"When Bad Things Happen to Good
By Pat Yevics
The weather has created havoc in many locations
throughout the South in the past few weeks. Recently, I have been in contact
with colleagues via Email Lists in Florida, Louisiana and Alabama, and there
was a lot of discussion on how to help practitioners dig out from the terrible
destruction that these hurricanes have wrought.
|In the event
of a disaster,
could you list
As I write this article, the remnants of Ivan are headed to
Baltimore. Although our weather is not as severe as that in other parts of
the country, we can still get hit hard. It was only last year that Hurricane
Isabel flooded Pratt Street in downtown Baltimore and closed the World Trade
Center. And only a few years ago a tornado leveled many businesses, including
many law offices, in La Plata in Southern Maryland.
When we think of disasters, we often think only of catastrophic
events and whether or not there were computer backups. However, a disaster
can be any event that prevents you from conducting business for an extended
period of time. And it encompasses many other tasks and issues beyond the computer
There are so many issues to be addressed when planning for
a disaster that 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 that you will create will
plan for some worst-case scenarios.
The disaster plan must be in writing and must be specific.
When it is completed, it should be distributed and discussed with all employees.
Someone should also be given the task of reviewing it annually. Staff should
be given specific tasks of what to do in case of an emergency or disaster.
According to an article entitled “Plan Ahead and Survive When Disaster
Strikes” in the November/December 1998 issue of the Association of Legal
Administrators’ Legal Management, the following should be considered
when assigning responsibilities for tasks: “personnel availability, employees’ talents
and knowledge and employees’ ability to act in time of duress and stress.
Any emergency plan needs to delineate clear-cut lines of authority and responsibility.” (A
link to this and other articles on this topic is available at www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/articles.htm)
I think that family members of partners and key personnel
should also receive a copy of the disaster plan and know what steps need to
be taken. This is even more critical in the case of solo and small firms.
This article will focus on three types of disasters for which
we will begin to create a plan:
to your physical surroundings, such as a fire, flood or even theft
that would render a partner, associate or other key employee (you will
determine who is a key employee) unable to work, either temporarily or
which would render you unable to work, either temporarily or permanently.
Regardless of the type of disaster, quick access to certain
types of accurate information is essential. 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. Keep in mind that in solo and
small firms, paralegals and administrative staff should be considered key employees.
addresses and Social Security numbers of you and your partners
addresses, phone numbers (including cell phones) and e-mail addresses of all
and State ID numbers
addresses and phone numbers of the landlord, building owner or maintenance
addition, there are many phone numbers that you should have immediately available,
such as those for building security, fire department, police, ambulance, plumber,
computer records recovery or salvage, document recovery or salvage, insurance
company, locksmith and utility companies
addresses and phone numbers of your personal representative, attorney, accountant,
physician and 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.)
of your will and/or trust
corporation information (if applicable)
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
and box number of safety deposit box(es), as well as where the key(s) can be
of contents of safety deposit boxes and signatory information
of all leased equipment, as well as names, addresses and phone numbers of lessors
and expiration date
addresses, phone numbers, account numbers and signatory information on all
business financial accounts.
A worksheet to assist you in accumulating and storing this
information is available online at www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/articles.htm.
Call Pat Yevics at (410) 685-7878 or (800) 492-1964, ext. 3039, or e-mail your
request to firstname.lastname@example.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
Should your office be destroyed by either fire or flood or
should your office equipment be stolen, one of the first steps that you should
take is determining 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
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 the date for completion on your calendar
and review the inventory on or near that date. Make any changes that are necessary.
The inventory should include the following information:
computer hardware equipment, including location, serial number, original price
(if known), purchase date (if known), original vendor (if known)
software, including serial number, original price (if known), purchase date
(if known), original vendor (if known)
list of all library contents and subscriptions
other office equipment, including fax machines, photocopiers and dictation
and 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 offsite. (Remember
to update the offsite list when you make additions or deletions.)
Other items which need to be considered if your office is
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?
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
your computers backed up daily and are the tapes taken offsite?
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.)
a copy of your address book and client data base in an off-site location. I
have three copies of my entire address book: one on my office computer, one
on my Palm Pilot and a copy on my computer at home. I update these daily without
fail. It takes only a few minutes. Since my Palm Pilot also has my calendar,
this is also updated daily.
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 for any amount of time. How would you contact clients, opposing
counsel or the courts (if applicable)? Each person in the office, including
key administrative staff, should have at least two accurate calendars. One
of the calendars should always be offsite.
you have a copy of your client list and could you access it quickly in the
wake of 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 to consider should
your office be 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.
Many of the case management programs can be downloaded to
PDAs, which can (and should) be updated daily. This is just another way to
have your information at an offsite location.
Do you know what to do in case there is a flood? Do you have
the name of a company that handles freeze drying of paper documents? There
is a list on the MSBA website.
You should also have the contact information for such government
agencies as the Maryland Emergency Management Administration and the Federal
Emergency Management Administration.
Checklists for assisting you in determining the steps that
need to be taken following a disaster are available on line at www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/articles.htm.
You can also request this information by contacting Pat Yevics at (410) 685-7878
or (800) 492-1964, ext. 3039, or e-mail your request to email@example.com.
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.
No one wants to think about a disaster occurring, but they
happen, nonetheless. Being prepared is one way to help you sleep better at
night, and isn’t a good night’s sleep sometimes the most important
thing you can have in life?
On a further note, just as I was finishing this article I
received a copy of the ABA Law Practice Management Section’s Essential
Formbook: Comprehensive Management Tools, part of a series of publications;
this issue addresses “Disaster Planning and Recovery”. It contains
a comprehensive discussion of what to do to plan for disaster, respond to disaster
and recover from disaster. The accompanying CD includes all of the required
forms as well as an extensive list of resources. This will help you save time
from reinventing the wheel. At $139.95 for non-ABA Members and MSBA members,
the cost is high, but the amount of time it may save you could easily pay for
the cost of the book.
You may purchase it online at: