Brooklyn fire destroys 85,000 court files
In the past, I’ve discussed the many benefits of online data storage via cloud computing. Whether it’s convenience and flexibility, 24/7 access to client data from anywhere, affordability, simplicity or the ability to eliminate IT staff and software management requirements, there are a host of reasons to move your law firm into the cloud.
But there’s another important reason to make the transition to storing your law firm case files in the cloud: disaster backup. As I explained in a column earlier this year where I covered a fire that resulted in a Buffalo law firm’s confidential client files being strewn onto the city street below, you never know when disaster will strike. Unfortunately, that fire wasn’t a rare, isolated occurrence. Just a few months later, another fire — this time in Brooklyn — destroyed even more confidential and irreplaceable legal files.
This particular fire decimated a Brooklyn storage building, including all of the paper files that were stored inside. As reported in the New York Daily News, over 85,387 boxes of records that belonged to the New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA) were lost, consisting of records of closed cases from all five boroughs:
“The lost records include 19,108 boxes from the criminal division of Manhattan Supreme Court. The boxes contained case files and court transcripts from felony matters between 1940 and 1998.
The biggest hit was to family court files — 34,187 boxes worth, dating from 1954 to 2006, were scorched in the flames.
Also lost were 1,213 boxes containing Manhattan Supreme Court civil records from 1911 to 1954 and from 1985 to 1997; 18,721 boxes from Brooklyn Supreme Court (civil) from 1873 to 1941 and 7,668 Bronx Supreme Court boxes from 1983 to 1995.”
Regrettably, the OCA had insufficient backup procedures in place, meaning that nearly all of the files damaged in the fire were considered unsalvageable. The OCA even brought in a disaster recovery firm in an unsuccessful attempt to recover the documents:
“There is nothing that was salvageable,” said OCA Executive Director Ronald Younkins. “They had an outside company that specializes in restoration of documents and disaster recovery. They came and — nothing.”
Should files destroyed in the fire be requested for use in other proceedings, the OCA intends to attempt to reconstruct partial case files through other means. In some cases, the OCA will attempt to obtain records for more recent cases by accessing documents that were e-filed. But for all other matters, the OCA will have to rely on documents maintained by other offices:
OCA may ask the district attorneys’ offices to share documents and some disposition data is computerized. Also, some records were scanned or preserved on microfiche.
So, because the OCA had no online backup procedures in place, it has to rely on obtaining copies of the few remaining digital and paper documents that are in the custody of others.
While you might think this type of disaster is unlikely to happen to your law firm, are you really willing to take that chance? Fires and other disasters happen more often than you might think. So plan ahead. Use cloud storage for your firm’s case files.
With online storage, you’ll have one less thing to worry about and your law firm’s confidential client data will be safely stored on cloud computing servers with built-in redundant data backup. This means that the data is regularly backed up to multiple servers located in different geographical regions.
In other words, when your law firm’s data is stored in newly built, cutting edge, cloud computing data centers you can rest easy. Because even in the face of disaster, cloud computing will save the day.
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase, intuitive web-based law practice management software for the modern law firm. She is also the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a West-Thomson treatise. She is the founder of lawtechTalk.com and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes four legal blogs and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.