Getting Help When Good Technology Goes Bad

By Jonathan G. Stein

With apologies to the Fox network and its television program When Good Pets Go Bad, we have all been there when good technology goes bad. Maybe it’s a scanner that dies. Maybe it’s a monitor that looks like your TV set in the pre-cable days. Or, hopefully not, maybe it’s a hard drive that is neither hard nor driving anymore. When technology fails, what do you do?

Your first step should be to look to your backup plan. I know, if you had a backup plan, you wouldn’t need to read this article. But, as every risk management professional will tell you, you need a contingency plan, and then a contingency plan for your contingency plan. You don’t want to have something bad happen and then pull out this article to figure out what to do. Read this now, come up with a contingency plan or two, and then, when it is time, you will be ready to go.

Your contingency plan should have three legs. First, what happens when non-essential technology goes bad? For example, if your copier crashes or your fax fails, what are you going to do? Non-essential technology backup plans can be as simple as having the address of your local Kinko©’s written down. Now, you can run out and copy and fax. Of course, you may need to have a second copier, either on-site or in storage, in case you have larger copy jobs. This way, you are not reliant on someone else’s hours (believe it or not, most Kinko’s are not open 24 hours anymore), and you can get that rush job out. For faxing, sign up for an Internet faxing service so you can get those last-minute faxes sent until you can get a new fax machine.

You should also know two other contacts: the closest authorized repair facility for your brand of equipment and the closest reseller of refurbished equipment. The repair facility may be able to repair your equipment quickly and economically. However, if the repair cost is too large or not justified, you may want to consider a replacement. And if “new” is not in the budget, look at “refurbished” for an expedited, efficient, and economical way to replace the equipment. In some cases, the closest seller of refurbished gear may be online or an Internet auction site.

You also need a contingency plan for somewhat essential equipment, such as your monitor or printer. You need these, but you can replace them fairly easily. And, for most people, replacement is a quicker, quasi-cost-effective, quality option. A monitor can be difficult, if not impossible, to repair properly, if you can find someone willing to try. The same is true for all-in-ones or printers; you can buy a new one at a low cost. For example, you can get a color printer used only for photos new for under $100—and sometimes for less than even replacing the ink cartridge. So, when your color printer dies, a quick run to your favorite big-box electronics retailer may solve the problem.

Finally, you have truly essential equipment that needs its own contingency plan. Essential equipment includes your laptop or desktop, your hard drive, your backup of your hard drive, and anything else you cannot work without. (Trying running a modern law office without a computer. Mission: Impossible!) What will you do if your data disappear?

Hopefully, your first answer is to go to your backup. It is prudent for any law office to back up data at least weekly, if not more often. You need to protect your data and your ability to run your practice. With inexpensive backup solutions (under $300), there is no excuse for not backing up data frequently. (As an aside, you may also want to look at one of the online backup solutions. Some people have raised ethical concerns about these solutions, so check with ethics counsel in your state.)

If your hard drive dies completely and you cannot run your backup on it, then what do you do? Most manufacturers can ship a new hard drive to your local big-box electronics retailer overnight, if the retailer does not have one in stock. But remember, every day you are down with dead essential hardware is a day you are not signing up new clients, not working on existing client matters, and not running a profitable law firm. Consider an entire backup—not just the hard drive, but a second computer with an image of all of your data—to use in an emergency.

You can get a backup system for less than $1,000. Although that cost may seem large, consider the financial loss if you are without your computer for a day or two. A simple cost-benefit analysis shows that having the backup system allows you to more than make up the cost by continuing your billable work and not having your office come to a screeching halt. Also, you can deduct the backup equipment cost, but you cannot write off downtime from your practice.

Okay, so let’s say you are reading this after the disaster. What do you do? You have limited options, but you are not completely stuck. First, consider a technology consultant. Maybe you had someone help you set up your office. That person would be a good go-to guy at this time. Even if you didn’t use a consultant or know of one, call friends, family, and colleagues and see whom they recommend. Someone who can come out to your office quickly may cost more but may get you up and running faster. Second, consider the big-box retailers. These companies, which sometimes make house calls in strange-looking cars, can provide you with technology responses quickly and give you a range of options. Of course, you usually have to go to them to set this up, and there may be a wait. But, when all else fails, these retailers have the resources and the ability to procure replacement products quickly.

Some basic planning will prevent you from having a technology tantrum when your good technology goes bad. Make sure your contingency plan covers non-essential, somewhat essential, and absolutely essential equipment and that you have the resources necessary to get your office back up and running. Not only can the failure to plan cost you money, but in the twenty-first century, it could create severe problems for your practice. 

Jonathan G. Stein operates a solo practice in Elk Grove, California, specializing in litigation, including personal injury, property damage, contract disputes, insurance claims, and consumer law. He may be reached at .

Copyright 2008

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