June 06, 2011

You've Got Mail--And Lots of it!

Stephen Stine

E-mail has emerged as a vital communications technology. Nearly all the respondents of the 2008 Legal Technology Survey Report utilize e-mail communications. More than half of them use it daily to send confidential information to clients.

In light of such dependence on e-mail communications, it is important that lawyers make back-up copies of their messages to avoid an irreversible loss of lawyer-client correspondence and other data.

Are you prepared for a technology disaster? Learn how to back-up your e-mail files now…

You’ve got mail?

Whether you use a desktop e-mail client like Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird, or a browser-based webmail program like Gmail or Yahoo! Mail, either system is vulnerable to disaster.

A hard drive crash may be a nightmare for lawyers using desktop e-mail clients if their firm lacks an e-mail server, such as an Exchange server. Trusting the safety of your e-mail archive with a webmail service may also have disastrous consequences as several recent news stories attest.

In January cable company Charter Communications accidentally erased the e-mail accounts of 14,000 customers. And two years ago, Google accidentally deleted the e-mail messages of approximately 60 Gmail users. Unfortunately, such deleted messages often cannot be restored by webmail providers, highlighting the importance of doing the back-up work yourself.

Backing up web-based e-mail

Backing up your e-mail messages involves creating at least one other duplicate archive and maintaining at least two sets of messages in the case that one set is destroyed.

Download copies of your messages to a local desktop e-mail client such as Mozilla Thunderbird or Microsoft Outlook. Several of these desktop e-mail clients can be downloaded online for free. Microsoft Outlook Express is included with many Windows operating system packages, and Microsoft Outlook is included with some of the Microsoft Office packages or can be purchased separately.

Webmail services typically require users to configure certain settings before the users’ e-mail messages can be downloaded to a desktop e-mail client. IMAP and POP are the two main protocols used for the task.

IMAP (“Internet Message Access Protocol”) keep e-mail accounts synced between various devices and clients. For example, for accounts using the IMAP protocol, if a user downloads an e-mail message from an online account to a desktop e-mail client and then erases the message from one system, IMAP will detect the change and erase the message from the other system. Changes are done once and will be automatically reflected across various devices and clients.

POP (“Post Office Protocol”) is more limited in functionality than the IMAP protocol and does not enable automatic syncing across various devices. When users delete e-mails from one system, they must manually replicate those changes on the other.

Here are some specific instructions for downloading e-mail from the most popular web-based e-mail programs:

Google’s Gmail

Google’s Gmail has free IMAP support (see the help pages: “Getting started with IMAP for Gmail” and “Sync your inbox across devices with free IMAP”) and has free POP capabilities enabled. Users can use either of these methods to download their e-mail messages into a desktop reader for an eventual transfer to a firm network or an external storage medium. Here are instructions for using IMAP to download Gmail messages to a Thunderbird desktop e-mail client.

Yahoo! Mail

Yahoo currently does not support the IMAP protocol, and you can only use the POP protocol if you subscribe to the fee-based Yahoo! Mail Plus service (see How do I POP my mail? andPOP Yahoo! Mail Plus with Another Email Client).

Microsoft Hotmail

Hotmail does not currently support IMAP or POP protocols, so users may need to specific applications to download e-mail messages from Hotmail.

In order to download Hotmail messages intoMicrosoft Outlook, users may consider theMicrosoft Office Outlook Connector tool.Windows Live Mail, the successor to Microsoft Outlook Express, is able to access Hotmail messages as well as mail from other webmail services such as Gmail and Yahoo! Mail.
Users can use the “WebMail extension” to download Hotmail e-mail messages into the Mozilla Thunderbird desktop e-mail client. Other third-party software such as FreePops andIzyMail may be required to download Hotmail messages into other desktop e-mail clients

It is important to note that when downloading e-mail messages to a desktop e-mail client, users may be notified of the option to delete the messages from the mail server that the messages currently reside on. If the messages are deleted from the mail server, they will no longer be accessible from that server—whether a local Exchange server or a remote webmail server. The messages will be accessible only on the computer or other device to which they were just downloaded.

Where the goal of backing up is to establish copies of the e-mail messages in more than one location, and where it is convenient and desirable to be able to access the messages online from any remote computer, most users will probably want to keep the messages on both the server and desktop e-mail client.

Backing up desktop e-mail

Once your e-mail messages are downloaded to a desktop client, your next step is to copy them to a firm network or to an external storage medium such as CDs, a thumb drive or an external hard drive.

Microsoft Outlook users can export messages to a .pst file, and Mozilla Thunderbird users can copy e-mail files from their profile folder manually or using a third-party tool such asMozBackup.

Here are specific instructions on transferring messages using the most popular desktop e-mail programs:

Mozilla Thunderbird

According to Mozilla, e-mail messages downloaded to Thunderbird are stored in “mbox” format, which is compatible with most e-mail clients. Users can read the article “How do I export e-mail messages to another mail program or computer?” and follow the instructions to locate mail files in order to copy them for backup purposes. There are also software tools available such as MozBackup that assist users in backing up e-mail messages from Thunderbird.

Microsoft Outlook

Users can read the articles “Back up Outlook e-mail messages” and “How to manage .pst files in Outlook 2002 and in Outlook 2003” for instruction on backing up e-mail messages from Microsoft Outlook. According to Microsoft, your e-mail messages will be copied into .pst files on your computer or on a Microsoft Exchange Server (see the “How to back up .pst file data that is located on a Microsoft Exchange Server” section of the article in order to further back up e-mail messages stored on a Microsoft Exchange Server). These articles lay out steps to follow to export Outlook data to .pst files using an “Import and Export Wizard” for backup purposes.

Microsoft Outlook Express

Users can read the article ’How to back up and to restore Outlook Express data.” This article explains how users can copy their e-mail “personal messages store” to a new folder, which users can then backup by copying it to a firm network or external storage media.

Microsoft Windows Live Mail

Documentation available online on backing up e-mail from Microsoft Windows Live Mail is sparse. There are two third-party programs available for Windows Live Mail backup,Windows Live Mail Backup and Windows Live Mail Backup Express.

Additional resources

CNET: Backing up e-mail

ABA LTRC: FYI: Data Backup

CBC News: Gmail problem limited, Google says

This article first appeared in YourABA e-newsletter, a monthly publication distributed via email to all ABA members.  Learn more about the benefits of belonging to the American Bar Association.

Stephen Stine