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Disaster avoidance, not recovery, is the best strategy. If recovery takes too long or if there is no data to recover, the firm can lose clients or even go out of business. Nowadays every law practice, large and small, stores its information in digital form. That information is the firm’s work product and must be protected. Most small firms and solo practitioners back up their data on tapes, but few do it in a way that insures that, in the event of a computer disaster, they can quickly restore that data and be up and running again. For any practice the key question is: How quickly can we access our tapes and reload the data? In the event of a fire, there may be nowhere to load the data, no equipment to load it onto or no data on the tape to load. Clearly, disaster avoidance is a superior strategy to disaster recovery. Yet, backing up data on tape is strictly a disaster-recovery strategy. In a typical system, the firm’s data is backed up at predetermined intervals on tape, which may be located in the firm’s offices, in a nearby building or at a remote location. If an accident or disaster wipes out the firm’s system, the staff may be without access to their data until it is recovered from the tapes and restored to the system. Assuming the tapes are not damaged or destroyed, this could takes days or even weeks. The goal of a disaster-avoidance plan is to ensure that the firm is not shut down by a computer disaster or can be back in business in a matter of minutes. Disaster avoidance is not just for large firms; today’s technology makes it affordable for everyone, including the solo practitioner. How likely is a serious computer disaster-and what kinds of disasters should lawyers worry about? Surprisingly, fires, natural disasters, hackers, viruses and terrorists are the least of their worries. The greatest threats are much more mundane: Up to 80 percent of unplanned downtime is due to failures caused by people and processes and only about 5 percent is due to disasters (“Operation Zero Downtime,” Gartner Security Conference presentation, May 2002, available at www.gartner.com). WHERE TO START? The challenge for small firms is figuring out what to do. Once a firm decides to plan for disaster avoidance, the next step is a thorough assessment of its current situation. The firm can check some of the basics itself, things like installing surge protectors and making sure that computer hardware is not installed under sprinklers. But for a thorough assessment, a small firm without an information technology (IT) staff will probably be well advised to bring in an outside company or consulting firm with expertise in business continuity. An assessment starts with a critical review of the firm’s IT infrastructure. This review includes all of the on- or off-site technology upon which the firm depends, including servers, Internet, wireless and wide-area network connections, applications, and other software. Basics such as up-to-date firewalls and virus protection, location and security of equipment and tape backups, password management and related items should also be reviewed. Once this review is completed, one should evaluate all of the firm’s applications: e.g., case management, time and billing, and e-mail, to determine which ones are critical to ongoing operation. Next, the firm should examine the method used to store and retrieve information and determine how long it would take to recover data in the event of a disaster and what recovery process would be used. Tape backup is the most commonly used method of storing data by law firms, but there are two basic problems with relying solely on tape back-up-time to recover and ability to recover. Storing tape on site, even in the same building, is an invitation for disaster. A common rule of thumb is to store the tapes in a secured facility at least 25 miles away from the firm (although they could still be difficult to retrieve if major roads were blocked in an emergency). Even if the tapes are accessible, there’s still the danger that they might have been destroyed or damaged by the same disaster or that the data might not have been properly written on to the tape or were lost or corrupted because the tapes were defective or improperly stored. Most firms reuse tapes, but they don’t always reformat them cleanly. Management of the on-site tape system, off-site archived tapes and the burden of keeping up to date with the technology must be considered. Another consideration is the increments in which data is stored (continuously, hourly, daily) and the process used to measure the amount and quality of restorable data. The assessment should also consider the firm’s paper files and documents and other important business and client records, including archived documents stored in an off-site facility. COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS The final step is determining the impact and cost of downtime, which requires an operational, rather than a technical, analysis. In a worst-case scenario with the physical location of the firm destroyed or inaccessible, how long would it take to recover the data and get the firm operating again? How much revenue per hour would be lost while the firm’s critical applications were shut down? How many clients would be lost to other firms? If all billing records were lost, how would the firm reconstruct its accounts receivable? If data from tapes were not recoverable, what would it cost to have it re-entered? To these costs, a firm might have to add the impact of missed court appearances and filing deadlines as well as fines or penalties resulting from the inability to produce information as part of discovery or pursuant to a governmental request. With the assessment completed and the tolerance for downtime determined, the firm is ready to create a disaster-avoidance plan. Each firm can decide on an appropriate level of disaster avoidance based on its individual needs, risk tolerance and budget. For the small firm or solo practitioner, it may be enough to back up information on a daily basis and transmit it to a remote secure facility where it can be readily accessed. The costs of storing data online like this in a remote storage facility typically range from 2 to 5 cents per megabyte. Monthly costs would typically range from $35 for a solo practitioner to about $175 for a firm with a dozen lawyers and up to $1,000 or less for a firm with several dozen lawyers. For more reading on this, see www.storagemagzine.com and www.wwpi.com. A large law firm might be able to afford its own off-site storage facility, but a small firm or solo practitioner will find it much less expensive to contract with an outside vendor to capture, store and return, as needed, the firm’s data. Even a solo practitioner may find that the cost of off-site data storage compares favorably with tape backup, especially when the benefits of security, reliability, fast access to data from any location and minimized administrative tasks are considered. In selecting an outside vendor for a remote, online storage system, the firm should list its requirements and then make sure that the vendor can meet them. A typical list would include:

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