Law Office Management

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DISASTER PLANNING: PROTECTING YOUR FIRM, YOUR CLIENTS AND YOUR FAMILY

By Patricia Yevics
Director, Law Office Management
Maryland State Bar Association, Inc.

Here is a short quiz for all practitioners (especially solo and small firm practitioners) to determine your DPQ - Disaster Preparedness Quotient.

1. If all of the computers in your office were stolen over the weekend, do you have all the serial numbers of the equipment, the original cost of the equipment, the value of the equipment and the ability to recreate all of the data on the computers?

2. If your office was completely destroyed by fire, how long would it take you to contact all of your clients, recreate all your computer data, contact your insurance company, process invoices, contact opposing counsel and generally get back to business? Who is responsible for performing some of these functions?

3. If you had a heart attack tonight, are your files organized so that someone could pick up your caseload without the clients suffering any disadvantage?

4. If you could suddenly not come into the office on Monday, have you designated the person who could pick up your caseload? Even if you have a partner, how much does he/she really know about your caseload.

5. If you were unable to come into the office for a few days or weeks could anyone actually find anything on your desk or in your files?

6. If your secretary/legal assistant/bookkeeper suddenly decided she would rather spend her days drinking Pina Coladas on some tropical island, do you know her filing system so that you can find information in her desk or in her computer?

7. If you have a partner/associate who was suddenly disabled, do you or someone in your office know his/her schedule for the next three months? Do you or someone in your office know the status of all matters in your office?

8. If you or a partner in your firm were disabled for an extended period of time, will you be able to draw a salary? If so how much and for how long? If you are a solo practitioner and the only rainmaker, how will expenses of the firm be paid while you are out and unable to make rain?

9. If you were to die or be completely unable to return to work, what would your desk, client files, office organization say about you to anyone who would have to step in to assume responsibility? Is this the way you want to be remembered?

If you were unable to answer all of these questions as quickly or as adequately as you would like, then you need to do some planning. Regardless of the size of your firm or practice, you need to create an easy to implement plan which can assist you or anyone in your if there were a disaster. The plan must be in writing even if it is only two or three pages in length. The plan must be distributed and reviewed by all employees and some family members if necessary.

There are so many issues to be addressed when planning for a disaster, it may be difficult to know where to begin. If we break down the process into easy and manageable parts and tasks, we can begin to create a workable disaster plan. Keep in mind that the plan which you will create will plan for some worst case scenarios.

For the sake of this article, there are three types of disasters for which we will begin to create a plan:

* Damage to your physical surroundings such as a fire or theft.

* An event which would cause a partner, associate or other key employee (you will determine who is a key employee) to be unable to work either temporarily or permanently.

* An event which would cause you to be unable to work either temporarily or permanently.

GETTING STARTED

Regardless of the type of problem which could occur, quick access to certain types of accurate information is essential. Listed below is a brief list of information which you and others in your office should have at their fingertips. This information should be updated regularly and copies should be kept at your home and the homes of key employees, should a problem occur.

* Name, address and social security numbers of you and your partners.

* Name, address and phone numbers of all employees.

* Federal and State ID #.

* Name, address and phone number of landlord, building owner or maintenance company.

* Names, addresses and phone numbers of your personal representative, attorney, accountant, physician, other attorney designated to assist with your practice (If you have not designated another attorney to assist your practice in case of emergency, this will be discussed in detail in next month's issue.)

* Location of your will and or trust.

* If applicable, professional corporation information.

* Names, addresses, phone numbers, policy numbers, and contact persons for all insurance policies including property, malpractice liability, general liability, valuable paper, errors and omissions, health insurance, life insurance, workers' compensation, disability.

* Location, box number, and where to locate key to safe deposit box(es).

* List of contents of safe deposit boxes and signatory information.

* List of all leased equipment, name, address and phone numbers of lessors and expiration date.

* Name, address, phone numbers, account numbers, signatory information on all business financial accounts.

If you would like a worksheet to assist you in accumulating and storing this information, please call Pat Yevics at 410-685-7878 or 800-492-1964, ext 3039 or e-mail your request to pyevics@msba.org Please leave your name, address and phone number and it will be mailed to you. If you e-mail your request, it will be sent as an attachment via e-mail.

DAMAGE TO YOUR PROPERTY

If your office were either destroyed by fire or your office equipment were stolen, one of the first steps you would have to take would be to determine the extent of your loss. How quickly and accurately could you list everything in your office? If you cannot tell someone exactly what is in your office and what needs to be replaced, then you need to have an accurate inventory.

Assign someone in your office, the responsibility for taking a complete inventory and a reasonable timetable for completion. Depending on the size of your office this can take anywhere from one week to one month. Once you have made this assignment, mark on your calendar, the date for completion and review it on or near that date. Make any changes that are necessary. The inventory should include the following information:

* All computer hardware equipment, including location, serial number, original price (if known), purchase date (if known), original vendor (if known)

* All software including serial number, original price (if known), purchase date (if known), original vendor (if known).

* A list of all library contents and subscriptions.

* All other office equipment including fax machines, photocopiers, dictation equipment, telephone equipment. Where possible include serial numbers, original prices, purchase dates and vendors.

This information should be updated each time a new piece of equipment is added or discarded. If you have not done so make certain, that you begin to keep information on purchase date, price and vendor. You should also have information on all maintenance contracts for equipment in your office. Once this information has been completed it should be kept off site. Remember to update the off site list when you make additions or deletions.

Others items which need to be considered if your office is damaged are:

* How soon can you replace computer equipment which has been destroyed or stolen? How will you pay for the equipment until an insurance settlement is made?

* Keep a list of computer vendors, furniture vendors, telephone vendors in case you need to contact them quickly for replacement equipment. If you cannot replace all of your equipment immediately, have the numbers of some companies that rent equipment.

* Are your computers backed up daily and are the tapes taken off site?

* Are you absolutely certain that you can restore your data from your current backup tapes? Do you actually know how to restore data from your tapes? If you have never restored data from a backup tape, do you have someone you can call immediately to assist you? I recommend that sometime this week you actually attempt to restore data from your backup tapes. If you are able to restore the data, you are doing very well. (I would love to hear from practitioners who actually attempt to restore the data and the results.)

* Keep a copy of your Rolodex in an off-site location. I have three copies of my entire Rolodex. I have one on my computer in my office, a hard copy of my computer Rolodex in my briefcase and a copy on my computer at home. I update the two offsite copies monthly to account for additions I make to my office Rolodex.

You should also determine who will be responsible for contacting insurance companies and vendors should your office be damaged. You also need to determine what would need to be done if the damage prevented you from performing your client work any amount of time. How would you contact clients, opposing counsel, the courts, if applicable. Each person should have at least two accurate calendars. One of the calendars should always be offsite.

Do you have copy of your client list and could access it quickly after a disaster? If the answer is no, what do you need to do to make certain that you have this information?

These are some of the most important issues which must be considered if your office were damaged. In the next 30 days, begin to take steps to assemble this information and create a simple plan of what is to be done in case of this type of emergency.

If you would like checklists for assisting you in taking these inventories, please call Pat Yevics at 410-685-7878 or 800-492-1964, ext 3039 or e-mail your request to pyevics@msba.org Please leave your name, address and phone number and it will be mailed to you. If you e-mail your request, it will be sent as an attachment via e-mail.


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