Backing Up Your Law Practice

This past week, I got a very personal reminder about the importance of being prepared and backing up when my computer stopped working.  To make a long story short, after several of my own attempts and the attempts of an IT professional, we determined that the only thing we could do was to wipe the computer and start over, re-installing everything including the operating system.

While all of this was happening, I was without my computer. Considering that my business is very dependent on my computer, this was a big headache. And even though I was (mostly) prepared, it was a real-life lesson in exactly what being prepared means, and brought to light several things I had never considered before. One of the things I learned is that having a good backup system may be the best productivity tip you will ever receive.

You don’t need to anticipate a huge catastrophe like a hurricane or a multi-day power outage or a complete loss of your office in order to be concerned about having backups in place. Hard drives crash. Operating systems get corrupted. Power surges knock out computers.

Data Backups

If your practice is paperless (or even mostly paperless), it’s easy to create backups, since most of your important files will already be digital. Most lawyers are aware of the necessity of creating multiple backups – some local (such as an external hard drive) and some remote (such as online backups). Unfortunately, I hadn’t backed up my external hard drive recently enough to make it useful for me.

Luckily, I did have all of my important files backed up online thanks to Carbonite and Dropbox  and I still had access to all of my different email accounts on my Blackberry, so I could still conduct business (albeit in a modified way). But a more recent backup on my external hard drive would still have made things easier because I wouldn’t have had to rely on the internet backup for my documents and files, which (as I found out) can be a bit slower than I would have liked.

When you set up your backups, be sure to back up your email files as well – having that backed up Outlook .pst file was a tremendous help because it retained all of the files, calendar entries and Categories that I rely on in Outlook to organize my daily activities.

Applications and Programs

Baking up your data is one thing, but backing up your programs and applications is something else entirely – and that’s where I ran into the most headaches this week.

I rely on one main computer to do most of my work. Although I do have another computer that was available and that allowed me access to the internet and to my files and documents, this computer did not have all of my programs and applications on it because I didn’t see the necessity of buying multiple versions of these programs when I would rarely, if ever, need to use the second set. I managed to work around this by using Google docs or Open Office as a stopgap where necessary while I was waiting for my main computer to be fully functional, but it certainly wasn’t ideal.

Many of the programs that were on my computer had installation disks, which made it easy to figure out what needed to be re-installed once the hard drive had been wiped. But I had many more programs or applications on my computer that had been downloaded from the internet. Thankfully, I had recently decided that it would be a good idea to make a list of these programs and applications, which made re-creating my working environment much easier. If you don’t have such a list, I recommend that you make one as soon as possible. This list should include add-ins for your existing programs (like YouSendIt and Forgotten Attachment Detector for Outlook) and browser extensions such as Evernote or Web2PDFConverter. This is a low-tech backup that could save you a lot of time and aggravation.

This experience did make me think about software as a service and working in the cloud in a different way; had my practice been more cloud-based, all I would have needed was the internet not only to retrieve my files, but also to do the necessary work I had to do. I could certainly see the advantages of such a system in this situation.


It doesn’t help to have backup for your files (or even your programs), if you don’t also have some decent hardware alternatives. The alternative computer I had this week was a netbook. Working on the netbook is fine for checking emails or even writing the occasional blog post or surfing the net, but the screen and the keyboard are both too small for any kind of serious or lengthy work, whether locally or on the web. I suspect the same would have been true for an iPad.

Settings and Bookmarks

Re-installing programs helped me get back to work, but I am still not as productive as I was before, since I lost all of the settings within those programs. For example, in Word, I frequently use specific Styles that I had created, and many of the documents that I use frequently rely upon Quick Parts as building blocks. All of these need to be re-created now.

Although I am an Evernote user, this experience made me realize that there are ways I could be using Evernote that might be more productive. For example, as I am surfing the web, I will frequently Bookmark sites or individual pages to either view later or as ideas for articles and blog posts. But having to reinstall Chrome meant that I lost all of my bookmarks. Had I used Evernote to clip the pages instead, I not only would be able to tag them by subject (or author, etc.), but I would have had access to them offline or online from many computer.

A More Complete Backup

I could have avoided all of my headaches by doing a true and complete backup by creating a complete image of my hard drive. Acronis True Image Home 2012 will back up everything on a single machine as if nothing ever happened. It creates an image of your hard drive so if something goes wrong you can reinstall everything – programs, applications, data, documents, settings – the works! There are also versions for larger businesses. Another similar option is Norton Ghost.

Although I might not rely on this as my sole backup and disaster planning solution, given my experience this week, it is certainly one thing I won’t do without in the future.

(photo: Shutterstock)


  1. Avatar Guest says:

    This happened to me so many times that I finally bought an Apple, which is virtually virus free and has great customer service at the Apple store.

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      Every time someone says something like this (“Just get an Apple; problem solved.”), I want to know what kind of PC they used to have, because a good PC is no less reliable or well serviced than an Apple. It’s just that Apple doesn’t make cheapo computers, but everyone buys cheapo Windows computers and tries to hold them up to the same standards as they do Apple.

  2. Sam,

    I agree – “just buy an Apple product” is not the be-all and end-all answer for a whole host of reasons. And in this case, it was Windows, and not the computer itself that had the problem. I’m not sure what caused the problem, although there’s no real evidence that it was a virus, as opposed to something else.

    Either way, no solution is ever perfect, and for those readers who are Apple owners, I hope they are not simply relying on the fact that they are working on an Apple as their disaster plan!


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