not to have insurance on your home.

Backing up the data on your computer system is analogous. In fact, itís better than insurance because it restores everything to its original condition.

If you lost the data on your computer system due to equipment failure, accident, electrical surge, fire, theft, user error, or intentional sabotage, how much would it cost you to replace it? How many billable hours would be lost? How many clients would you lose? Even after doing your best to replace all of the data by copying the courtís files, borrowing correspondence from your clients and other lawyers, etc., how much data would be lost forever? Would there be any way to replace your billing system data? What is your legal liability to your clients or others if you failed to maintain a backup system that a reasonably competent lawyer would maintain?

The cost of a backup system that meets the "standard of care" is less than $2,000. That amount includes hardware, software, and training. If someone offered you a one-time insurance policy for that amount that would guarantee to replace all of your electronic records in case of loss, would that sound too good to be true? It doesnít make any sense not to have a state-of-the-art backup system, and it doesnít make any sense to try to save a couple of hundred dollars on a system that is even a little bit less reliable. If the system doesnít work the one time you need it, itís not worth what you paid for it.

Backup System Schedule

This scheme is based on a two-week rotation schedule with a four-week archival backup. Ten tapes will be used in the normal rotation: five marked Set A and five marked Set B. An additional 12 tapes will be used over a 12-month period to create an archival tape each month because many problems can occur that require restoring your data from more than just five days or even one month ago, e.g., billing system corruption occurring during the last month-end close-out more than one month ago, corrupted form file that would take many hours to recreate, etc.

At the end of the fourth week, one new tape is used for an archival backup. This archival tape is marked with the date and retained for at least one year. Another new tape is archived at the next four-week interval. The goal is to have 12 archival tapes at the end of the year. See chart below for example. This procedure will require 22 tapes in total.

It is imperative that this procedure is followed to ensure disaster and/or file recovery.

Backup Rotation Schedule

Month 1 Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
A-Monday A-Tuesday A-Wednesday A-Thursday A-Friday
Tape Sets Set B Set B Set B Set B Set B
Set A Set A Set A Set A Set A
Set B Set B Set B Set B Archive Tape 1
Month 2 Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Set A Set A Set A Set A Set A
Tape Sets Set B Set B Set B Set B Set B
Set A Set A Set A Set A Set A
Set B Set B Set B Set B Archive Tape 2
Month 3 Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Set A Set A Set A Set A Set A
Tape Sets Set B Set B Set B Set B Set B
Set A Set A Set A Set A Set A
Set B Set B Set B Set B Archive Tape 3


When you first use a tape, write the date on it, and replace on a yearly basis tapes that are used in the normal rotation.

Your backup software should print a report each night showing whether there were any errors.

Some backup software will backup your e-mail, and some wonít. (Normally, open files are not backed up, and the e-mail database is normally open.) Make sure your e-mail is getting backed up. In many cases, e-mail is just as important as hard copy mail.

Make sure all your important data is being backed up:

It should be stored on one computer, normally the server. If you have more than one server, e.g., communications or database servers, they need to be backed up, also.

The entire file server should be backed up. I have seen backup schedules in which only part of the file server was backed up, so when additional programs, e.g., time and billing, were added, they were not in the backup path.

It is false economy to try to perform incremental backups because they can be difficult to restore. All of the tapes in the chain must work properly, or the whole data set can be lost. High-capacity backup systems are not expensive, and when you need to restore you donít want to run into any problems.

Newer backup programs will not only restore data, but also restore the operating system, making the restore process simpler and faster. Some of these are called "Disaster Recoveryģ."

You should test the restore process at least once per month to verify that the system is working properly. I have seen firms that thought their backup was working properly have no backup when a problem occurred. They thought because they heard the tape moving it was working. A test restore is the only way to confirm that you will be able to restore your data if disaster strikes. If your staff is unable to test the system, or cannot remember to do it each month, pay your computer support vendor to do it.

You should keep your backup tapes secure. Many firms leave all the tapes sitting next to the server. This makes it easy for a thief or saboteur to not only steal your hardware but also your backup. Keep the archival tapes in a safe deposit box, not in your breadbox at home. Keep the daily backup tapes in the office (a) at least out of sight, and (b) better yet, locked up.

The greatest backup procedures in the world are not worth the paper theyíre printed on if theyíre not followed. Delegate the primary responsibility to perform the backups to a trusted staff member or IT staff person. Train one or two other persons to perform the backup procedures in case the primary person is not available, and implement a policy such that the backup staff members know when the primary staff cannot perform the backup tasks, i.e., not only when they plan to be absent, but when they are unexpectedly ill.

Donít totally delegate your responsibility to oversee the system. Occasionally ask the staff, "How did the backup run today?" Create your own folder, and copy some word processing files into it. After the system is backed up, delete the folder. Then ask the staff to restore the test folder. Check to see if all of the files were restored, and that you can open them with your word processor and read them.

There are other steps you can take to make your computer system even more reliable and "fault tolerant," such as mirrored, duplexed, hot-swappable, and/or RAID 5 file server hard disk drive systems, and redundant power supplies, fans, and network cards, but a good, reliable, backup system is the first line of defense, and will protect you against the vast majority of catastrophic problems that you may encounter. Remember Murphyís Law, and keep in mind that Murphy was an optimist.

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