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Law Practice TODAY


Disaster Recovery Planning

by David Bilinsky

October 2005

+ I chew my nails
and I twiddle my thumbs

I'm real nervous,
but it sure is "fun"

Come on baby,
drive me crazy

Goodness, gracious,
great balls of fire!! +

Written and performed by "The Killer" Jerry Lee Lewis.

You are awakened by a ringing of a bell…coming out of the daze of deep sleep you grasp for the

telephone….who would be calling at this bloomin' hour? "Hello - yes this is Mr. I.B. Partner - what is that you said? My office is on fire????"

It is a fortunate fact that office disasters do not happen very often - but they do happen! When they do, they can have disastrous consequences. Moreover, disasters can take many forms - from fire or arson to earthquakes to disruption by riot or power outages or B&E's. Or it could be something as simple as water from the floor above coming thru the ceiling and flooding your computers and files. The end result is basically the same - you now have to cope with a situation that can be unprecedented in the history of a practice.

Okay, so what can you do today to be prepared for tomorrow? Here are tips that have been gleaned from those who have had to walk this particular path…

Assemble: how are you going to be able to round up the troops? Do you have a list of your staff and after-hour contact numbers stored at your home? First step will be to assemble the team and start to grapple with the situation. Where will you meet?

Communicate: How do you get your calls? Are you able to call-forward your number to a telephone answering service and at least continue to get messages from clients and others? How do you notify counsel on opposing matters? You may be able to arrange for your telephone company to bring your existing lines into your alternate space. Cell phones are going to be in short supply if the emergency is widespread…and if the disaster is widespread the cell lines may be restricted for emergency use only.

Access: Depending on the nature of the disruption, you may be denied access to your office. Do you have off-site storage of accounting and computer data? Is your case management system backed up off-site? Can you access your limitation system and bring forward system? How about client lists and contact information? What about access to your client files and client documents – particularly if your building is damaged and access is restricted – perhaps for an extended time?

Space: Can you arrange suitable alternate office space at a rate that is consistent with your reduced income? If you are insured, some costs will be recoverable - but - make no mistake - your expenses are going to be high. Remember that alternate space may mean a few days to several months, as landlords are not accustomed to leasing out office space on a weekly or even monthly basis. You may need to look for a vacant house or other non-traditional space.

Computers: You may be able to recover data from hard drives but it is a risky business. It is preferable to have off-site backups. As recent disasters have shown, having a robust off-side backup system can spell the difference between a total disaster and one that is at least manageable. Thefts can be during office hours - do you challenge strangers in your office about why they are there?

Files: Smoke-damaged files can be recovered. But what would you do if all your files were destroyed? Corporate records? Wills? Litigation binders and original evidence? Valuable papers? Do you have any fire-proof filing cabinets? A vault? What about water damage? Some offices are starting to go to a "less-papered" office - where they scan in everything and store the data on the office network. This data is then duplicated or mirrored in an off-site storage system. This at least leaves you in a position to carry on in the event of a computer crash, fire or flood. A suggestion is to bolt all bookcases and filing cabinets to the walls - which may prevent someone from being injured and from contents being spilled in the event of an earthquake.

Counsel: If you have upcoming trials, mediations, or hearings you are going to have to request adjournments and extensions of time to file documents and pleadings.

Check your insurance. Do you have valuable papers coverage including the cost to recreate client files? Contents at replacement cost? Have you updated the riders recently to cover new purchases such as laptops, cell phones or new computer systems? What about loss of income coverage? Do you have accounts receivable coverage, which includes unbilled time and disbursements (most don't!). What about Commercial General Liability if a third-party suffered bodily injury or property damage? Insurers advise that most losses are theft-related - motherboards from computers, laptops, art, computer servers etc. Insurers advise that you should have your policy written on an “all-risks” basis including earthquakes and floods. Furthermore you should have a "no-coinsurance clause" - meaning that there would be no penalty in the event that you are not insured to value. Check with your insurance broker for further information.

Contents: How will you prove what was in your office, from desks to artwork to furniture and books? Take a video or digital camera and record everything in the office - and store the tape or media in a banks' safety deposit box. Make it an annual task to do a new tape or disk.

Time: After the office is up and running you will be filing a claim with your insurer. How will you document the time spent recreating files? Or spent on other fire-related issues? Bring in a time and billing program at the outset and track all your time – all of it - regardless if it is billable or not.

Commitment: The troops are going to be looking to you for leadership. They will require emotional support and vision. Develop a disaster plan and keep a copy off-site. Make sure everyone understands their role in the plan.

With foresight and planning you will be able to minimize the disruption that will occur during a disaster. Certainly the time to think about these things is now and not when there is a whole lotta shakin' going on.

© 2005 David J. Bilinsky

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