General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine

Essentials of Backing Up Your Files

By Ruth Davey

If you never have suffered a loss of data due to a computer crash, you have probably not given thought to the need for backups. Backups are copies of information on the computer and can be used to recreate information that would under different conditions be lost. It is a virtual certainty that one’s computer equipment will fail at some time, and that your computer contains data that you cannot afford to lose. You should back up all of your important data. We will discuss what you should back up, different systems for backing up, and what happens when you fail to properly back up.

First, what you should back up:

• Client files, including notes you have prepared, pleadings you have written, research you may have done online, and telephone memoranda.

• Client billing records.

• Billing history of the office.

• Calendar, including those all-important court appearances.

• Timesheets (reconstructing time would be an excruciating task).

• Programs that would be difficult to restore. For example, Ron S., a California computer user, lost all data in his computer, including Windows 95, when he compressed everything rather than purchase a larger disk. Ron was able to reload Windows 95, but had lost everything else. When he tried to re-install his applications (WordPerfect, for example) he found that some of the original disks were unreadable, but he had no other copies of them.

• Any other data that would be difficult to replace or restore.

Your e-mail correspondence may not be a backup priority. E-mail is similar to a telephone conversation, where parties may make statements that could be misinterpreted in print. Many people will say things in an e-mail that they would not otherwise say in writing. Writers believe that these memoranda will not be read by anyone other than the intended recipient. In fact, there may be personal and embarrassing information in your office’s e-mails. Rule 34(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure references discovery of "other data compilations from which information can be obtained, translated, if necessary, by the respondent through detection devices into reasonably usable form." This acknowledges that discovery of information stored in new and different media is both necessary and proper. Should you be the unfortunate recipient of a malpractice action, or another action involving your firm, you will not have the opportunity to review your electronic files before they are the subject of a discovery request.

You can dump your e-mails weekly, so that any unnecessary information is deleted. It is a good idea to do a weekly disk cleanup, immediately after a full backup. You should go through the data stored on your computer and delete any documents or files that are no longer necessary, such as drafts of correspondence or pleadings. Note that you do this after backing up, so you can still recover if you accidentally deleted an important piece of information. At a large Phoenix law firm, e-mail maintenance is done weekly, and all e-mails are eliminated. There is no e-mail backup during the week.

You need to take a clinical look at your individual practice and consider what data would be difficult or impossible to restore. You want to create a copy of everything in your hard drive, including programs and data. You can back up all information in your hard drive weekly and then perform daily incremental backups. Purchasing the right hardware and software to accomplish these objectives will avoid mistakes due to attempts to back up on your own initiative.

Systems for backing up vary greatly, from the relatively low-tech "copy everything to a floppy diskette," to the mid-range Zip drive, to sophisticated, multi-tape automatic systems.

Using diskettes to back up your system daily can be extremely tedious, as well as time-consuming to use to restore lost data. Since diskettes can hold only 1.4 MB of information and hard drives now are 2-17+ gigabytes (GB), it could take a large number of floppies to back up all your information. For most environments, the tedium of using floppies will eventually overcome the desire to protect the data, and you will stop doing comprehensive backups. For this reason, it is usually worth the investment to upgrade to a tape drive or Zip drive.

A Zip drive is available from Iomega ( that allows for movement from machine to machine. A Zip drive uses disks that will hold 250 megabytes of information. An advantage of a Zip drive is that it can be run externally off the parallel or printer port of the computer. This means you can move it from your desktop system to your laptop with relative ease.

You could consider a removable hard disk drive such as a Jaz, also made by IOMEGA, for daily and incremental backups, as well as for client archives. Many client files can be stored on a Jaz disk for quick access. Once a client’s file is closed, the information could be moved to a CD/ROM for permanent storage.

