Rescue Your Law Practice, Work on Your Tan

By Andrew C. Simpson

My wife and I were off on our first vacation alone since Rosie, our three-year-old, had introduced early morning wake-ups, demands for attention, and other wonders of parenting to our lives. Grandma and Grandpa were watching her, and we were off for a romantic week in Bermuda.

I left my laptop at home as a present to my wife. This was a major concession for a digitally connected solo: I’ve managed to call my office from the top of a mountain in Washington State, and my laptop even accompanied us on our Italian honeymoon (although I did not use it). But things were quiet at the office, and what could go wrong in one week?

Our resort was idyllic. No phone, no television, an elegant landscape with palms gently swaying in the breeze. We could just about roll out of our room into the pool, and the Atlantic Ocean was only steps beyond the pool. Everything was perfect, and the cares of a busy litigation practice were swept away by the warm, gentle breezes.

Disaster Strikes

Then, on the afternoon of my first full day of vacation, I received a message to call the office. My staff would not call unless it was an emergency, so with a sinking stomach and racing imagination, I returned the call. My assistant reported frantically, “We can’t find any of the data files.” After listening to the description, I had her do a “hard” reboot of the server, but there was still no data. I told her I would call her back, told my wife that disaster had struck, and went in search of a computer.

There was a computer in our resort’s lobby for checking e-mail. I sat down and logged on to GoToMyPC.com. The server at my office was set up to allow access via GoToMyPC, so I knew that I would be able to access it unless the entire server had failed. I was able to log on, but my data drive was not displayed. I began to breathe a little more easily—thank goodness it was only all my data! I was relieved because I knew I had full, nightly backups of my data. My data was safe.

Now the trick was to get my office up and running again without ending my vacation early. This is where my disaster plan came into play. Because I had planned ahead, I now had several options. I decided the easiest remedy was to restore the data to a shared hard drive on one of my workstations. Then my staff would just remap their existing network drive to the shared hard drive on the workstation, and they would be up and running.

Usage of the lobby computer was restricted to 15-minute increments to allow other guests to check their e-mail, and a line had formed behind me. So I logged off, called my office, and told the staff how to remap the network drive to the shared workstation hard drive. I then had my assistant make sure that the most recent digital backup tape was in the tape drive. It was late in the afternoon, so I sent everyone home and told them to come in prepared to work normally in the morning. When I returned to our room, my wife was surprised at how calm I was.

Early the next morning, I waited for the cleaning crew to open the lobby and then logged on to my office from the lobby computer. I began the restore from my backup tape via GoToMyPC and stayed online to watch as my hard drive was effortlessly restored. Within an hour, all 20 gigabytes of data were back. I called in to the office at 8:30 AM to make sure the staff was not experiencing any problems and was told that all was fine. Since I was up early anyway, my wife and I went for a leisurely hike along the old Bermuda Railway, and the cares of a sole practitioner once again drifted away. My vacation and sanity were safe. My marriage was strengthened.

Lessons Learned

My experience demonstrates several aspects of a good backup system. First and foremost, never use incremental backups. It would have been far more tedious to try to restore from various incremental tapes to ensure that I had fully restored my data. With a daily full backup, it was easy to restore with a few clicks. Second, it’s important to have a plan so you know what you will do when the worst happens. Without remote access to my office network, for example, I would have been stuck trying to explain to my staff over the telephone how to do the restore.

A good backup plan anticipates as many contingencies as possible. What if the entire server had crashed, and not just the drive with the data? I had planned for that too: I had a USB tape drive still in the shrink-wrap in my office closet. I could have told my staff to pull that out, plug it into a USB port, and then restore the data to a shared drive from there. That was also part of my natural disaster plan—I could take a backup tape and the USB tape drive anywhere in the world and have my office up and running in minutes. With the demise of On-Stream’s digital tape backup product, I’ve now switched to external USB hard drives for my daily backups.

A good working backup plan is not inexpensive. But my experience demonstrates that, in the long run, it is a cheap, essential part of a well-run office.

Andrew C. Simpson is a sole practitioner in the U.S. Virgin Islands concentrating in insurance defense, civil litigation, and appeals. He can be reached at asimpson@viaccess.net.

Copyright 2006

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