Restoring Your Computer System and Recovering Data in the Event of the Unthinkable

We all dread that moment:  the one in which our computer malfunctions and loses all of your stored data.  That can be a scary moment, particularly if you do not know how to restore your system and data; but, even a system restore is useless if you haven’t backed up your data in the first place.  So, you should back up your data on a regular basis.  A backup can be stored on an external drive, USB flash drive, and/or online.  A good backup system includes a daily incremental backup, a full weekly backup, and an online backup.  You should keep at least one full copy of your backup at a safe off-site location; you can rotate backup devices for this purpose.  Moreover, you should test your backups to ensure that they are working and that you can recover the data from those backups.  If you restore from an online backup, your online provider should have instructions or support available for you.  If you follow good backup procedures, a computer malfunction need not cause much anxiety to you nor disrupt to your practice.

There are a number of reasons as to why you might need to restore your computer and data, including a hard drive crash, malware infection, or damage due to a program or driver.  A system restore or recovery enables you to reverse the damage by bringing your computer back to an earlier state of being.  With a malware infection or damage due to a driver, you may only need to restore your system files, whereas a complete hard drive crash will force you to restore your entire system in addition to all your data (i.e. documents, emails, images, etc.).

For PC users, Windows (the PC’s operating system) automatically creates snapshots of the system on a periodic basis that can be used as points in time from which to restore.  While these snapshots include system files, program files, and system settings, these snapshots do not include files created by the user, such as word processing documents, emails (saved to the hard drive), or images.  This is why backing up your files is essential.  Your backup -whether it be an external drive, USB flash drive, online storage, or something else – will contain the bulk of the data you are most concerned with retrieving.  To restore your computer system using Windows 7, you should boot the computer up in Safe Mode.  While restarting your computer, tap the F8 key.  This will allow you to choose to boot into Safe Mode.  Within Safe Mode, select System Properties then System Restore.  You can then choose your own restore point.  To assist with your selection, you can scan to determine which programs will be affected based on the restore point you select.  If you believe that a recent program download caused the malfunction, a scan will help you identify when the program was downloaded and thus how far back your restore point should be.  This type of restore should not impact any of your documents.  If you have also lost all your data, you will need to restore those files from your backup device.  The easiest ways to restore data are by using your external drive or online backup.  If using an external drive, plug your drive into your computer; Windows should then recognize the device, and will prompt you to either enter back up or restore.  You should then have the option to restore all files or select certain files or folders you wish to restore.  Follow the instructions to complete the restore.

For Mac users, OS X (the Mac’s operating system) like Windows enables the user to boot up the computer in recovery mode.  The OS X recovery system can repair malfunctioning disks or reinstall OS X.  To restore your Mac computer to an earlier point in time you should use Apple’s native backup application, Time Machine.  Time Machine, like Windows, creates periodic snapshots of the system.  Those snapshots include not only system files, but also files created by the user (i.e. documents, emails, and images).  You should set up Time Machine to back up all your data to an external drive or to Apple’s Time Capsule (wireless backup).  Time Machine can be used to restore your entire system or specific files or folders.  In the event of a system malfunction or data loss, hold down Command and R during startup.  You can then repair your hard drive, erase your hard drive and reinstall OS X, or restore from a Time Machine backup.  Follow the prompts initiated by your Mac.

Completing a system restore or recovery of files is not a sophisticated endeavor.  For the most part, you can do this yourself without any external support.  If you heed only one lesson from this post, it is that most importantly, you must have a backup of your data available to recover in the event of a loss.

About Heidi Alexander

Heidi Alexander
Heidi S. Alexander, Esq. (@heidialexander) is a Law Practice Management Advisor at the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program (MassLOMAP), where she advises lawyers on practice management matters and provides guidance in implementing new law office technologies. She frequently makes presentations to the legal community and contributes to publications on law practice management and technology. Follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

Check Also

Technology Competence

Exploring the Ethical Duty of Technology Competence, Part I

Technology competence is more than data security, and more than e-discovery—it's about everything that lawyers do and every tool used to serve clients.