Tech Audit

Virtual Storage


Deciding what’s the best storage option for documents is a perpetual problem for law firms, and one that’s only got­ten worse with time. Storage can mean anything from a file cabinet to a warehouse, from a computer hard drive to a file server. But a few firms are finding innovative, cost-effective ways to store their documents.

A system crash can wipe out countless hours of work and important case files. And the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and new Securities and Exchange Commission regulations for data retention have a lot of lawyers scrambling to come up with strategies for backing up and saving computer data. In ad­dition, if a firm wants to take advantage of technology such as a new document management system, it must have a robust storage and backup system in place first.

Howard Schweitzer, chief information officer for O’Mel­veny & Myers, is responsible for keeping thousands of lawyers’ computers working. A major crash at his workplace would cost the company millions of dollars.

“It’s not acceptable anymore to have just tape backup,” Schweitzer says. “Tape backup takes a day or more to recover, and that’s just not acceptable.”

While O’Melveny & Myers still backs up data on tape, Schweitzer has helped build a new distributed backup and storage system for the firm. When a document is saved to a file server in one of the firm’s 13 offices, it is also cop­ied to a file server in another office. In addition, all corporate data from every office is backed up in two data centers in the New York and Los Angeles offices. To make sure that the connections between these backup systems don’t go down, the company has two dedicated network connections between each office, each provided by a sep­arate telecommunications company.

Schweitzer says competition among telecoms is helpful to his firm. “We’ve locked in a contract,” he says. “We’re paying a 70 percent discount over three years ago.”

DEALING WITH DOCUMENTS

Dorsey & Whitney, a Minneapolis-based law firm, was facing two problems simultaneously—finding a place to store digital documents and making those documents more accessible to more staffers. The firm did not have a document management system. Lawyers worked in Mi­crosoft Word and e-mailed documents to their co-workers, a process that meant multiple versions of the same document could be floating around the firm’s network.

The firm took an unusual approach to document storing and sharing among its 20 worldwide offices. A few years ago, a number of startup companies known as application service providers tried to sell the idea that law firms should let them handle their client data. Many lawyers balked at trusting someone else with their information. However, Dorsey & Whitney has enlisted an Orem, Utah-based ASP called Net Documents to handle its document management and storage.

Curt Meltzer, Dorsey’s chief information officer, hired Net Documents to create a central database and backup system for documents. He says there were no hardware or software costs and all a lawyer needs is an Internet con­nection to access the firm’s document database. “Even if every one of our offices goes down, as long as you can get on the Net, you can still work,” he says.

Meltzer rejects the idea that putting documents in someone else’s hands and accessing them over the Net is insecure. “In many respects it’s much more secure to use a third party,” Meltzer says. “I dare say, a law firm can’t typically afford the kind of security they can provide.”

The hope is that decentralized systems will allow accounting, Web collaboration, document management and other systems to work in every location.

“The idea is to both prevent downtime and try to provide more information to attorneys,” says Schweitzer. “By building an Internet infrastructure for storage, firms can build other systems that take advantage of the Inter­net architecture.”

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