Are you a lawyer looking for the most effective and affordable way to store and back up your files in the cloud? Then, your main concern should be security risks as you’re dealing with contracts, confidential personal or corporate data, and financial information.
Can you risk uploading all those files into the cloud through an external storage provider? If not, what are the alternatives? One thing up front: you need a backup. It doesn’t matter where or how. That’s the first step. Everything else is just secondary.
Yes, security and price are both important, but don’t ever let those factors prevent you from backing up your files. With that said, let’s look at some of the alternatives for cost-effective file storage and backup, specifically for your professional requirements. We have two major options for your files. You can either store and backup your files locally (in-house) or choose an off-site solution.
Local Backup & File Storage
You probably think the best way to store and access your files is via an external hard drive. While that is a start, it might not be enough for your situation. An external hard drive will get your most important files off your computer fast; consider this a quick fix if you don’t have a backup yet.
We think it is better to move on quickly because external hard drives have too many restrictions, and if you’re working with several collaborators, the possibilities with an external hard drive come to a rapid halt. That’s why you should consider using a NAS for your files. We have already listed why we use (and love) a NAS for our files.
But let’s go through them again for you here.
Advantages of Using a NAS
NAS devices provide a lot of cheap storage space. One of the major advantages is that NAS devices allow you to plug in hard drives quickly, so even if your storage needs to expand dramatically (for example, if you acquire a new corporate client that requires you to handle a massive number of documents), you can adapt by buying new hard drives.
Also, hard drive storage has become very affordable; you can get 2TB of storage for around $100.
NAS devices allow you to access files anywhere in your network. The beauty of a NAS is that it doesn’t have to be plugged in for you to be able to access your files. It doesn’t matter where you are in your office; you can access your files if you are connected to your network. Of course, you can configure a NAS so that you can access your files even off-site, but this exposes you to more security issues.
NAS devices enable you to manage user access to your files. NAS devices allow you to add users who can access your files and folders. Say, you want your intern to work on a subset of files for a client, but you’re not allowed to share the full story with her. You may just create a special folder that she can use.
Also, you can grant read-or-write access to your folders and be very detailed with the privileges. We use Synology DiskStation at our office and have been very pleased with the results. It works fast and reliably. You can choose different bay sizes (the sizes of hard drives that fit into DiskStation) that fit your needs. For starters, two to four bays are usually best.
RAID manages file redundancy. Many NAS devices use RAID technology. Synology uses an automatic RAID that mirrors your files across the hard drives you plug in. So if one hard drive fails, you always have all of your files backed up on a second disk. Just exchange the broken HD and you’re good to go.
Of course, you can find more advantages to using a NAS. For example, it is under your control at all times. While that comes with a responsibility, it gives you full control over your security settings. Just make sure you are familiar with file encryption techniques or hire an external consultant that will help you get started.
Disadvantages of Using a NAS
File management and backup are your responsibility. If you choose to store your files in-house, everything falls under your responsibility. You have to check on your hard drive’s health, take care of your backups, and manage your encryption settings.
Either you can afford a technician who does those for you, or you have to wrap your head around them yourself, which can be very time-consuming and confusing.
Using a NAS is not a backup! Many lawyers we’ve spoken to, use a NAS to “protect and back up” their files. But having a NAS cannot be considered a real backup as it does not protect your files from accidents or disasters that might happen in or near your office space. Using a NAS is just the first step to getting your files backed up.
You might choose the wrong NAS. Choosing a good NAS for your business is not the easiest task. Although we recommend Synology DiskStation, this might not be the best option for your needs. We think you can’t go terribly wrong with it, but certainly, there are NAS devices that handle file sync better, if that’s important to you.
Offsite Backup & File Storage for Lawyers
We think the simpler the backup solution, the better. But you need at least two types of backup: one local backup and another backup off-site; for example, with an online backup service provider.
