Backup Basics for Law Firms

The topic of backups can be pretty boring. You set them up, they run when you’re not around, and you never think about them again. Well, yeah, they can be sort of boring, but everyone who uses a computer should be at least curious about their backups.

Hardware failures happen. At Total Attorneys we rotate our hardware out of primary data center once it’s 3 years old – at 3 years the odds of a hardware failure increase significantly.

Personally I love backups. Our business is based on technology, so backups and archives are cool, powerful things and a critical “insurance policy”.

Enterprise-level backups aren’t terribly different than home backups. In this post, I’ll explain why backups are so important and address some of the differences and similarities between enterprise and consumer level backups.

I won’t take it as technical as my last post (Cloud Computing Under the Hood) but will focus on making it relevant to readers today while shedding light on how we do things inside Total Attorneys.

Backing up Your Computer

Give any computer enough time and it will fail. Think about that. The computer you’re using to read this blog post will fail unless it’s gracefully retired by your “IT Guy”. So anyone who has important data on their computer without backups is gambling.

And although the odds of failure increase as your equipment ages, you’re gambling from day one. Unexpected glitches happen, and so do spilled sodas.

There are hundreds of third-party programs that provide backup capabilities – and Windows XP has a “Backup Utility” that comes with the standard WinXP distribution. All of these programs have three main concepts you should understand: creating backups, scheduling backups and restoring backups.

Backups are simply snap-shots of data (documents, photos, music, email, etc.) copied to a different hard drive. Because it’s a snapshot, it must happen every so often as your data changes. The scheduler handles that. Finally, and most importantly, a backup is worthless if it can’t be restored.

So, if you already do backups on your home-office / small-office computer do yourself a favor and try doing a restore – to familiarize yourself with the process and to ensure the backups are actually working. If you aren’t doing backups today – put it on your To Do list.

SaaS Backups

Companies that operate in the cloud – like Total Attorneys, Salesforce.com and Google’s Gmail – also rely on backups. We use those applications every day – they’re used everywhere by everyone. If you’re unfamiliar with “Software as a Service” take a look at this prior post I did for as a primer: Rethinking the Cloud.

Total Attorneys maintains the integrity of its (and our customers’) data using dedicated data storage servers, RAID’ed hard drives, regular incremental and full backups and archiving, supported by appropriate policy and process.

What’s important here is that our backups aren’t that dissimilar to your backups – just bigger and more complex. We also are very conscious of same important three concepts: backups, schedules and rehearsed restores.

Any SaaS application you use that stores data you can’t live without should be evaluated. Ask your customer service representative about their backup policies and procedures. Make sure they can answer your questions using the concepts and terminology above.

Many SaaS applications allow you to export your data from the system. Total Attorneys Virtual Law Office is one such SaaS-app. We provide that primarily to give our users true ownership if their data, so they don’t feel locked-in.

What we’ve found is some attorneys actually use this functionality to make a backup of their VLO data on their own computer. That’s completely fine, in fact I’m happy those attorneys are that concerned about backups – but in reality they’re making backups of data that’s already backed up.

In a Nutshell

Home-backups are based on the same principles as enterprise level backups: data copy, scheduling and restores. If you have critical info in a SaaS application, give them a call to see how they’re protecting your data with backups. And if you have a home computer or are responsible for a SOHO computer, start backing it up pronto.

Given enough time, all hardware will fail. So get your insurance policy in place today.