7 Questions about Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery for Law Firms

Charging clients $0 per hour sounds downright crazy, and crazy is what it is.disaster recovery for law firms

But some of you are doing it.

Ask yourself this question: How much lost revenue would it cost your law firm if access to electronic documents, email, Internet, and in some cases voice communications was missing for an hour? Two hours? Most of a day? A full week? Could your firm sustain such an outage? In essence you would be billing $0 per hour.

And that would count as crazy.

Also crazy: Not having a plan in place for business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR). If you have not invested at least some time and brain power researching disaster recovery for law firms, you are doing yourself and your firm a disservice.

Mike Robbins of Attorney at Law Magazine estimates that just one hour of network downtime per month costs your firm $60,000 in lost billable opportunities. (This figure is based on law firms that have 25 timekeepers and an average billing rate of $200 per hour—results will differ if you have more or fewer.) Downtime results in missed court appearances, loss of hourly and daily income, loss of vital client and firm data, and, probably most important, the risk of losing a client entirely. How are you managing this risk today?

Getting the discussion started: Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery for law firms

Let’s face it, no one likes to purchase insurance. But we’re sure glad it’s there when something goes wrong. Insurance is protection. You may think that a simple network backup of your data is insurance enough, but there are some essential questions you must ask yourself as we begin the discussion about disaster recovery for law firms:

  1. How old is my backup? Most backups are run nightly. After a disruption, the data you restore will be a day old or worse. Is this acceptable?
  2. Do I know for certain my backup job was successful? Many firms find that when they have to restore from backup, the resulting data are unusable. Data corruption occurs because of common inefficiencies in backup software and the way data are written to media. Most organizations do not verify or test that their backups can be restored.
  3. What is my recovery target if I have to recover from my backed-up data? In the event that your production systems are damaged, you will have to start from scratch, including ordering new hardware in which to restore your backup. Procurement and reconfiguration could take several days to weeks.

Business continuity and disaster recovery is different than data backup. It is the near-real time protection of your business data. It is also the plan for how you will access your information should an outage or a catastrophic event occur.

Now that we’ve established some framework for the discussion, the planning process is underway. As a successful law firm, you should consider these additional questions when planning your firm’s preparedness:

  1. What should I consider to be critical data? Many applications and data records are not mission-critical to running your firm’s business. Identifying these elements may lessen your firm’s data storage requirements, resulting in lowered cost for data backup. What may be deemed critical by some, may not be by others. (The converse is also true, so you’ll want to solicit input from multiple groups within your organization to ensure that all vital data are backed up.)
  2. How long can I function without access to my data? This is often referred to as Recovery Time Objective (RTO). This simply means, how long can I manage without access to my information? Is it seconds, minutes, hours, days?
  3. How much loss of data can I tolerate? This is the “twin sister” of RTO. Recovery Point Objective (RPO) refers directly to loss of data and the time period associated with loss of data. For example: When you restore from backup (as mentioned above), you are typically working with a dataset that is at least 12 hours old. Any work performed between the last backup and the recovery point is lost and must be recreated. In a BCDR scenario, what is the age requirement for your recovered data? One day old? One hour old? Seconds old?
  4. Where should my DR site be located? Does your firm have multiple offices? How far away should your recovery site be from your data center? If your firm has multiple locations, chances are one of your remote offices would be a good candidate for your DR site. Many businesses surveyed appear comfortable with distances less than 100 miles and many are comfortable with distances less than 25 miles.

If you weren’t able to answer all seven questions with a high degree of confidence, I urge you to devote some time to working on your responses.

Of course, you could (and should) continue for hours with considerations for your BCDR plan. Keep in mind that most plans for disaster recovery for law firms, and for post-catastrophe business continuity, are dynamic and change as your business requirements change.

And we haven’t even started to discuss finding the financial justification for creating a BCDR plan. Financial justification comes with determining what downtime costs your firm. (Downtime is any period during which access to your data systems is unavailable.) If your firm is losing potentially $60,000 per year for every one hour of downtime each month, does it warrant investing resources to mitigate this risk? If you run a few calculations, chances are it will make sense to spend a percentage of the possible loss on a solution.

After all, how long can you keep your firm open when your hourly rate is $0?

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