When is the Last Time You Backed Up Your Website?

Picture this: you are typing away feverishly on some long, complicated legal document - brief, contract, whatever. You are really focused and in the zone and are cranking out high quality stuff, when suddenly, Microsoft Word crashes. 

Oh, no.

When was the last time you saved the document? Come to think of it, when did you last back up all the stuff on your hard drive?

Gut-churning panic ensues.

By now, it is probably hard wired into you to back up all of your digital documents through the use of cloud storage or some other method. 

But what about your website? Is that backed up? 

I got a call last week from a small firm saying they had just encountered this very issue. Their web host went down and they were worried their website might have been lost in the process? It wasn't until they started looking for their back up that they realized they didn't have one.

(The firm's story ends well, their web host came back up and no data was lost... but a few gray hairs were added to everybody involved.)

I'm guessing this problem - no workable backup of a law firm website - is not uncommon. So I reached out to my Twitter buddy, Clay Schossow (@NewMediaClay), one of the smart folks behind the excellent web design firm, New Media Campaigns, to get his thoughts on backing up websites.

Here's Clay's great advice for backing up law firm websites:

1. Under what circumstances should a law firm back up its website?

Honestly, a law firm should always backup their website.  We actually have a law firm client in Georgia who had their entire website lost prior to working with us.  They were working with a freelancer who hadn't backed up the site, something happened, and the entire site (content, pictures, design, etc.) was completely lost and unrecoverable.  The firm had to start from scratch because there was no backup at all.  A firm doesn't need to go through anything fancy or have advanced technical knowledge to make sure this is happening -- just ask your provider to make sure the site is getting backed up.

2. What questions should a law firm ask of its web developer/ host to make sure their website is properly backed up?

The first question is just to ask them if the site is getting backed up.  Once you've confirmed that, a few of the big things to focus on:

  • How often is the site backed up and how long is each backup held?  For example, at NMC, we do daily backups and keep each backup for the past month, so we have the ability to roll back to any point in the last month if something were to happen.

  • Will there be offsite backup?  This provision isn't always needed, but it guarantees that your backups are actually located at another site just in case something catastrophic were to happen to the primary server location or if the server's datacenter had an extended outage. 

  • Who is managing the backup process?  Is it the responsibility of your web team or do they contract with someone who does this type of thing all day, everyday.  The latter is probably the preferred unless your web team has a focus on data security.

  • How long does it take to recover in the event of a disaster? Sometimes a website can hold many files. These can be backed up quickly because each day only things that change need to be sent to backup. But during a recovery, it could take a long time to transfer the backup to the production server.

3. How does a law firm back up its website, and restore from that backup when needed?

This is actually one of the things you'll want to clarify with your developer upfront.  There are a lot of ways to backup a site, ranging from included services in your hosting plan to third-party vendors who solely handle backups.  I'd recommend choosing a host that already provides this service.  Popular hosts like A Small Orange, Network Solutions, and many others will include backups in their package.  In that case, you'll just need to get in contact with them if you ever need to restore from it.  

If you're going the DIY route, you could consider a dedicated backup service like Rsync.net.  That's who we use to handle our offsite data backup.  They're very service-focused and are always helpful to our sysadmins.  Something like Rsync.net will take some technical know-how, so you should either just get a package that has it included or make sure your developer is using a reputable vendor to manage it.

4. What are the best practices for a law firm regarding backing up its website?

The top best practice is just to do it.  We see so many clients, including really large ones, who aren't getting their sites backed up.  For whatever reason, they either choose the cheapest hosting option or just forget to ask, and it's a really dangerous risk to take.  After you've spent so much on your web presence, you'll want to make sure it's protected.

If you've got that covered, the next things to do are to make sure that you've got more than one backup - it doesn't necessarily need to be daily, but perhaps weekly.  Then, make sure you've got easy access to these files and the ultimate is to get it backed up offsite.

Things can go wrong, but for a small amount of money, you can make sure you're prepared for the worst.  Make sure you've got a backup plan in place to keep your data and your site safe.

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