Tape drives include Hewlett-Packard’s Surestore Series (; Cybernetics’ CY-8000 ( www.cybernetics. com); Emerald System (800/767-2587); Conner and Seagate ( www.seagate. com); and Travan’s SD-3 ( www. travan. com). These backup systems are all unattended, so you may instruct the backup system to start the backup in the middle of the night, insert a tape, and remove the tape in the morning. You should rotate your backup sets and label them separately (label for them for days of the week), to be sure that office personnel do not reuse backup tapes oftener than every third week.

There are several ways to manage backups. You can perform a full backup (on tape) of all important disk drives once per week, then keep weekly backups going back about a month and monthly backups going back several years. The weekly backups that go back more than a month can be recycled, except for one in each month. The monthly backups can be stored off-site. Daily (incremental) backups will record files that have changed since the previous backup.

The newest systems operate with carousels that allow multiple tapes to be inserted into the tape unit and allow for 100 to 200 GB and more of automated storage. Various manufacturers offer these systems, including Hewlett Packard and Cybernetics. These same manufacturers offer single tape units that are capable of 50 GB (or more with compression), using special 8mm tapes (Cybernetics CY-8050).

There is software that automates backing up individual workstations, such as Cheyenne’s Arcsolo ( and Backup for Windows 95, and Seagate’s Backup Exec ( If your network is based on Windows NT, you need a software package designed for NT, such as NTBACKUP or Cheyenne’s Arcserve 6.1. Cybernetics makes an 8mm backup tape system, which provides about 6.7 GB of uncompressed storage per tape. For users of Windows NT 4.0, Executive Software (http:// markets a useful file recovery program called Undelete that can save users a lot of vexation. It is designed to recover accidentally deleted files in fast and reliable way. It is available in Server and Workstation version. Of course, a program such as this won’t protect you against the disk drive itself going down, so regular backups should still be done.

Backups should be checked periodically. One way to do this is to copy a number of files to a temporary directory, do a backup, delete the files in that directory (after taking note of the number of files in that directory), then restore those files from the backup and make sure that all the files were restored. It is important to do this type of check systematically, to make sure that the backup and restore procedures work properly and that the tapes or disks that you backed up are accurate.

It is critically important that you store some of the backup tapes offsite (take them home with you, perhaps). This will insure that your tapes are available if your business is burglarized or subject to a fire or flood. Offsite storage could also be in the vault of another company specializing in the safekeeping of backup media. However, you should also keep a copy of your most recent backup at the office, so that if you delete something by accident, you can retrieve it quickly. Many offices send the most current backup home with someone each night, store the previous night’s backup in a bank safety deposit box and keep a weekly set of backups at another office or at a backup storage company.

Individual computer users in your office should be encouraged to make backup copies to protect their own data files. These individual backups may be created by word processors or generated by copying a document onto a diskette or CD/ROM. They may be less-than-complete backup copies, and loss of data will create a great deal of time and effort in reconstructing the most recent draft of a pleading; however, even an incomplete backup will save time in the event of a catastrophe. It is worth some time investigating the automatic save options in the particular word processors, billing systems and other software you use in your office.You can then make sure that the individual users in your office take advantage of those options.

Some large firms use document management systems that copy any new document that is created on to a file server and then save the document every five or 10 minutes. This is in addition to saves that are performed on the individual PC. Imanage, a software document management system, has an Echo directory that backs up a document when it is saved or updated and then updates the server. These more sophisticated systems are probably not cost effective for small offices, but that does depend on the cost and difficulty of recreating lost information in the event of a massive data loss.

In summary, you should spend some time exploring the data stored on your computer and make a list of the programs, software, and information that you would find painful or impossible to recreate. Once you know what and how much information you need to protect, investigate the various backup options at web sites of some of the manufacturers listed above and at your local computer stores. Time invested in putting into place backup systems, and making sure that they are used religiously, need only be justified once. A single fire, burglary or hard-disk crash is all it takes to bring home the painful fact that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Ruth Davey (Ruth.Davey@azbar. org) lives in Tucson, Arizona, and is a part-time attorney telecommuting to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Grateful acknowledgment is given to Jane Davey, technical division director for Executive Software International, Glendale, California, and Peter Verhoeff, technical writing officer for Executive Software International (

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