GPSolo Magazine - December 2003

Backup: Invest Now or Pay Later

Backing up your computer data is like exercise—you know you should be doing it, but you probably keep putting it off. It’s a sorry (and scary) fact that many attorneys do not take the time to ensure their electronic work product against digital disasters or computer catastrophes—or even plain old floods, fires, and tornadoes. Think about all of the documents, letters, memos, and briefs you’ve created on your computer, not to mention your e-mail, appointments, and valuable client contact database. Just a little time and preparation and a few precautions will ensure that your computer data and information stay safe.

Reality Check

Computer backups ensure you that all of the information on your personal computer or network server is intact in the event of a considerable tragedy. I’m sure I don’t need to point out the extent to which you use your computer in your practice. If you have a paper document on your desk but lose it, what would you do? Would you immediately think that you simply could print out another copy?

But what if your computer is stolen? Or bitten by a nasty virus? Or meets the dreaded Blue Screen of Death? What if a broken water main shorted out your equipment and your plans over the weekend? How would you recover all your documents, financial statements, client contact information, time and billing statistics, and e-mail? Here are a few considerations and suggestions for starting down the road to successful backups.

The first step toward properly backing up your computer is determining what information should be included. The simplest option is just to make a copy of the hard drive. This is possible—but not very practical. A more prudent approach is to concentrate on the most important data. Documents are a great place to start, but consider every nook and cranny on the hard drive where these documents might be stored. If you maintain your documents in one centralized location, backing them up is easy. If you have documents and information scattered all over your hard drive without any sense of organization, you’ll waste a lot of time making sure you find everything to back up.

A digital inventory should not stop there. If you’ve developed some fancy macros for word processing, back those up. And don’t forget about any pictures or videos you’ve saved. Take a few minutes to review every piece of data you would want or need should your computer be hit with a catastrophe.

Tools of the Trade

As you can imagine, there are many applications and products on the market that promise to make your backup task a breeze. Basic backup utilities can be found in the operating system of most versions of Microsoft Windows. In Windows XP, for instance, the “Backup Utility” does simple backups of files and folders, but if you’re really serious about doing the job right, you should invest in a backup application that’s a little more robust.

If you’re concerned about backing up only one or two computers, programslike BackUp MyPC (from Stomp, Inc., or Backup Now! 3 Deluxe (from NTI, are very easy to use and fairly inexpensive (each is $79). Both of these programs enable backing up either the entire computer or just certain folders or files. I really appreciated the status bars that BackUp MyPC shows during the process—I sometimes get impatient when I know my computer is “busy” but I can’t see exactly what’s going on. On the other hand, I like the step-by-step interface in Backup Now! It’s hard to get lost in the backup process when the program holds your hand through each stage.

Those who may need to back up other machines such as network servers should consider the Retrospect line from Dantz Development Corporation ( Retrospect Professional ($88) is very similar to the two applications discussed above and will ably handle any backup job on your personal computer. Other flavors of Retrospect include Single Server ($429) and Small Business Server ($679), which obviously handle a networked computer environment. I find Retrospect very simple to use and powerful.

Regardless of which software you use to back up your system, you’ll need to store your backup files somewhere. Don’t store backups on the same hard drive that you’re backing up—this defeats the purpose. One of the most common backup storage mediums in today’s world is the CD. Many new computers today come with internal CD burners, or you can purchase external burners for around $100 from LaCie ( or Iomega ( Blank recordable and rewritable CDs (CD-R and CD-RW) cost next to nothing. All three of the backup software packages mentioned above will burn your backup straight to a CD that easily can be stored anywhere, like in a client’s permanent file or a safe deposit box. Much like the CD-R and CD-RW, another popular storage format is the recordable DVD, which can hold several times the amount of data of a CD-R.

Tape backups are still used, but mostly in larger enterprises. You have to use proprietary equipment for handling tapes, and they run much slower than CDs or DVDs. Another option would be to simply purchase an external hard drive. You can plug these into your computer via USB 2.0 or FireWire, which are both fairly speedy. The OneTouch External Hard Drive family from Maxtor (, $300 for a 200 GB model) actually uses a streamlined version of Retrospect in conjunction with a button on the hard drive to create a backup quickly and easily. All of the applications mentioned above will recognize an external hard drive connected to your PC and use that as a backup destination over a CD burner if you prefer.

Oh My Aching Backup

A properly planned and organized backup of your data will do no good if you can’t get to it when you need it. Using CDs or DVDs is a good idea because they can be stored outside the office. And a backup won’t help if it’s too old. It’s probably safe to assume you use your computer every day, which means daily backups would be prudent. This isn’t as daunting as it sounds. Many applications will make differential or incremental backups instead of a full archive, so only the data that has changed since your last backup is actually saved. When you think about your backup plan, seriously consider how often you should do them. One way to think about it is to consider how much time you could lose if your data gets wiped out—one day, two? The answer to the question is a good guide.

Once you start creating your backup files, be sure to test them every once in a while. All backup applications include a restore process. It may take some extra time to run a test-restore on your backups, but wouldn’t you want to know if something was wrong before you actually needed the backup? If that fateful crash occurs, you’ll thank yourself.

Brett Burney is the legal practice support coordinator at Thompson Hine, LLP, in Cleveland, Ohio. You can e-mail him at



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