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Save your Practice: Backup your computer

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What is the one disaster that your practice will inevitably have to deal with? Not fire, not water damage, and not a hurricane. Rather, you will inevitably suffer the complete failure of a computer hard-drive that contains critical electronic files. The mantra in my world is that there is one certainty in your business life: it is not a matter of if your computer will crash, but when it will crash.  Given that mechanical devices are bound to fail, you must be prepared to protect yourself and, more importantly, your client from the loss of critical electronic information. The loss of critical information will cost you time, but it does not have to cost you your client or your practice, if you follow best practices for backup. Best practices require a redundant backup system to get you back up to speed quickly with a local backup. However, your system should also include creating a backup in a safe, secure environment that is at least 100 miles away from the office. An ideal system provides for a daily incremental backups, a full weekly backup (with a copy kept off-site), and an on-line backup with a company that stores your information at a site at least 100 miles away.

As most people know, the hardware available for making local backups can be quite diverse. Many firms use zip-drives, tape-drives and external hard-drives for daily and weekly backups. I have also found an increasing number of people using USB Flash Drives to make the daily and weekly backups. This movement has been driven by the cost and convenience of the USB flash drives. Whatever backup media you choose you must protect the information. At the office, consider putting the media in a fireproof safe. Also, you should always take the most recent backup off-site and one copy of the most recent full backup should be kept off-site. This also means that you will need multiple units of the tape, hard-drive or flash drive that you are using to rotate through. This helps protect against mechanical or software failures and allows you to keep a copy in a safe place. You also must verify that your backups are working and that you can recover the backup material from your media. This verification test should occur at least every six months.

Tape-drives, external drives, and zip-drives will usually come with software to automate the backup process. This is much less common with USB Flash drives, but if you wish to use the less expensive USB Flash Drive you can use software built into the Windows Operating Systems such as Windows XP and Vista. You can find a discussion on how to configure the Windows software to backup to the USB Flash Drive at You can also purchase backup software designed for USB Flash Drives such as that found at to automate this function. I would however suggest that you use only one backup software product.

There are also many on-line backup options that I would recommend for your office. Examples of these are:;;; and  These tend to very affordable. For example, Mozy gives away 2GB of backup for free.  If you want to only backup your documents this should be plenty.   And Carbonite advertises a basic plan for $49.00 a year.   If you are a Massachusetts Bar Association member you may want to look at its member benefits page and its backup provider Amerivault. In trying to weight the benefits of each on-line service, you should consider ease of use, security of the data, how quickly can you recover data from the provider, cost, and whether archived backups exist and for how long.

I recommend also that you use the encryption option in which YOU hold the encryption key.  However, when you do this, please keep the encryption key in a safe spot where you will remember where to find it.  Without the encryption key you will not be able to recover your information. 

If you would like to discuss your needs please contact me at

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