With the disastrous flooding in North Carolina and South Carolina, it is likely that there are lawyers’ offices among the flooded. Once the waters recede, lawyers will have books and wet paper legal files to contend with. First, understand that the paper will never be the same, even if it is readable. According to the Smithsonian Institute, air drying can work, but if you have a lot of documents, you should put them in plastic bags and freeze them in the coldest freezer possible. Later, you can either call a professional to freeze dry the papers or work on them yourself, following instructions online. Anyone can easily see this approach isn’t the best. What if you have no electricity for a freezer? Will you have time for the delicate job of pulling pages apart? A better solution: make sure that all of your law firm’s documents are scanned and saved in an internet document storage site, such as Mozy, Carbonite or SpiderOak.
Posts published in “Disaster Planning”
- Evaluate your emergency response plan.
- Decide how emergency information is going to be communicated to employees
- Locate your emergency contact list and take it to a safe location outside the office
- Account for all people in your office
- Determine who will issue the all clear
- Identify specific items (valuable artwork, technology, key records, etc.) that need to be evacuated from the office (Note: This should only happen if time permits and without endangering people.)
- Identify hazards in the event of power outages, wind damage or flooding (overloaded electrical currents, improper use of extension cords, blocked stairways, and exits, etc.)
- Provide cable locks on laptops
- Make sure bookshelves are secured to the wall
- Grab your disaster recovery file and all supporting information
- What should be in a disaster recovery file?
- emergency contact information
- partnership and other firm related agreements
- insurance policy & broker information
- inventory list, including videos and photographs, if taken
- important product keys to office equipment, serial numbers, usernames, passwords, etc.
- office calendar (if manual), statute of limitations manual, and any other time sensitive information
- any other important administrative records or documents.
- What should be in a disaster recovery file?
- Do a full backup of all hard drives and data drives
- Do a test restore
- Remember the personal safety of everyone is your top priority.
How prepared are you for a serious interruption to your practice? Accidents and disasters have the potential to interrupt or destroy a law practice. It is important for firms to foresee, plan and prepare ahead of time. June 1 through Nov. 30 is Atlantic hurricane season. Request a free copy of PMAP’s disaster planning handbook, Prepare, by emailing email@example.com, and check out additional resources including the 2016 South Carolina Hurricane Guide from the SC Emergency Management Division.
There’s no time like the present for solos to think about their contingency plan. Sometimes, it’s hard to write a succession plan because you don’t like to think about being dead or disabled. At a minimum, start with a letter to your secretary or someone else who would mind your office. Write the letter as if you were going on a long vacation, letting them know what they need to know if you were outside of cell phone reach. If you’re ready for a real form to designate a successor, go here and print the Preparation Checklist for Planning Attorney. You can also model a Succession Agreement by using this one as an example. Go ahead, there’s no better time than now. PMAP is free help for lawyers. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Everybody appreciates the importance of good backup procedures. But everyone does not implement great backup procedures. Part of the reason is that hard drives today are much more reliable than those of the few generations ago. But the main reason is that because we are all so busy, it is easy for a backup procedure involving a lawyer or law firm staff to be overlooked or delayed.
A convincing argument can be made that good backup receipt procedures are not only a requirement of running a business today, but also an ethical requirement for lawyers. The need for a firm to appropriate backup to protect client data is implied in RPC 1.1, 1.3, and 1.4.
We are both strong believers in the need for a paperless office and digital workflows.
Many lawyers making the transition to paperless today still keep a duplicate paper client file, but there are significant downsides in using a paper file as a backup. These range from the tendency of lawyers to revert to using the paper file and failing to update the digital file to a lawyer relying on paper file at the last minute only to discover that the law firm’s reliance on paperless processes means that the paper file has not been updated and is missing important documents or notes.
Our profession is in a transition from reliance on paper client files and other physical information storage systems to a complete reliance on digital client files and paperless workflow.
An important part of making that transition is absolute rockhard certainty that you will always have access to your digital information when you need it. This means that no law firm should have its future and its client matters protected by only one form of backup. It also means that lawyers and staff should be trained on how to cope with a data loss, temporary inaccessibility of data, loss of power or loss of Internet access. Lawyers must be trained on how to react in the event of such an emergency. (Otherwise you run the risk that a panicked lawyer may fail to recognize that his or her phone or tablet powered by a different Internet service provider can serve as a redundant form of Internet access, for example.)
