Data Protection 101: Backup Best Practices for Busy Law Firms

You’ve been reminded to “back up your stuff” ever since you first started using a computer. And you (or your administrator or partners in IT) diligently back up your firm’s critical data, so why keep talking about it? Because creating, maintaining and accessing an up-to-date copy of your data – one that can be used to restore your data in serious circumstances – is more important than ever.

First, your data assets, from emails and matter details to all those docs and pdfs, are, quite literally, the digital backbone of your law practice. Lose access to any of them – or lose them altogether – and it can negatively affect your firm’s productivity, reputation and bottom line. Not to mention the stress it can cause.

Secondly, with the availability of modern backup solutions, there is now an expectation (from clients and firm management) of “zero data loss” no matter what kind of disaster happens. Put another way, with all the solutions that exist today for backing up critical files, there is low tolerance for data loss in any scenario.

Lastly, when there is an issue, there are expectations that recovery times happen within minutes and hours, not days or weeks.

There are new threats in addition to the ever present risks of flood, fire, hardware failure, and human error. Malware, hacking, and ransomware are just some of the all too common modern dangers that firms of all sizes need to be aware of and factor into their data security strategies. One in ten computers are infected with a virus each month, in the U.S., 140,000 hard drives fail each and every week, and recent studies show that up to 30% of data loss is caused by malware.

The good news is that with a simple backup strategy, you can mitigate the severity of any of these disasters and reduce them to mere inconveniences.

Today, we are going to look at current best practices for backing up your critical data, some of the most popular options, and the increasing role the Cloud plays in keeping you safe.

Backup basics

Backing up is the process of making a digital copy (or two or three) of your essential files and storing them somewhere safe. Whether you’re a sole practitioner or a firm with dozens of workstations and a dedicated IT team, the first step in your backup journey is the same. To protect your data, you have to actually back things up. You might be rolling your eyes at how obvious that seems, but a shocking 30% of individuals and businesses have never backed up a single byte of their critical data. Imagine, right in the middle of your busy day, your computer hard drive stops spinning. All that matter info you were just working on – if not backed up – might be lost or unrecoverable. Avoid the pain and make a habit of backing up.

There are lots of different economical and dependable ways to back up data. If you have only a few computers, you might consider an external drive or two. The cost of high capacity portable hard drives has decreased dramatically. Get the biggest hard drive you can afford and learn how to set up automatic back ups.

Most modern operating systems, including Windows and Macintosh, have built-in tools (“file history” and “Time Machine” respectively) that allow you to back up everything on your computer fully once, and then make incremental backups after that. Once you have a backup in hand, it’s best practice to keep it in a safe location away from where your computer is located. For example, if there is a fire or flood at the office, you can recover from your backups stored safely at your home.

Online backup options

Other options include the many online or cloud-based back up solutions. These come in free, paid, and business-level varieties and allow you to back up your most critical files to a secure and often encrypted server location operated by a third party. Conveniently, some of these cloud-based backup solutions are available right from within your computer operating system. Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage and Apple’s iCloud storage are well-known examples that have free and paid options you can use without downloading any special software. Other popular cloud-based backup options include Dropbox, Google Drive and Box cloud storage. Each offers lots of space for your important files and sophisticated syncing options to keep your files organized and up-to-date. Research the various options and opt for the highest quality solution that suits your situation.

A reminder – many of these solutions are akin to online “locker space.” You can store your important data there and recovery it in an emergency. But many don’t offer the space to back-up your entire computer (with its operating system and applications). For that kind of full system backup, you might consider a dedicated physical hard drive or backup server solution.

Backup regularly

So, while doing backups is job one, making sure to do them regularly is job two. No matter what solution or set of solutions you choose, it’s more important than ever to backup your data frequently. This is because threats to your data are constant.

Ransomware and other email-based threats happen out of nowhere and being able to roll back to how things were even a few hours ago is a powerful defense. It’s recommended to back up more than once a day and set up automatic backups that just automatically happen in the background.

A backup of your backup

To have peace of mind, your best bet is to have more than one backup as part of your backup plan. This means having a combination of backup solutions in place, such as multiple physical drives along with a cloud-based backup. This strategy ensures your firm will be equally as safe whether you’re dealing with a fire, flood, or cybersecurity breach.

Data protection professionals have long referred to the 3-2-1 rule. The 3-2-1 backup rule states that firms should keep three separate and complete copies of their data. Two of these can be located locally (at the office), but should be on different kinds of media (such as hard drives, servers, external drives, USB keys, tape, etc.). The third copy should be stored offsite somewhere safe.

Using this rule as a guide, you might have one complete set of backups stored on external drives and a second complete copy on server at the office. The third copy you would have at your home or with a dedicated backup storage provider.

The practical take away of this rule is that your backup plan should itself have a backup plan. Any combination of drive backups and cloud-based backups will keep you safer than just one solution alone. A layered approach like this will protect you from almost any kind of data loss situation, ensure your most recent data is always available, and that you can get back up and running quickly.

Cloud-based solutions – a crucial part of your backup plan

We’ve covered how it’s never been more important to back up your firm’s stored data to external drives and high-quality cloud-based storage. But what about all that valuable data stored in cloud-based applications and platforms?

As we’ve seen in previous posts, more and more businesses are moving to cloud-based applications and they have become a critical part of how the modern law firm does business. Of the many benefits to using cloud-based applications are reduced IT costs, expert and frequent updates to malware and virus protections, and peace of mind knowing your application data is backed up and secure. It’s important to ask your provider about their backup policy. Just like with your other files, you want to ensure that your cloud application data is backed up regularly, understand how it’s stored, and know how quickly things can be recovered if there’s ever an issue.

At DoProcess the protection and security of your firm and customer data is our primary concern. Unity®, our cloud-based practice management platform is hosted in Canada on secure servers that were purpose-built to deliver Unity to our customers over the Cloud. Our data centres are monitored continuously for threats and have robust environmental controls, fire suppression systems and uninterrupted power supplies. Unity replicates data in near real-time across multiple data centers to ensure minimal downtime to customers.

So, let’s say a water pipe bursts and your office floods. It might take some time getting your office put back together, but with Unity, you won’t need to miss a beat on your most valuable work. While your office dries out, you can keep working from home on your matters because Unity is the most important aspect of your backup plan.

You can learn more about Unity and how it protects your firm here.