Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : October 2005

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 SOLO/SMALL FIRM PRACTITIONER

BY PAT YEVICS  

When Bad Things Happen to Good Practitioners
By Pat Yevics

Lately, the weather has created havoc in many locations throughout the South. In recent weeks, I have been in contact with colleagues via Email Lists in Florida, Louisiana and Alabama, and there has been a lot of discussion on how to help practitioners dig out from the terrible destruction that these hurricanes have wrought.

Although Maryland does not have weather as severe as in other parts of the country, we can still get hit hard. Remember when 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.

Most times when we think of disasters we 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 backups.

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 you create will address worst-case scenarios.

The disaster plan must be in writing, and it 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 in the Association of Legal Administrators’ November/December 1998 issue of Legal Management, entitled “Plan Ahead and Survive When Disaster Strikes”, 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 particularly critical in the case of solo and small firms.

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

bullet Damage to your physical surroundings, such as a fire, flood or even theft.
bullet 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.
bullet An event which would cause you to be unable to work either temporarily or permanently.

Getting Started
Regardless of the type of disaster, 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 (In solo and small firms, paralegals and administrative staff should be considered key employees.)

bullet Name, address and Social Security numbers of you and your partners
bullet Name, address, phone numbers (including cell phones) and e-mail addresses of all employees
bullet Federal and State ID numbers
bullet Name, address and phone number of landlord, building owner or maintenance company
bullet There are many other phone numbers that you should also have immediately available, including building security, fire department, police, ambulance, plumber, computer records recovery or salvage, document recovery or salvage, insurance company, locksmith and utility companies.
bullet Names, addresses and phone numbers of your personal representative, attorney, accountant, physician and another 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.)
bullet Location of your will and/or trust
bullet Professional corporation information (if applicable)
bullet 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 and disability
bullet Location, box number and where to locate key(s) to safe deposit box(es)
bullet List of contents of safe deposit boxes and signatory information
bullet List of all leased equipment, name, address and phone numbers of lessors and expiration date
bullet Name, address, 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. To have a copy mailed to you, 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. (Note: If you e-mail your request, it will be sent as an attachment via e-mail.)

Damage to Your Property
How quickly and accurately could you list everything in your office? If your office was either destroyed by fire or flood or your office equipment was stolen, one of the first steps you would have to take would be determining the extent of your loss. 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. This can take anywhere from one week to one month, depending on the size of your office. Once you have made this assignment, mark the date for completion on your calendar and review it on or near that date. Make any changes that are necessary. The inventory should include the following information:

bullet All computer hardware equipment, including location, serial number, original price (if known), purchase date (if known) and original vendor (if known)
bullet All software, including serial number, original price (if known), purchase date (if known) and original vendor (if known)
bullet A list of all library contents and subscriptions
bullet All other office equipment, including fax machines, photocopiers, dictation equipment 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 completed, this information should be kept off-site. Remember to update the off-site list when you make any additions or deletions.

Other items for consideration:

bullet How soon can you replace computer equipment that has been destroyed or stolen? How will you pay for the equipment until an insurance settlement is made?
bullet Keep a list of computer vendors, furniture vendors and 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 equipment-rental companies.
bullet Are your computers backed up daily, and are the tapes taken off-site? (See “Technology Talk”, page 15)
bullet 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).
bullet Keep a copy of your address book and client database in an off-site location. I have three copies of my entire address book: one copy on my office computer, one copy on my Palm Pilot and another 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 off-site.

Do you have copy of your client list and could you 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.

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 off-site 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 know the contact information for certain government agencies, such 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. To have this information mailed to you, 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. (Note: 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 do happen. Being prepared is one way to help you sleep better at night. And isn’t that sometimes the most important thing you can have in life – a good night’s sleep?

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. This is part of a series of publications, and this issue addresses Disaster Planning and Recovery. It features a comprehensive discussion of what to do in order to plan for, respond to and recover from a disaster. There are many forms and a extensive list of resources. A CD with all of the forms is also included, which will help you save time from reinventing the wheel. While the cost is high ($139.95 for non-ABA Members and MSBA members), the amount of time it may save you could easily pay for the cost of the book. You may purchase the book at our ABA Publications page.

Find links to these and other resources on the MSBA website at www.msba.org/departments/loma/articles/articles.htm:

bullet Disaster Plan – Florida Bar
bullet Disaster Plan – Oklahoma Bar
bullet Association of Legal Administrators on Disaster Planning
bullet Heckman Consulting: Disaster Recovery for Small and Medium Firms

In addition, you can find a number of sites specific to the cleanup for Hurricane Katrina on the MSBA website.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: October 2005

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