Stop — what you are doing? Flames are pouring out of the next room! It doesn’t matter how this started. (A freak coffeemaker explosion, maybe?) It’s time for you to go!
Later, you will find out that your office is a total loss. All your files went up in smoke, and the water from the fire hose destroyed what was left of your electronics. Your hard drives were shattered into a million pieces by the falling structure. On a scale of 1 to 5, how f**ked is your practice?
Most people probably don’t do any disaster planning until after they are caught up in a disaster, when it is too late. But a little planning goes a long way, and going paperless is the easiest way to make sure your client files survive.
In order to survive a natural disaster as smoothly as possible, you need copies of your files safely locked up offsite. That means you need to be paperless.
Going paperless is actually pretty easy for solos and very small firms. All you really need is a scanner, backup, and a plan. Bigger firms with more staff to contend with will probably need some professional help. But being paperless probably costs about the same as not being paperless, and it comes with numerous advantages — like, for example, your files can’t be so easily burned up in a fire.
(If disaster-proofing is not enough and you need a bit more incentive to go paperless, look to the courts. Many state courts are even beginning the transition to electronic filing because it just makes sense.)
Assuming you are ready to start disaster-proofing your client files, you will need a scanner. Start with a good document scanner like the ScanSnap iX500, which is perfect for scanning at your desk. Once you have your scanner, get a pile of documents to scan. I recommend starting with your inbox. Once you realize how easy it is, going paperless should start to make sense. Learning by doing is best, in this case.
Make sure you protect those digital files, too. It does not make sense to go paperless if you can still lose your files to a disaster. Use at least one local backup and one off-site backup.
Local backup (meaning to a disc or hard drive in the same location as your computer) is essential for quickly restoring your files. That’s because it is much faster to copy files over a local network. Since Murphy’s Law says you will lose your files at the worst possible moment, you may need that speed.
For local backup, just get a good backup drive and use the backup software that comes with your computer. Set it to back up your files at least daily (or if you are paranoid, like me, at least hourly). Here is how to set up the Windows backup utility. If you use a Mac, it will ask you if you want to set up Time Machine when you plug in an external hard drive.
Off-site backup, however, is the only real protection from a disaster like the fire I imagined at the beginning of this post. There are a variety of ways to do this. I used to work with a lawyer who had two external backup drives, synced up with each other. Each night, he locked one in a fireproof safe in his office and carried the other one home with him. You can do that, but there is an easier (and better) option: CrashPlan.
CrashPlan is secure, cloud-based backup. You install a utility app on your computer that encrypted your files before transmitting them to CrashPlan’s servers, where they are stored in their encrypted state. (Note: CrashPlan is much more secure than cloud storage services like Dropbox, which does not encrypt your files before uploading.) CrashPlan is also relatively inexpensive. For less than $9/month, you can back up 10 computers, no matter how much you have stored on them.
To sum up, here’s your to-do list:
- Get a ScanSnap
- Get a backup drive
- Sign up for CrashPlan
- Start scanning everything in sight!