The Importance of Disaster Recovery Plans
In order to reduce and minimize the effects of a disaster such as a fire, earthquake,
tornado, flood, hurricane, etc., firms should do some advance planning to identify
potential problems caused by disasters and determine how to most effectively
deal with them.
To limit problems due to an unexpected disaster underscores the
need for firms to prepare for the unexpected by having a Disaster
Recovery Plan in effect. Just think—what would you do if
your office was damaged or destroyed tomorrow because of some disaster?
Are you prepared for it? It is better to think through potential
problems in advance and not have to do it under the stress created
when a disaster actually strikes. Thus, many firms have developed
a disaster plan that provides a detailed script of the actions
to be taken by the firm and its personnel in the event of a disaster
in order to provide for the health and safety of firm employees
and visitors and to quickly restore firm operations where all or
part of a firm’s office becomes inaccessible or inoperative.
The plan should also establish priorities for the utilization and
recovery of internal resources, protect property and assets and
protect client interests while insuring continuity of service to
the firm’s clients. Copies of the plan must be made available
within the firm’s office for staff and lawyer review. New
hires must be educated regarding the plan as part of their initial
firm orientation. Training must be undertaken.
To be an effective risk prevention tool, the plan has to be regularly
updated to accommodate changes in the firm. For example, the plan
normally contains a list of staff and lawyer addresses and phone
numbers. Staff members may move or change phone numbers. People
leave or there may be new hires. Vendors may be added or dropped.
There may be newly added equipment or technology to be covered.
The following examples of topics are the ones that should be considered
for placement in your Disaster Recovery Plan. Remember these are
examples—not an exhaustive list.
- Designate an individual (Director of Administration, Executive
Director, Office Manager, etc.) or a committee (members of the
Management Committee) to be responsible to oversee the implementation
of the plan.
- Determine where and how firm personnel obtain information and
instructions on what to do once the disaster occurs.
- Keep duplicate copies of important firm documents in a safe
fireproof location off premises. This would include, for example,
a copy of the firm’s lease; a list of all persons associated
with the firm to include their addresses and phone numbers; a
list of bank account numbers; copies of insurance policies; a
client list to include addresses and phone numbers; etc. Keep
a copy of this list at home. If electricity and phone service
is down, develop some other approach to contact attorneys and
- Review insurance coverage each year to be sure it is adequate
to cover as many potential risks as is possible. Do you insure
contents at their replacement cost? Are newly purchased items
covered as soon as purchased? Do you have lost income and accounts
- Determine, before a disaster strikes, the availability of companies
who could be helpful in protecting and restoring firm property
in the event of a disaster.
- Prepare a firm inventory of all firm property to include model
and serial numbers where applicable.
- Prepare an inventory list of all office furniture, computer
equipment, artwork, library books, carpeting, fixtures, telephones,
etc. for purposes of insurance. Maintain the list off premises
and supplement it with a video of the office and its contents
to substantiate insurance claims.
- Keep a log of what occurred, what members of the firm did,
and what costs were involved. Each key person involved should
maintain such log.
- Consider in advance how and where you would obtain new space,
buy or rent furniture, obtain computers, etc., on a temporary
or permanent basis depending on circumstances. Alternate space
may be difficult to find and may be very costly. Consider some
non-traditional space such as a vacant home. A small firm may
be able to set up shop in the home of an associate or partner.
- Be prepared to order new stationery, business cards, etc.
- Tell the Post Office where to send mail or that you will pick
- Contact the phone company to have calls forwarded to lawyer
cell phones, homes, or to a new temporary office.
- Keep track of time spent and costs incurred reconstituting
files for purposes of insurance.
- Contact opposing counsel and all courts and governmental agencies
before whom the firm has pending matters.
- Contact clients.
- Decide on the kind of press release that should be prepared
(see Section 8.5.4) and who is responsible for preparing it.
- Retrieve materials from the Firm’s fireproof safe (e.g.
wills, partnership agreements, etc.).
- The [Office Manager, Director of Administration, Executive
Director, Managing Partner, etc.] shall be given long range walkie-talkies
to communicate with each other in the event the area telephone
systems are inoperable.
- Be sure to have off-site computer back-up stored in a waterproof
location. Many firms scan all paperwork into their computer system.
- Be aware that thefts can occur in closed offices. Be sure files
are always locked up at the end of the day.
These are but a few examples of the items to consider in preparing
a Disaster Recovery Plan.
More information about Law
Office Policy & Procedures Manual, Fifth Edition
Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Planning (MP3 Audio Download)
To further aid you in developing disaster recovery plans for your
clients and your own practice, this program discusses in detail
different backup strategies and technologies, from online backup
to RAID to encrypted thumb drives.
Sponsors: Law Practice Management Section and ABA Center for CLE