GPSolo December 2006
Notifying the People Around You
“Disaster” for any law firm is a question of “when,” not “if”—whether it’s a hurricane or a burst water pipe. Planning for disaster recovery or, better said, business continuity, is essential for survival of the firm. Central to disaster recovery is communication with firm members, clients, vendors, courts, and others who make your practice work. A good communication plan, in place before disaster occurs, should include the following elements, in order of priority:
- Set up a toll-free hotline number that plays a recorded status message and allows persons from inside and outside the firm to leave messages.
- Develop a “phone-tree” in which firm members have pre-assigned responsibilities to contact each other and establish their condition and whereabouts. Ensure that key personnel have paper and electronic copies of internal phone lists.
- Assign one person to contact clients, tell them what has happened, and explain the status of pending matters. Be truthful and credible, convey that the crisis is being handled properly, and that the firm will do its best to address and take care of needs and concerns. Give clients the hotline number and any other available emergency contact numbers.
- Have a standing list of building managers and real estate agents to contact for temporary space, including furnishings, computers, and phones.
- Establish a referral contact with another firm so that you can ask that firm to handle such key practice matters as requesting a continuance or rescheduling a deposition.
- Have hard-copy and electronic lists of service provider contacts who can help re-establish your practice: insurance carriers, bar associations, utilities, data security and Internet services, and legal specialists such as Lexis/Nexis and West.
- Identify a personal contact at your bank to ask for an emergency operating loan covering rent, payroll, insurance settlements, new office arrangements, supplies, etc.
Keeping an emergency contact plan updated is challenging, given how rapidly people change phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and employers. Review and revise your plan at least every six months. Otherwise, it may be useless when you need it most.
Ed Poll is the principal at LawBiz Management in Venice, California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.