With this two-tier backup, you are pretty much protected from accidents that might occur in your office. Those accidents might be certain “d’oh” moments either by yourself or by your assistant. Files are generally more easily deleted than created.
Security & Online Backup Services
When dealing with clients’ data, uploading those files to an external service provider requires much thought about how your files are handled. Where and how are your files encrypted? Who can really see your files? How much does this cost?
You might want to read our article about online backup security, where we dissect the three security layers an online backup service should have:
- Local encryption – for example, a 448-bit Blowfish encryption
- Encryption on transit (an SSL encryption is standard)
- Server-side encryption – for example, AES 256-bit
You might want to consider business online-backup solutions, which tend to be more expensive but can be customized to your needs. The following is a round-up of recommended online backup solutions for attorneys.
SpiderOak’s major advantage is that it takes security really seriously. If you’re looking for the most secure online-backup and file-syncing service available, it is certainly this one.
SpiderOak is relatively expensive ( GB for 0 $/year), and its interface, at times, feels a little clunky, but the overall security features are well worth it. You can sign up here and try it for free.
What Carbonite Home lacks (unlimited bandwidth, automatic backup of video files, etc.), you can get with Carbonite Business at a still very affordable $229 per year.
Though it is not unlimited, you can still back up 250GB (or 500GB with Business Premier).The advantage is that you can back up an unlimited number of computers, which is useful if you’re working with several collaborators or clients. You can get a free trial here.
CrashPlan Pro for consumers is fantastic if you need more features, especially when it comes to monitoring your backups and managing several user accounts.
CrashPlan is famous for its unlimited backup offering, so you don’t have to worry about running out of space. You can get a free trial here.
Pros & Cons of Using Online Backup For a Firm
If you sign up for an online backup service, you can be sure that everything is taken care of by your service provider – at least that’s the way it should be. You download a software program to your PC or Mac, set a schedule and folders to back up, and that’s it. Many services guide you through this process with an easy-to-use wizard.
With cloud storage and backup, it becomes very easy to access your files from anywhere – on your smartphone, at the airport, on a business lunch. Even if you forget an important presentation for your sales pitch, you can just download it from your files that are backed up in the cloud.
Some online backup services allow you to share files with colleagues or teammates so that you can easily collaborate on a project or a particular document for a client. No need to send large email attachments that get stuck in spam filters.
Now, let’s take a look at the disadvantages of online backup for law firms. As you send your files off to another company’s servers, you have to trust that company not to compromise your data. Make sure proper security features are implemented BEFORE sending your files.
You may find lack of control a deal-breaker when it comes to online backup services, but there are certainly ways to make your backups as secure as possible.
Depending on your Internet connection and the amount of data you would like to store and back up, an online backup can take a very long time. If you have a strong Internet connection and your computer hardware is up-to-date, it should run in the background without you noticing that something is being backed up.
If you’re just starting out as a lawyer, you probably need to save as much money as possible before establishing a solid client base. Business off-site backup tends to be a lot more expensive than consumer online backup. Consider if a consumer online-backup solution will suffice in the meantime. You can upgrade later when you have sufficient funds available.
- Online backup services take care of everything
- You can access data anywhere in the world
- Share files with collaborators
- You have to trust an online backup service
- Online backup can be slow sometimes
- Business backup might be too expensive
The bottom line is this: cost-effective file storage and backup for lawyers are possible. Always keep two redundant copies of your files. One copy should be on-site at your office, and another should be kept in the cloud or another location off your main working premises.
Ideally, you’d want to use an online backup service for that purpose. Go ahead and check out our comparison chart for further information.
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The most important aspect of your file storage and backup strategy should be security. Encryption is the basis that you need to protect your files from espionage and theft. Make sure your backup solutions encrypt your files properly.
Also, keep in mind that the best backup strategy is worthless if you don’t test your restores. Always perform test restores of your backups, possibly even once a month. That way, you can check if all of your files are available in case of a hard drive failure or other types of data loss.