Preparing for the Worst: Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity for Your Law Firm

lawyer working on disaster recovery for law firms

It’s a well-known fact: law firms are under attack by cybercriminals. With a mix of extremely sensitive data and at times lax security protocols, law firms are prime targets. If you’re in the law industry, you have the right to be worried about not only protecting your firm from a cyberattack but also what to do if one gets past your security.

As IT security experts for many law clients, our team has put together what you need to know about disaster recovery for law firms.

Disaster Recovery vs Business Continuity: What’s the Difference?

At first glance, disaster recovery and business continuity might appear interchangeable. However, while they are closely related, they serve different purposes.

Disaster Recovery (DR) for law firms primarily focuses on the IT infrastructure, aiming to restore data access and functionality after a disaster. It’s about having a technical roadmap to rebound from incidents like cyberattacks, hardware failures, or data breaches.

Business Continuity (BC), on the other hand, is broader and considers maintaining all aspects of a law firm’s operations during and after a disaster. This holistic approach ensures that critical functions, client services, and support operations can continue relatively uninterrupted, whatever the crisis.

For example, if a cyberattack takes down your firm’s entire network, DR would focus on getting all the systems back online and data restored. In contrast, BC would also address how to continue providing legal services to clients during the outage, such as using temporary office space or setting up remote work processes.

What Threatens Your Law Firm’s Business Continuity?

For law firms, the stakes are high. Clients entrust you with sensitive information, and any interruption could not only lead to financial loss but also damage your reputation beyond repair. Common risks include:

  • Natural disasters: Fires, floods, earthquakes, and other acts of nature can physically devastate an office and its resources.
  • Cyberattacks: Given the treasure trove of confidential data held by law firms, they are targets for cybercriminals.
  • Hardware failures: Even the most robust systems have vulnerabilities and can fail unexpectedly.
  • Human error: Simple mistakes, such as inadvertently deleting files or falling for phishing scams, can have significant repercussions.

How Can You Find Your Firm’s Weaknesses?

Identifying your firm’s vulnerabilities begins with a comprehensive risk assessment. This crucial step involves systematically evaluating your firm’s processes, IT infrastructure, and human factors to pinpoint where you’re most susceptible to disruptions.

A thorough risk assessment looks at the probability of various incidents occurring and their potential impact on your operations, from minor inconveniences to major crises that could halt business activities. By understanding these vulnerabilities, law firms can prioritize their mitigation strategies, focusing on areas that pose the highest risk to their continuity and security.

After you know your firm’s weaknesses, you can build disaster recovery for law firms around these key areas.

Key Components of a Disaster Recovery Plan for Law Firms

The following critical components are recommended for an effective disaster recovery plan for law firms:

Data Backup and Recovery

Data backup and recovery form the backbone of any law firm’s disaster recovery plan. In a landscape where data is both currency and liability, the specific means by which a firm backs up and retrieves its data can make the difference between a minor setback and a catastrophic failure.

1. Regular Backup Schedules

For disaster recovery for law firms, setting a regular backup schedule is crucial. This means not only daily backups but potentially hourly incremental backups to capture all changes made during the day. Depending on the volume and sensitivity of the data managed, more frequent backups may be necessary.

2. Offsite and Cloud Storage

Relying solely on onsite backups can be a fatal flaw in a disaster recovery plan. Offsite backups, especially in secure, encrypted cloud environments, ensure that data is protected against physical disasters like fires or floods that could destroy local copies. Cloud storage offers not just redundancy, but also the benefit of accessing data remotely, allowing legal work to continue almost seamlessly after a disaster.

3. Encryption and Security

Given the sensitive nature of data handled by law firms, encryption of backup files is non-negotiable. Whether data is stored on physical devices or in the cloud, strong encryption prevents unauthorized access, ensuring client confidentiality is maintained even in the event of a data breach.

4. Testing and Validation

A backup is only useful if it works when needed. Regular testing of backup systems and recovery processes is essential to ensure that in the event of an actual disaster, data can be restored quickly and accurately. Validation processes should verify that the restored data is complete and uncorrupted.

5. Tiered Data Prioritization

Not all firm data carries the same level of importance or urgency for recovery. A tiered approach—categorizing data based on how critical it is to immediate operations—can streamline the recovery process, ensuring that the most crucial systems and files are restored first.

6. Managed Backup Services

Many law firms now outsource their data backup needs to managed services that specialize in secure data storage and recovery. These providers offer solutions that can reduce the burden on in-house IT staff, offer advanced security measures, and ensure that data backup practices adhere to industry standards and regulations.

