Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : November 2006

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Disaster Planning for Lawyers Declared Priority by MSBA President

If a disaster struck tomorrow, would you be ready for the chaos to follow? In recent years, tornadoes, floods, storms, wildfires and other natural and manmade disasters have plagued our country. The threat of terrorism always looms, not to mention the danger posed by a potential pandemic flu epidemic. Most disasters hit with little or no warning and it can happen to you.

We all remember Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the path of destruction left in their wake last fall. No one, including lawyers, was prepared to deal with these catastrophes or their aftermaths. The repercussions are still felt today. This is one of the reasons MSBA President Edward J. Gilliss has declared disaster planning for lawyers a priority this year.

“Much can and must be learned from these storms,” asserts MSBA’s President. He is encouraging all attorneys to plan for a disaster now, citing the old adage, “The time to fix the roof is when the sun is out.” Gilliss vows to help Maryland practitioners prepare for a disaster before one strikes.

Lawyers across the country are adopting a proactive approach to disaster planning. The American Bar Association’s 2006 Legal Technology Survey reveals more than 50 percent of the nation’s lawyers now have a disaster recovery plan in place.

MSBA’s proactive approach to disaster planning for lawyers includes educational programs at various MSBA conferences, articles in publications to help practitioners prepare in advance, like the article “Disaster Planning - It Can Happen To You” in the November/December 2006 issue of the Maryland Bar Journal and special disaster planning initiatives. Gilliss has created an MSBA disaster planning task force, chaired by Stephen J. Nolan, to oversee these initiatives. MSBA’s Board of Governors has also approved a Disaster Preparedness Management Plan for Bar Headquarters, prepared by Paul V. Carlin, MSBA’s Executive Director.

One of Gilliss’ main thrusts this year will be to encourage MSBA to work with other state bar associations in the Mid-Atlantic region in a joint venture to come to each other’s aid in times of crisis. MSBA’s President envisions a similar undertaking for Maryland’s local and specialty bar associations. Last year, when Maryland attorneys learned of the plight of their colleagues in New Orleans and the Gulf coast region, they donated $25,000 to a disaster relief fund created by MSBA and the Maryland Bar Foundation. Gilliss was impressed with the generosity of Maryland lawyers, who helped aid these Gulf state lawyers in re-starting their law practices.

Gilliss was also impressed with the compassion of the volunteer lawyers and bar associations in the Gulf-state area who helped them. “The Louisiana Bar Association was struck hard. It had no office equipment. It had no offices,” asserts Gilliss. “Its neighbor, the State Bar Association of Texas, brought staff and equipment to the aid of its sister association. This was a great show of compassion.”

MSBA’s President was so inspired by this act of kindness that he wants to arrange a similar plan in Maryland to help this state’s lawyers in times of crisis. Therefore, MSBA is now working with its sister state bar associations in the Mid-Atlantic region to develop a disaster plan to serve as a roadmap for all members. Gilliss is also encouraging all local and specialty bar associations in Maryland to become part of MSBA’s statewide disaster assistance plan by entering into an agreement to aid one another should the need ever arise.

At Gilliss’ direction, MSBA’s disaster planning task force is developing a statewide disaster assistance plan linking all bar associations in the state. “In the aftermath of Katrina, we want to learn from the experiences of the Louisiana and Mississippi Bars,” states Nolan, “and we want to be better prepared to help our members deal with disasters which might affect the Maryland coast or other areas of the state.”

The first step in the development of this plan was initiated at the 2006 MSBA Bar Presidents Conference held October 19-21 at the Princess Royale Hotel in Ocean City, Maryland, when Nolan’s task force surveyed all local and specialty bar leaders in attendance to determine their interest, participation and commitment to this effort. As envisioned, bar association participants, in the event of a disaster, would provide temporary office space, staff assistance and free legal services and research to assist clients of lawyers who are victims of disasters. The bar leaders were also asked to survey their respective bar association members to ascertain the level of interest and commitment to this cause.

An in-depth disaster planning program was also presented to all local and specialty bar association presidents, presidents-elect and executive directors at the Bar Presidents Conference, and a half-day of MSBA’s Solo and Small Firm Conference program on November 10 was devoted to “Disasters Happen: Planning for the Worst.”

“Planning today may lessen or avoid crisis tomorrow,” asserts MSBA’s President. MSBA hopes to equip its members with disaster plans this year so they will be ready to act in times of crisis. “Although we all hope and pray that we are not the ones to need the assistance of another,” Gilliss concludes, “the investment of thought and planning today may provide comfort tomorrow.”