Last week, the firm management system that my firm uses to handle our data was down for a few hours. This is not unusual, but the time it took for the system to return to normal was worrying, and I realized during this period how much my firm (and most other law firms) relies on firm management systems, and how difficult it might be to recover billable hour entries, accounting information, and other such data if the system failed. Law firms should do more to back up and secure data in case there is a catastrophic loss of information.
I first experienced a data loss as a lawyer when I was working as an associate for a large law firm earlier in my career. One day, I logged into the firm’s time entry system to finalize my billing for the month. All of the month’s entries were gone, which was not disconcerting at first. I believed that the data was probably just temporarily gone because one of the law firm’s systems was down, and that soon enough, I would be able to access the entries again.
The next day, a firm-wide meeting was announced by email. I had no idea what the meeting was about, and I did not think that the meeting related to my data loss. As it turns out, because of a glitch, the entire firm lost everyone’s billing entries for an entire month! This was very disconcerting to people at the firm since managers disciplined attorneys regularly for not submitting billing entries by arbitrary deadlines, and management could not even be trusted to keep everyone’s data secure.
The firm gave everyone one week to recreate their time entries for the preceding month. To help everyone along, the firm provided information about everyone’s activity in the previous month, including logs showing calls that had been made by every attorney. It was extremely difficult to recreate the time entries. Looking at my calendar, I was able to recreate court appearances as well as deposition attendances, and I used start times and end times for such appearances to record the time. By checking emails, I was able to tell which projects I worked on each day, and by reviewing documents, I was also able to see what materials I prepared in the preceding month.
The recreation was not perfect. When I was done, I had recorded 10 to 15 hours less than originally. It seems that other people at the firm were in a similar situation, since it is impossible for attorneys to remember and record everything that they did in the preceding month after the fact. The firm did its best to ensure that this data issue did not impact lawyers at the law firm too harshly. The firm said that billable hour requirements would only be assessed on a pro rata for the 11 months of the year for which there was not a data issue unless the lawyer wanted the recreated month counted. However, the firm never compensated people for the hours of extra labor they needed to spend in order to fix the data loss.
It surprised me that a law firm that had hundreds of lawyers did not back up its data or otherwise avoid this issue. In any case, this situation should be a cautionary tale for other law firms on why it is important to back up data and take other steps to ensure data losses are not too harmful to a law firm. Each lawyer can think of how difficult it would be for them to operate if they lost billable hour entries, documents, or other information associated with a law firm. Taking some precautionary measures can save law firms a substantial amount of heartache if lawyers experience a data breach.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at [email protected].