Backing Up Local Data to the Cloud
When it comes to backups, there is a rigid mantra that all savvy computer consultants know by heart: the only truly reliable backup is an offsite backup.
In other words, while it’s nice to have a backup that you make from your computer to an external hard drive, that’s not truly secure. Why? Well, because whatever physical catastrophe can happen to your local computer will probably affect the local backup as well.
Here are some examples:
- Fire in your office
- Tornado that hits your office building
- Flood that fills your office with standing water.
- Theft of your computer equipment.
People tend not to think about the theft example, but it happens. Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola had his computer stolen which had 15 years worth of his movie scripts. He had a local backup on an external hard drive. But when the thieves took his computer, they also stole his external hard drive.
So, again, you want a backup that sends your data offsite so that local catastrophes don’t affect the backup.
In the old days, having an “offsite backup” meant doing a nightly backup and then physically transporting the backup tapes to another location. This took time, was cumbersome, and only allowed for nightly backups to taken offsite. If a disaster happened during the day, all of the new data was going to be lost. Plus if the individual who is transporting the hard drive home loses the drive or has their car stolen, you may find yourself in the position of having to notify all of your clients that there’s been a potential data exposure of their confidential information.
Today, the solution is to use a cloud-based backup service that continuously backs up data as it is being created: immediately and reliably. These services are very affordable, and are the easiest way to reliably backup local data in a way that provides incredible peace of mind.
Among the services that provide these services are:
These services work with any kind of computer—Mac or PC. If you find a service that doesn’t work with both types of computer then consider that a bad sign. The whole point of cloud backup services is to make life easy and if you have to start thinking about what kind of computer you can buy to make them work, then life isn’t going to be as easy.
Some of the online backup services also offer syncing across to other computers. Crashplan offers such services, and so you might want to consider if you not only need backup, but also real time syncing to other computers.
The prices for basic online backup (without syncing) vary slightly, or greatly depending on add-on features you select, but in general expect to pay in the range of $5 to $12 per month for “personal level” features. Most of these services offer a free trial period so you can investigate how they work and decide which one is best for your purposes.
These services offer business class backup, as well personal backup. Maybe you can get away with using the lower-cost personal services, but in general you want to use the business class service if you can afford it.
One feature that the business class services typically provide is centralized administration, which will allow you to be in control of backups happening on the various computers that everyone in your firm is using. You don’t want to have to rely on going around to each computer and physically checking to see if backups are occurring, or to tweak settings if that becomes necessary. And with the business class services you can even backup your local servers if you have that need.
How Many Belts Go With Your Suspenders?
In conclusion, this is really the ultimate question, even if it is worded colloquially. You have a set of data on your computer and your computer network. You understand that you need at least one additional copy of the data, the proverbial data backup.
It is our experience that this functions much better when done on automated, online process rather than relying for an individual in a busy law firm to do it manually. But then what? Just making an image of your computer and save it periodically makes sense? Should you get a portable hard drive and manually make an additional copy of the backup from time to time? Should you get two of those portable hard drives so that one can always be stored off-site?
At some level, this is still a matter for each individual lawyer or law firm to decide. But, it is also fair to say at this point that having no backup is not a rational and responsible decision for your clients for your law practice.
This article is but a taste of what awaits you at the ABA TECHSHOW 2016, March 16-19 at the Hilton Chicago. As a member of the South Carolina Bar, we want you to know that you can get a discount on the ABA TECHSHOW 2016. This discount only applies to registrants that qualify for the Standard registration. You can register online and include this unique discount code: EP1604 to receive a discount.
Reprinted with Permission. 2015© by the American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any or portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
Special thanks to Catherine Sanders Reach, Director, Law Practice Management Division, Chicago Bar; Jim Calloway, Director of Management Assistance Program, Oklahoma Bar Association, and Ernie Svenson, a nationally recognized speaker, author, litigator, and blogger; for their contributions to this article and permitting us to use this content.