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Law Firms Must Prepare for Disasters, Large and Small, Experts Advise

Law Firms Must Prepare for Disasters, Large and Small, Experts Advise

By Daniel Buchanan

Can a disaster strike your law practice? Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security if you live in a region shielded from tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes or other big, high-profile calamities. Instead, get prepared.

That was the message delivered to the more than 600 lawyers who recently signed up for a free ABA CLE webinar, “10 Steps to Disaster Preparedness for Law Firms.”

The speakers were Bob Boyd, president and CEO of Agility Recovery, and Anthony Davis, a partner with Hinshaw & Culbertson in New York City whose expertise include professional responsibility and risk management.

Disasters — large and small — can happen anytime, anywhere and to anyone, Boyd and Davis emphasized. Instead of speculating whether another Superstorm Sandy or river flood is likely to hit your hometown, imagine the very real possibility of a small fire in a neighbor’s office and the resulting fire or water damage to your office. Or a power outage. Or a sudden, violent attack from a disgruntled client or former employee.

In short, Boyd and Davis’s message was to be prepared as much as you can for any crisis that can interrupt your operations, affect your employees and interfere with your professional responsibility to serve your clients.

Although the program promised 10 steps for disaster preparedness, each speaker offered his own set of advice. Boyd focused on suggestions for businesses generally, while Davis geared his insights to law firms.

Boyd’s suggestions:

  1. Assess your risk: both internally and externally;
  2. Assess your critical business functions;
  3. Prepare your supply chain;
  4. Create an emergency management plan;
  5. Back up your data;
  6. Create a crisis communication plan;
  7. Assemble an emergency supply kit;
  8. Review your insurance coverage;
  9. Plan for an alternate location; and
  10. Test your plan.

Davis’ tips:

  1. Law firm leaders should keep disaster planning on the firm’s agenda;
  2. For planning purposes, lawyers need to consider the various forms disasters may take, their potential risk and the likely problems they might cause;
  3. Plan objective: Seamless service to clients;
  4. Make sure that everyone in the firm has the plan and knows what to do in case of emergency;
  5. Time is of the essence, so be prepared to act quickly and decisively;
  6. People come first (i.e., protecting your employees’ and others’ lives is the first priority);
  7. Back up your data in a remote location and in a manner that is accessible. Test, test and retest that the backup works.
  8. Identify working arrangements following a disaster;
  9. Reach out to clients — and all firm personnel; and
  10. Share in community healing — provide pro bono and other needed services.

Davis based his presentation on a widely circulated ABA online article, “Disaster Planning: What We Have (and Haven’t) Learned,” which elaborates on the 10 points and includes links to resources.

Webinar attendees also received the ABA’s Surviving a Disaster: A Lawyer’s Guide to Disaster Planning, which contains forms, checklists and other materials.

The webinar was sponsored by the ABA Special Committee on Disaster Response and Preparedness, which educates lawyers, bar associations, and the justice system to prepare for and respond to disasters; helps lawyers recover from disaster; and ensures that the rule of law is respected and protected in times of major disasters. A co-sponsor was Agility Recovery Services, which offers discounts for ABA members. The webinar was produced by the ABA Center for Professional Development, the ABA’s provider of CLE and other educational and training programs for lawyers.

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