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Most of us have a “love-hate” relationship with e-mail. It has become an essential part of our everyday lives – something we often feel we couldn’t live without. But this great communication tool is also the source of frustration as we attempt to manage the flood of messages we receive each day. In fact, studies have revealed that the average e-mail user spends 30 to 40 percent of their day dealing with e-mail – from composing, reading and replying to e-mail, to organizing and deleting it. And many research firms are predicting that the volume of e-mail will continue to increase at significant rates over the next several years. We have greatly improved connection speeds and other advancements in e-mail technology to thank for this explosion in today’s e-mail-centric world. It has become a quick and efficient form of communication both internally and externally, enabling businesses to become more mobile and to more easily do business around the world. With e-mail becoming a core tool for the business community, it now holds key data, often intellectual property for a company. ESG Research has reported that 75 percent of a company’s intellectual property is now contained in their e-mail system – making e-mail retention and accessibility of utmost importance. Storage Struggles Law firms need to not only ensure that their e-mail systems are backed up and protected for security purposes, but also that their e-mail is retained, managed and stored properly to enable easy access and management. We have all heard the significant costs of downtime and thus understand the importance of a stable and predictable e-mail system. Today, many law firms are using the standard Microsoft Outlook Application alone or in conjunction with Microsoft Exchange Server. Due to an increase in e-mail messages and attachments that are sent and received in the daily business routine of a law firm, oftentimes firms’ servers cannot handle the mammoth volume of e-mail traffic. Overloaded systems run the risk of corrupting and/or losing business-critical data. Additionally, this storage burden creates costly maintenance problems and slows server performance dramatically, limiting accessibility to e-mail and therefore reducing employee productivity. In an attempt to manage storage issues, some firms are setting quotas for each user. When users hit their quotas, they typically use other methods to store their e-mail rather than to delete it. Users often transfer their e-mail into personal folders on their desktops to free up space in their mailboxes. Because of the way the e-mail is stored, these personal folders require more storage space, have limited search capabilities, are often not backed up, are almost never deleted and are usually password protected causing difficulties accessing the information if an employee leaves. Since e-mail contain a high percentage of a firm’s intellectual property, this approach can be risky. The Better Option As the legal community is all too aware, in addition to being a productivity tool for business operations, e-mail messages have become part of the discovery process in litigation. Because many e-mail messages contain critical company information, regulations increasingly require long-term indexing and archiving of messages. There are better options available. Our own data center director, Robert Trasatti, oversees our network of 1,400 users, including 34 law firms spanning over eight states. To address the growing compliance and data management and storage issues, Trasatti recently explained that e-mail archiving solutions are becoming a critical staple in a firm’s IT infrastructure. These central repositories make copies of e-mail and store them in a non-production environment from the time a message is created to its final disposal. As e-mail messages come in, they are compressed, encrypted and recorded in an archive. There is no interference with the user’s copy and if the user deletes the original, the copy is still accessible from the archive. Additionally, these systems provide what’s called “single instance storage” – that is, if the same message was sent to five people, the system stores it once and “points” to all the users who received the message – drastically reducing storage-space requirements. E-mail archiving systems offer various levels of storage. Primary storage would typically be the exchange e-mail server, which requires high-end equipment that becomes expensive when new disk drives need to be added, managed and backed up. Secondary storage is a less costly storage system and can be used to hold older e-mail. The individual law firm should determine the appropriate time period when these idle e-mail messages should be moved over to secondary storage. For example, the firm might choose to move e-mail messages that are aged between 90 days and three years into this secondary storage, freeing up space on the main e-mail server. Significant benefits of such archiving include the cost and time savings realized by eliminating the task of backing up copious amounts of this unedited, archived e-mail on a regular basis. Firms can also set up tertiary storage for e-mail that have even longer lifespans. An example might find a law firm utilizing this third level to store data that is over 3 years old. The time period of which these e-mail messages are shifted to this third level of storage from secondary storage is dependent, yet again, upon the particular firm’s policies and procedures. Furthermore, this tertiary storage would typically be in the form of optical or tape drives that would require an IT person to retrieve the file(s). Setting Retention Rules Each organization must set rules and guidelines for archiving e-mail. Different departments within a firm will have unique retention requirements dictated by legal obligations (retaining clients files for three years, for example) or by a firm’s own preferences. If multiple recipients have different retention rules, the message will only get deleted from the archive once the last retention period has expired. As a common fixture in the IT environments of law firms, document management solutions have also been adding e-mail archiving features to their applications to help solve these compliance and storage issues. Users can drag their e-mail messages into their document management program and save the e-mail with other types of documents. A profile is created for each e-mail, enabling the text to be indexed and users to easily search the content by keyword in the message header, the body and even in attachments. The Value of E-Mail Archiving Trasatti’s research has found that e-mail archiving systems, such as EMC’s E-MailXtender and Symantec Enterprise Vault, are providing law firms with significant compliance, productivity, technological and financial benefits. Depending on whether you are speaking to an IT person, a firm partner or legal administrator, you will get different opinions on why e-mail archiving is so valuable. On the technical side, by decreasing storage space requirements, law firms are able to reduce the number of e-mail servers they need, use less expensive secondary and tertiary storage appliances and more quickly backup and restore their systems. By automating the e-mail management process, it takes the responsibility away from the end user, increasing that person’s productivity levels. Employees spend less time organizing their e-mail and have critical information available at their fingertips – enabling them to more efficiently and effectively practice law. And, perhaps most important: the retention and protection of the firm’s intellectual property. E-mail archiving eliminates the IP “black hole” that can occur with data loss and corruption. These solutions help ease the response to litigation or compliance problems with their advanced retrieval capabilities. And, with e-mail stored in one place, firms can retain corporate intelligence – even as employees come and go. Edward J. Grubb is president and co-founder of Network Alternatives Inc. (NAI). He has more than 20 years of experience in law office computing. Contact Grubb at [email protected].

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