IT & the Lawyer

Disaster recovery

Disaster recovery plans fall into the same category as various kinds of insurance: you have it because you cannot afford not to. There are other similarities as well. Like an insurance plan, for more money you can have higher liability coverage/more thorough recovery and less time out of operation. There is no reason why firms should not perform the same analysis for other insurance as they do for disaster recovery.

Electronic disaster
The lowest level of disaster is a server crash of some sort. It can be physical (the server dies) or software-related, such as when a virus infects it or a disgruntled employee corrupts the software. The most common protection for recovering information quickly is a tape backup. However, there are several caveats you need to be aware of.

  • Test that your regular backup is really backing up.
  • Many older backup systems do not back up open files. Most database-based programs (such as e-mail or case management programs) keep their databases open all the time. If your database is not being backed up, the tape is worthless for recovery. Determine whether your programs can be "suspended" during a tape backup or can automatically generate their own backups during the day. Current backup drives allow one to easily do a full system backup regularly.
  • Tape backup drives and software become obsolete as quickly as other hardware and software in the computer industry. Be aware that if your three-year-old tape drive/PC, dies you might not be able to read it because no one has that model any more.
Physical/natural disaster
What about a physical disaster to your office (fire, flood, etc.)?
  • Have some form of off-site storage for your tapes (in addition to the backup machine), even if it means an IT person or a senior partner takes a weekly backup tape home.
  • Even smaller firms may maintain a second office. Consider installing a "backup PC", loaded with all the standard firm software, at this location (including appropriate security precautions such as boot passwords).
  • Most attorneys own a computer at home. Consider storing one's most valuable information/replication of office data on it so that in the event of a catastrophe one could either work from there or move the entire setup to new space.
How Much Down Time?
The second main question relating to disaster recover is how much data are you willing to reconstruct in the event of a disaster and how long can you afford for your firm to be inoperable? 1 day of lost work; 2-3 days; 2 weeks?

Document everything
Store copies of essential business documents: leases, insurance policies, various licences, etc. off site. This is the kind of thing you might want to keep in a bank safety deposit box anyway.

Use a CD writer to make copies of all your key software CDs (together with the serial numbers/ licence numbers and similar information) and keep them off site.

Develop a plan
Create a plan for what to do first if disaster strikes. What operations need to be restored first? For example, it is probably more important to continue to get documents out than focus on restoring your time and billing software.

Each firm needs to assess its comfort level in terms of disaster recovery planning and the budget required. However, for a small to mid-size firm, guaranteeing the ability to be back up and functioning within a matter of days of a major disaster is neither technologically overwhelming nor inordinately expensive. It is a matter of taking some basic precautions and keeping your recovery systems and documentation up to date as a basic element of doing business.

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