IT Infrastructure Redundancy

Redundancy is vital in disaster recovery for law firms. Redundancy refers to the duplication of critical components or functions of the IT system to increase reliability and availability.

1. Network Redundancy

Network redundancy ensures that there is more than one path for data flow within the network. This can involve having multiple internet service providers (ISPs) or diverse pathways for data to travel within the network. If one path fails due to a cyberattack or a physical incident like a cut cable, the system automatically reroutes data along a different path, minimizing downtime.

2. Server Redundancy

Server redundancy involves having multiple servers that can take over tasks if one server fails. This can be achieved through various means, including clustering servers together so they operate as a single system, using virtualization technology to create a flexible, scalable number of virtual servers that can run on a smaller number of physical machines, or migrating your work to the cloud where redundancy is built in. 

3. Power Supply Redundancy

For any law firm, uninterrupted power supply (UPS) systems are a fundamental component of IT infrastructure redundancy. These systems ensure that in the event of a power outage critical equipment remains operational long enough for proper shutdown procedures to be followed or for a secondary power source, such as a generator, to take over.

4. Data Center Geographic Redundancy

For firms utilizing cloud services or offsite data centers, geographic redundancy is an aspect to consider. It involves storing backups or hosting services in data centers located in different geographic areas. This strategy guards against regional disasters affecting all copies of data or the accessibility of online services simultaneously.

5. Failover Systems

Implementing failover systems allows for a seamless transition between the primary system and its backup in the event of a failure. Automatic failover processes detect issues in real-time and switch to a redundant or standby system without the need for manual intervention, thus ensuring continuous operation.

Communication Protocols

Clear and efficient communication is critical during and after a disaster. For law firms, establishing robust communication protocols ensures that all members of the organization, from top management to administrative staff, are on the same page regarding the steps to be taken in the event of a crisis.

1. Establish a Communication Chain of Command

Identify key personnel within the firm who will be responsible for various communication tasks during a disaster. This includes designating a primary spokesperson to interact with the media, a point of contact for client communications, and individuals responsible for internal communications within the firm. This chain of command should be well-documented and easily accessible to all employees.

2. Client Communication Plans

Develop specific plans for how and when clients will be informed about incidents that may impact services. This includes determining the most appropriate and effective means of communication (e.g., email, phone calls, secure client portals) and establishing templates for communication that can be quickly adapted to specific situations.

3. Employee Communication Systems

Implement systems to facilitate rapid and reliable communication with employees during a disaster. This may include mass notification systems that can send alerts to employees’ mobile devices, as well as secure, remote-accessible platforms for more detailed communications and instructions. Regular testing of these systems is essential to ensure they function as intended when needed.

4. Emergency Contact Lists

Maintain up-to-date emergency contact lists for all employees, clients, and key stakeholders. These lists should be stored in secure, easily accessible locations, both physically and digitally, to ensure they can be reached even if primary office systems are unavailable. Regular updates and verifications of the information on these lists are crucial.

Employee Training and Response Procedures

Even the most comprehensive disaster recovery plan is only effective if employees are aware of it and know how to respond in an emergency. Training and drills can help ensure that all staff members understand their roles, responsibilities, and procedures during disaster recovery for your law firm.

  1. Regularly Scheduled Drills
  2. Provide Detailed Procedures
  3. Include Remote Employees

Vendor and Partner Coordination

Law firms often have a network of vendors and partners that provide critical services or support for their operations. Disaster recovery for law firms should include protocols for managing these relationships during and after a crisis.

1. Vendor Contact Information

Maintain up-to-date contact information for all vendors, including their roles and responsibilities in relation to your firm’s operations. This ensures that appropriate parties can be contacted quickly in an emergency to discuss potential impacts and necessary recovery efforts.

2. Vendor Service Level Agreements (SLAs)

Establish SLAs with your vendors that outline expectations for their response time, communication, and support during a crisis. These agreements provide clear guidelines for both parties, ensuring a more efficient and effective recovery effort.

3. Regular Communication and Updates

Maintain regular communication with your vendors, even in times of crisis. They may have valuable information or resources that could aid in recovery efforts, and keeping them informed can help mitigate any negative impacts on your operations.

Let Forum Info-Tech Help with Your Disaster Recovery

Developing and implementing a comprehensive disaster recovery plan is not a one-and-done project. At Forum Info-Tech, we specialize in helping law firms develop customized disaster recovery strategies that address their specific needs, risks, and compliance requirements.

Contact us today to learn more about disaster recovery for law firms and how we can help you create and maintain yours.