Bar Bulletin

October, 2004

 SOLO/SMALL FIRM PRACTITIONER:

BY PAT YEVICS  

"When Bad Things Happen to Good Practitioners"
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,
how quickly
and accurately
could you list
everything
in your
office?

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 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 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:

Damage to your physical surroundings, such as a fire, flood or even theft
An event that would render a partner, associate or other key employee (you will determine who is a key employee) unable to work, either temporarily or permanently
An event which would render you 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. 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.

Names, addresses and Social Security numbers of you and your partners

Names, addresses, phone numbers (including cell phones) and e-mail addresses of all employees

Federal and State ID numbers

Names, addresses and phone numbers of the landlord, building owner or maintenance company

In 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

Names, 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.)

Location of your will and/or trust

Professional corporation information (if applicable)

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

Location and box number of safety deposit box(es), as well as where the key(s) can be found

List of contents of safety deposit boxes and signatory information

List of all leased equipment, as well as names, addresses and phone numbers of lessors and expiration date

Names, 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 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

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 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 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:

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 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 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 offsite?

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.)

Keep 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.

Do 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 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.

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:
www.msba.org/departments/membership/abapubs.htm#Management

 

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