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Backing Up, Like Breaking Up, Is Sometimes Hard To Do

By Jim Calloway

March 31 marked the observance of World Backup Day. Now, I know you think I probably made that up, but the observance has a website and everything — www.worldbackupday.com. There is even a pledge:

I solemnly swear to back up my important documents and precious memories on March 31st.

And a sub-pledge:

I will also tell my friends and family about World Backup Day — friends don’t let friends go without a backup.

The day was selected as the day to avoid becoming an April fool by backing up data the day before April Fool’s Day.

BUT FOR LAWYERS…

But for lawyers (and I know you saw this one coming), every day should be backup day!

Backing up data has evolved over the last couple decades. I recall many years ago backing up my home computer on a series of floppy disks. Not only did I have to babysit the machine during the entire process, but I recall once wondering if I was going to have to leave to go buy new floppies in the middle of the process. I also recall in my early days at the OBA when I would visit law firms and ask them when they did their last backup. Sometimes the answer was some variant of “Well, we are supposed to do them every Friday, but last Friday we had a big brief due and the Friday before that Catherine, who does it, was on vacation. Thanks for reminding us.” That was not a great practice then, but certainly less scary in those days when only word processing documents and billing records (with a paper backup) lived on the law firm computer.

Today, a data loss for a law firm of even a day could be catastrophic. Law offices are busy places. Many tasks are done on a given day of law firm work. Most of these tasks generate some sort of important data, whether it is a legal memorandum or a calendar entry. Previous practices of doing a daily or weekly backup have long ago given way to the modern standard of having a continuous backup process and managing multiple backups. 
Lawyers are encouraged to maintain both a continuous automated backup and have multiple backups.
 
The idea of multiple backups is easy to grasp because it is so simple. The often-cited “3-2-1 rule” says that for appropriate backup you need at least three copies, on at least two different kinds of media, at least one of which is kept off-site. But in practice, accomplishing this can be a challenge. Business continuity experts say that one backup should be kept at least 100 miles away from the others.
 
So, from my point of view, an automatic online backup service satisfies two of these requirements, continuous backup and the data being stored at least 100 miles away.
 
For several years, the OBA had a relationship with an online backup service called CoreVault. When the parent company of CoreVault decided to move in a different corporate direction and that relationship was terminated, some OBA customers were transferred to another company called Keep It Safe, which has no affiliation with the OBA.

WHAT SHOULD YOU BACK UP?

Normally an online backup plan costs less depending on the amount of data you back up.

A “complete” online backup of a computer is now more expensive than most will care to pay. There’s no reason to pay a daily fee to back up the entire Windows operating system on each workstation in every installed application. The data is what needs to be protected and so many lawyers now only backup certain drives. It is important to think of all the things that do need to be backed up one might not normally consider data, such as your favorites bookmarks in your browsers and your speech recognition data file that helps the software recognize your voice.

In many law firms, individual workstations are not backed up online at all, and all of the files and other data are saved to a network drive which is backed up.

To restore a computer that has been damaged, a mirror image of the computer’s drive with all of the standard software installed should be created. This can be done using tools like Acronis True Image 2017. A Google search will allow you to find lists of top-reviewed commercial backup tools.1
  
Some lawyers adopt a more hands-on approach to avoid the cost of online backup.
 
There was a discussion on the Law Office Management and Technology Section community page where several lawyers discussed using the Acronis to copy to another machine in the office for their continuous backup, while taking portable hard drives home periodically to facilitate off-site backup. Using portable hard drives for backup data is a very cost-effective way of doing so. But using an old computer to do so without first replacing the hard drive is like using a bald tire for your spare.

Many people did not know that an old hard drive sitting on a shelf can degrade. In a recent online interview, some Seagate employees indicated that in a proper storage place, one that is cool and dry, standard hard drive starts to degrade within one to two years of nonuse. Flash storage has been shown to degrade in half that time. There are two lessons from that observation. First, the extra expense of a solid-state drive is often justified for a computer used daily because speed improves user efficiency. But for storage backup drives, solid-state drives are an unnecessary expense for a somewhat less stable solution. But the main lesson is that, if you decide to use computer hard drives for your backup devices, you need to power up and access them approximately every six months to keep your data “healthy.”

Having a solid set of data somewhere else to protect your client and your operations that can be easily accessed is one of the reasons why cloud-based practice management software tools have become so popular for smaller firms.

INCIDENT RESPONSE PLAN

A hard drive or other computer failure means no computer access. Make certain you have a step-by-step response plan prepared and printed on paper. It should be available in several places in the office and include how to do the restore process, who to contact if assistance will be required and all other information needed to recover from a hard drive crash or other data disaster.

DON’T FORGET YOUR PHONE

Recently, my iPhone became very finicky about recharging. I fought with it for a couple of days using some tricks I learned through online research, but also ordered another phone. I received the new phone, but decided to wait until the weekend to set it up. The older phone had other ideas, dying in the middle of the night even though it was plugged in. I was quite pleased to log into my iCloud backup and learn that the last automated backup of the phone was very late that night. Setting up the new phone from the iCloud backup was seamless and easy. I didn’t lose any information.
 
Ironically, the phone had notified me a few months previously that my free iCloud space was inadequate and I had been paying an extra dollar per month for the additional space. I had plans to go in and see what I could delete to save the extra money. That $7 or $8 seems well worth it now. So, if your backup for your phone is overdue, maybe tonight should be the night.

CONCLUSION

If your backup procedures have been less-than-perfect, now you can appreciate why. This is simple in theory but also more complex as you try to apply it to your law practice. It’s important to create a plan so your backups are done correctly. Losing all (or much) of your digital data is not something any lawyer or law firm wants to experience.

Mr. Calloway is OBA Management Assistance Program Director.  Need a quick answer to a tech problem or help solving a management dilemma?  Contact him at 405-416-7008, 1-800-522-8065 or jimC(at)OKbar.org.  It's a free member benefit!

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- April 15, 2017 -- Vol. 88, No. 11