General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionSolo Newsletter

Solo, Vol. 5, No 3.
Spring 1998
© American Bar Association. All rights reserved.

Covering Your Ass(ets) with Data Backup Systems


Ross L. Kodner is a lawyer and founder of Milwaukee's MicroLaw, Inc., in 1985, a national legal technology consulting firm serving over 400 law firms across North America. He is cochair of the State Bar of Wisconsin Office Management Section's Technology Committee; vice-chair of ABA TECHSHOW for 1998 and ‘99; and incoming chair of the ABA Law Practice Management Section's Computer & Technology Division.

Imagine future malpractice suits brought by clients angry because their lawyers failed to adequately protect client data by proper use of backup systems. It is shocking how many lawyers, and their entire firms for that matter, do not have "adequate" data backup systems and procedures in place. Take my advice.

Protecting Your System Software and Critical Data Is Essential!! Eventually, it may be prima facie evidence of malpractice not to safeguard client data! Who wants to be featured on CNN and Court TV for being the first law firm sued for malpractice for failing to protect client data??

Daily, Weekly, Monthly. Always do a full backup--everything: your programs, your documents, your calendars, your billing date--everything, every day.

Tape Is the Primary Way. Buy a top quality tape backup unit and set it to backup your entire system every single night. Quality units come from Hewlett-Packard, Colorado/HP, ADIC, Cybernetics, Seagate, Sony (except the Iomega-made units), and Wangtek.

Rotate Tapes. Use at least 5 tapes, if not 10 or more, and cycle through them. Keeping a special monthly set of tapes for a last day of the month backup is also wise. Tapes wear out too. They're made of very thin magnetized plastic. Learn what the manufacturer specifies for an expected life cycle and throw them away at that point and replace ‘em. (And be sure to TRULY erase these discarded tapes. Remember that they are storehouses of your confidential client and firm data!! Think about buying a "bulk eraser" from Radio Shack--about $30--a couple of swipes of these vibrating, super-magnetic field-emitting gizmos and any trace of recoverable data will be wiped out, so we hear. Of course, do this FAR away from your PCs and floppy disks and Zip cartridges and probably even pacemakers, etc. )

Store Tapes Offsite: It accomplishes nothing if all your backup tapes melt in the fire that incinerates your office! Fireproof safes are simply not good enough!

Verify Your Backups Regularly. Backup systems that are not working often look like they are. Check your tapes to see that they contain information, and do periodic test "small scale" restores to prove that the system will work when the chips are down. So NEVER, EVER trust your backup system--check it regularly to keep it honest

Network Backup--Do It From Your Server! Use a heavy-duty, network-intended data backup unit installed in your fileserver PC using a high-speed SCSI controller. Be sure to use top-quality network backup software specific to the network operating system you are using. The industry benchmark for Novell Netware and Windows NT Server-based systems is Cheyenne's Arcserve 6.1 (for Netware; the NT version is 6.5)--available for as little as $300 for small network versions. The best thing about it? It works.

Don't Forget to Backup Your Laptop! Many firms who religiously backup their in-office systems never think to backup the irreplaceable data located on their laptops--don't forget!

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