After speaking recently at the 4th Annual Solo and Small Firm Conference (May 6-7, 2009, Toronto), I have received emails asking for more information, especially on the topic of ‘going paperless’ in a small law office. In responding to those email queries, it occurred to me that my answers might be helpful to others. This is the first of what may be several blogs in which I share my answers. This one is about my thoughts on backups. For the office that goes paperless, reliable, frequent backups are critical as there is no paper copy available.
For a solo, I would suggest buying a portable hard drive with a USB connector. All computers (except very old ones) will have at least one (or more) USB ports (but check yours just to be sure). A few months ago (March 2009), I purchased a Western Digital portable hard drive for $169 at Costco. The model I bought is called ‘My Passport Elite’. It holds 500 gig of data. It comes with backup software which I installed on my laptop and find very easy to use. Every time I connect my portable hard drive to my laptop (which is turned on), the backup software starts up and begins copying everything that has been updated since the last time I connected the two of them. I can continue to work on the laptop without interruption as the backup software automatically pauses anytime I am working. When the laptop is idle, the backup software starts up. The physical size of the hard drive is not much bigger than the old Palm Pilot, i.e., a small notepad. It probably weighs about a pound. The capacity of the portable hard drive is so large that it can hold all of the files stored on my laptop as well as on our server.
In my opinion, every law office should have at least two forms of backup and at least one, if not more, copies of the backups should be stored off-site. In addition to the above portable hard drive, at my office we also have four larger (physically) portable hard drives that also connect via USB to a desktop computer at our office. We use a free backup software package called copysynch to run automated backups over our network from our server to another computer. This happens at night on a daily basis — incrementals (updated or new files only) during the week and a full backup on Friday morning. We then copy the files from the desktop computer to one of the portable hard drives and take it off-site. At all times, the other three hard drives are off-site and the fourth one is only on-site for a day. Each of the hard drives (750 gig each) can hold several weeks’ worth of data so we actually have backups covering a period of several months. This allows us to recover an uncorrupted copy of a file from many weeks ago if the problem isn’t discovered right away and the more recent backups of the file are also corrupted. This has happened to us on at least two occasions.
A comment on tape backups — this is now very old technology and should be retired. Before long, it may not be possible to read the data from the tapes either due to the constant wear and tear on the tapes, i.e., they become worn out, or the tape drives that can read the tapes will no longer be available or repairable. Recovering a single file can take enormous amounts of time as it is necessary to rewind or unwind until the location of the file is found. If you are using tape backups as your only form of backup, I encourage you to immediately implement some other form of backup — even something as simple as backing up from one computer to another. It won’t give you an off-site copy which is important to have. However, it will give you at least one other form of backup until you can acquire some portable hard drives such as I have mentioned here. When buying hard drives, the minimum capacity should be no less than 500 gig. I suggest buying as much storage capacity as your budget allows.
A techie guru I know says that you can never have too many backups. I’m not sure that the time and expense required to maintain more than two or three forms of backups is worth it. However, I doubt you will ever regret having too many backups as opposed to having only one and finding that it is corrupted when your computer hard drive fails and you are facing a critical deadline.
Hopefully this blog has motivated you to review your backup systems and ensure nothing will be lost through inadequate backups.

Reproduction of this blog is permitted if the author is credited.  If you have questions or if you would like more information, please call us at 613 836-9915. This blog is not intended to be legal advice but contains general information.  Please consult a lawyer or other professional to determine how the information in this blog might apply to you.
Blog posts pre-dated December 1, 2015 were originally published under Neff Law Office Professional Corporation.

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