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How to Create a Law Firm Disaster Recovery Plan

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

Lawyers are not immune to disaster. When the Twin Towers were destroyed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, so too were the offices of Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, though remarkably only one employee died. When the levies in New Orleans failed following Hurricane Katrina, firms large and small saw their practices interrupted, offices destroyed, and employees displaced.

In order to ensure quick recovery and continued client service, all firms should have in place a disaster recovery plan. Here's how to create yours.

Putting the Proper Policies in Place

When disaster strikes, it doesn't give written notice beforehand. But proper pre-disaster planning can help make sure that your firm is equipped to handle an expected, cataclysmic events and recovery as quickly as possible. While disasters themselves differ in nature and severity, according to the ABA's Disaster Recovery for Law Firms, "disaster response involves a predictable series of steps." These include handling the crisis, attending to the needs of the injured, protecting vital resources, assessing damage, reconnecting with clients, and returning to business.

The authors suggest having a wide range of forms in place in order to prepare your firm to respond quickly to a disaster. Here's a quick, non-exhaustive sampling:

    • Emergency contact information.
    • Emergency procedures for different emergencies, ranging from medical emergencies and power outages to fire and bomb threats.
    • Checklists for response procedures.
    • Evacuation plans, including for those with disabilities.
    • Client and affiliate notification procedures.

Protecting Your Most Important Files

Outside of injury to attorneys and personnel, one of the greatest disruptions a disaster can cause is the loss, damage, or destruction of firm and client records. In order to make sure that important records are protected, firms should begin by identifying their vital records. These include things such as your docket, client files, contact information for vendors, courts, and affiliates, and insurance and personnel files.

Once files are identified, you'll want to make sure that they are regularly backed up and retained. Electronic data can often easily be stored on "the cloud," while paper records may need to be moved off site. You'll want your files far enough away that they would not be affected by any disaster which could strike the firm. For electronic storage, that means you'll have to find out just where your data is being stored.

Periodically rehearsing your disaster procedures can help make sure that you and your staff are ready should a tragedy occur.

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