In IT Management, Managed Services, Network Security, Practice Management

iStock_000012458321XSmallThere are two things you can do with all those pesky emails – you can back them up or you can save them in an archiving system. But which is better for law firms?

E-Mail Backup

Backing up your email database means you are taking a snapshot of a given point in time of everything in your database. Each new backup replaces the last and the email server controls all retention policies. This could potentially be a problem because if you accidentally delete an important email and save over the yesterday’s backup, it’s gone forever.

With some e-mail backup systems, such as the free Microsoft utility, when it comes time to restore lost emails, it’s all or nothing. Say you catch the “deleted email mistake” prior to backup. The only way to get it back is to do a full restore which means you’re losing anywhere from a few hours to 24 hours worth of emails – period. What makes this worse is that it’s firm wide – not just the attorney who made the original mistake. Not all backup systems are the same though and some do offer a more flexible backup/restore policy.

Regarding performance – emails must be present to be searchable in Outlook. This is a problem because as a mailbox grows in size, performance declines. The only way around this is to move the data off the server to accommodate growth, which means you can’t find your emails because they’re only searchable in Outlook, at the individual mailbox level. That’s a hassle.

E-Mail Archiving

Using an archiver gives you a few strategic advantages. First, you can retain data for as long as you want even after it’s deleted from Outlook. An archiver saves, indexes and preserves all incoming and outgoing mail, meaning it’s never lost (depending on how you set your policies of course). Next, since you’re not backing up the entire database, but rather, you’re archiving these emails, you eliminate the situation where you lose emails firm-wide in the instance of a database restore.

An archiver is advantageous because it allows you to restore individual mailboxes and not just the entire database. That means if one person messes up (as in the example above) the whole office doesn’t lose 24 hours worth of emails because you can restore just that individual’s mailbox instead of having to do the entire office’s mailboxes.

Finally, let’s talk performance. Due to the archiver’s ability to perform indexing, searching for content is easier and faster. Additionally, because the mail server offloads data to increase performance you won’t be staring at your computer screen for 15 minutes each morning as it struggles to load all those emails about your coworker’s new cat. If you want to find that email, simply search via the archiver itself using a web browser. Enter a particular word or sender and, almost instantly, your search results are retrieved. It’s the best of both worlds – performance and data retention.


At the end of the day lawyers have concerns with both systems. First, regarding backups, they hate the thought of losing things. I imagine that’s why there are stacks of paper up to the ceiling in their offices. Equally as frightening, however, is the thought of having something they wish they didn’t when someone subpoenas it (when the law didn’t mandate that you keep it). What’s the perfect combination? Look at both systems, explore data retention compliance rules and regulations, explore the system policies you can employ with each option, and tally the costs. One should be a clear winner for your law firm.

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