Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : April 2007


MSBA Crafts Disaster Planning Strategy

~Disaster Task Force presents findings and recommendations to Board of Governors~

One of MSBA President Edward J. Gilliss’ top priorities this year is disaster planning for lawyers so practitioners are prepared for a disaster before one strikes. “Planning today may lessen or avoid crisis tomorrow and this investment may provide comfort,” declares Gilliss. MSBA’s President, who has assumed a proactive approach to disaster planning, is developing a model plan for all practitioners and encouraging local and specialty bar associations across Maryland to enter into a compact where they come to each other’s aid in times of crisis.
To spearhead this undertaking, Gilliss created an MSBA Disaster Planning Task Force (DPTF) last fall, appointing Stephen J. Nolan as Chair. MSBA’s President asked this Task Force to draft a model plan for all Maryland lawyers and law firms to adopt so that, in the event of a disaster, they will be able to recover in its aftermath. DPTF was also asked to develop a statewide disaster assistance plan linking all local and specialty bar associations across the state.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the surrounding region in August 2005, volunteer lawyers and bar associations across the Gulf-state area helped their counterparts at the Louisiana Bar Association, who faced total devastation. “They had no office equipment and no offices,” recalls Gilliss. It was their neighbor, the State Bar Association of Texas, “who brought their sister bar association staff, equipment and other aid.”

Gilliss was so impressed with this “great show of compassion” that he initiated a similar arrangement in Maryland to support and assist this state’s lawyers in times of crisis. Thus, he asked DPTF to oversee the creation of a similar plan where, in the event of a disaster, local and specialty bar associations will help each other and provide temporary office space, staff assistance and free legal services and research to assist clients of lawyers who are victims of disasters.

The Task Force’s research was largely conducted in the context of “lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina.” Its six-month probe included an examination of other state bar associations’ disaster plans as well as that of the Maryland Judiciary, and a survey of local and specialty bar associations. The survey found that local bars look to MSBA to play a critical leadership role in times of crisis by providing web-based resource information and the coordination of efforts when a local legal community is disrupted by a disaster.

In March, DPTF presented its findings and recommendations to MSBA’s Board of Governors, which approved the task force’s package of disaster proposals. Essentially, the Task Force wants MSBA to function as the overseer and primary contact for Maryland’s legal community in the event of a disaster. It recommends that MSBA implement a disaster response and recovery plan that would assist all lawyers and local bars affected by a disaster; post disaster preparedness and recovery checklists on its website and sponsor relevant programs at its Annual Meeting; have representation on the Judiciary COOP Initiative; and have its Young Lawyers Section update its volunteer legal assistance disaster response plan.

In addition, DPTF drafted a MSBA/local bar association compact, entitled “Memorandum of Understanding,” to facilitate local bars coming to each other’s aid, under MSBA’s coordination, when a disaster strikes a geographic region in Maryland. As part of this agreement, local bars would designate a member to serve as a liaison with MSBA in the event its locale was disrupted by a disaster and coordinate the delivery of assistance with MSBA. As part of this agreement, MSBA would establish its toll-free hotline, recruit volunteers to staff the hotline and provide website information to displaced lawyers and other resources as warranted.

“In the aftermath of Katrina, we want to learn from the experiences of the Louisiana and Mississippi Bars,” states Nolan. “Our Task Force learned we should not procrastinate when it comes to disaster preparedness. The time to do it is now, and the cost of failing to do it now could be enormous, financially and in other ways. We want to be better prepared to help our members deal with disasters.”

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: April 2007