Backing Up Law Students’ Data

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Law school can be a stressful experience, especially when exams roll around and law students move into their law libraries.

Losing your laptop with no data backup could be devastating during exam week. Fortunately, there are plenty of affordable ways for law students to backup their data.

Extensions are few and far between in real life

I teach an appellate advocacy class at a local law school and one of my students recently asked for an extension because their laptop was stolen. Being the understanding person that I am, I granted that student an extension on an upcoming assignment. In real life, however, I doubt a court (or opposing counsel) would grant an extension based on a stolen laptop.

I understand that law school is not real life. Given that law school is teaching students to work as attorneys, there is never a better time to start using a data backup and protect yourself against a potential catastrophe.

Using the cloud as a data backup

Taking your notes and creating outlines online is an easy way to backup data. Google Docs and Microsoft Word online are both free. Google Docs is not quite as robust as Microsoft Word online, but both applications will easily let you create all types of documents.

If you prefer to use Microsoft Word on your laptop, install Google Cloud Connect. Everytime you save a document, Cloud Connect will sync all your Word files to the cloud, which means you have an instant backup.

You can also use a service like Dropbox or Box.net to sync your files to the cloud. You can get a free 2 gig Dropbox account and Box.net is also running a promotion for free storage. The advantage to a Dropbox type service is that it should automatically sync and backup data to the cloud.

In other words, if your laptop goes AWOL, you can access to your backup data within a matter of minutes, and put that panic attack to rest.

Physical backups are very affordable

A quick Google search revealed that 4GBflash drives (thumb drives) can be purchased for between $5 and $10. I’d say peace of mind is worth the price. The downside to thumb drives is that most people store them in their laptop bag. If your laptop gets stolen, your flash drive is probably going with it. If you go this route, make sure you keep your flash drive in your desk drawer or library carrel, instead of your laptop bag.

You could also invest in a portable external hard drive. I use a 500GB Western Digital drive that is about the size of a wallet. It works great and it costs about $80. You can probably find one for under $50 that has less storage space, but is still the same physical size. Either way, an external drive could be preferable over a flash drive—seeing it on your desk might remind you to plug it in occasionally and backup your data.

The bottom line is there are plenty of options to affordably backup your data. Make sure you take advantage of them to avoid a catastrophic data loss.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/spike55151/132083210/)

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  • Bob

    I can’t say enough how happy I am with Dropbox. However, if you’re an attorney using Dropbox, you may want to look into a slightly higher level of protection, because Dropbox has access to your data (similar to, say, Gmail). SpiderOak (http://www.spideroak.com) promises that they can’t access you data, but for simplicity’s sake, Dropbox can’t be beat, and in combination with an easy-to-use file encryption system (e.g., TrueCrypt – http://www.truecrypt.com), you can have secure data access in the cloud.

    I’d also recommend Dropbox because it’s not a physical thing that can be stolen. When I was in law school, I backed up my data on a flash drive, as did many of my peers. But, if you keep that flash drive with you when you go to school (since you want to back up that day’s class notes ASAP), something like a flash drive is probably going to be stolen along with your laptop, if they’re together in the same bag.

    • Dropbox has access to your data

      Okay, that’s not quite accurate. Some employees of Dropbox who have appropriate security clearance can access your data in limited circumstances (i.e., subpoena, or maybe if you ask Dropbox to help you recover your data).

  • Mike

    Those of us who’ve been working with computers since the days of 5 1/4″ diskettes have been dealing with corrupt data, files, crashed floppies, etc. most of our lives. All you need is one disaster to teach you a lesson.

    One method that was popular before the “cloud” was emailing yourself a copy every hour. That still works pretty well.

  • Peter

    Maybe take a look at Buddybackup (www.buddybackup.com) it is 100% free, encrypts all data and can keep multiple copies. All you need is either another friend who uses Buddybackup or 2 computers and you effectively become your own cloud backup, it also backs up to USB/Flash drives too.

    • Even with the encryption, the only way I would do this is if the friend has executed a confidentiality agreement with my firm.