Disaster Recovery -- Post 9/11

Law Technology News, 2001

By Micah Buchdahl

With nearly 14,000 New York attorneys displaced as a result of the events of September 11, hundreds of thousands of clients, their files and casework are potentially lost. Among the numerous tasks to overcome, is the rebuilding of information and technology. For those that envisioned "disaster recovery and planning" it is time to implement; for those that are now planning for potential problems in the future it is time to learn from the experience.

At a recent gathering of attorneys and technology experts in New York, colleagues discussed disaster and recovery methods that will now be used, and those that should be planned for in case similar situations ever present themselves. While "planning" is a little late for some firms now affected, it is a signal to every practitioner nationwide to always plan for the unexpected.

"One of the first things to do is to get employees communicating again," suggested Christopher Brown of Ernst & Young. ?In setting up communications and workflow, you can start to find out who had what. Who are the pack rats? The same people who scare you with internal discovery can save your bacon here. Brown suggests setting up an extranet environment, using companies such as Intralinks or Niku to set up an on-line collaborative location where documents, comments and plans can be posted without needing access to a network that may no longer exist.

Many experts have suggested that the ASP model (application service providers), considered yesterday's news in the dot-com world, will receive a revival or reprieve, as law firms and corporations suddenly see the benefit in having many technologies outsourced, thus still fully operable in another place. When either selecting an ASP or looking to duplicate facilities, make sure they are in another place, even going so far as selecting cities for storage that would not likely be the target of any future attacks.

"Think about where your data may potentially be stored," suggested attorney Greg Osinoff, president of Digital Mandate. "There may be files on your home PC, on a floppy disk, in a web-based repository, even in the "cc" of e-mails to others. Finding these pockets of data is a logistical challenge. Osinoff suggests contacting your vendors to see if they have copies of anything, as well as contacting the opposing side of litigation that you may have exchanged information with. Corporate clients may have many files, and adversaries could be a source of information. In the end, however, Osinoff suggests you may have to begin the discovery process in some matters from square one.

One participant in the session from a large New York law firm, displaced by the events, said that the firm had basically swapped "home offices" with the Los Angeles office becoming "New York" and vice-versa. Part of disaster recovery planning may be to simply switch many operations to another office locale. It was suggested that the issue of redundancy must include making sure that the alternative location is far, far away. If your back-up servers are in the same building, or even the same region, it may not be serving its true purpose.

With nearly 94% of all data in firms now kept electronically, the concept of disaster recovery goes well beyond terrorism and acts of god. E-Terrorism, through viruses, hackers and power failures can take just as devastating a toll on protecting that data. Steve Barsony, also of Ernst & Young, says that the ROI (return on investment) on disaster recovery and records retention is now painfully clear.

"I saw one company lose e-mail service for a full day as a result of a cyber attack," says Barsony. "You need to plan on the server side, adding patches, possibly stripping attachments. You can also make a good argument for ASPs hosted repositories for document management and e-mail."

Some preventive measures discussed including having a "clean desk" policy in regard to paperwork. This is often done with London firms concerned with possible bombings, where it would keep thousands of pages of potentially confidential documents from lining the streets, as happened in New York. If you keep backup tapes, have someone take a copy home. Do not underestimate the value of backing up data to your palm pilot as well. Keep in mind that if you using outdated hardware and software, it could become virtually impossible to replace, and these situations are not the time to be undergoing a major technology overhaul. Make sure your recovery plan is simple, focusing on what is needed just to become operational once again.

For displaced attorneys seeking recovery and assistance, the New York State Bar has a discussion group set up at join-wtc-tech@lists.nysba.org. As is the case with so many businesses in the Northeast, there has been enormous guidance and support in the profession, with voluntary programs among colleagues created to ease recovery. Disaster and data recovery, if it was not already a priority, now becomes a significant issue for practicing law in the future.