People: They're the Key to Disaster Recovery

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People are the key to disaster recovery. Sure, insurance is critical. It is imperative that you purchase insurance to plan for catastrophes. But do not underestimate the role of people in any recovery.

In terms of catastrophes, there are two kinds of insurance: the kind for wide-scale catastrophes, such as a tornado, that impacts entire communities; and the kind for small-scale catastrophes, such as a building fire or a plumbing leak that only affects individual firms or lawyers. I have coached and consulted for a number of clients in both situations.

A combination of technology and multiple offices, as would be the case with larger firms, makes catastrophic situations easier. For example, technology makes litigation matters a bit easier to handle because you can get copies of filed documents from the courthouse.

Of course, this only works if the courthouse is not also impacted by the catastrophe. One of my clients had a difficult time in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina because the courthouse was under water. His good fortune was that he was not the only one in that situation and was not at the epicenter of the problem. On the other hand, he was a one-man firm, which led to greater difficulties than if he had worked at a large firm.

In a large firm, lawyers would use technology and work from home or some other facility until the main offices were restored. One firm that I coached was particularly successful after a catastrophic emergency. It actually had weekly meetings at each of its offices, created telephone trees, made sure that everyone knew how to reach everyone else, used technology to reach the main server, and obtained continuances for filing, trial, etc.

The people are the real issue: from survival to recovery and from recovery to continuity. One key is recognizing the person or persons who are best equipped to deal with such situations. In one firm that I advised, the local office administrator was promoted to the position of person in charge of its national disaster recovery plan. No one in any of the firm's offices was as good as she was in dealing with such issues.

Success in the face of catastrophe will happen only if the firm has plans in place to take care of its clients by carrying on business and to take care of its employees by establishing an employee assistance fund.

The takeaway from all of this is that emergencies are a people issue. A firm's leaders have to make sure that all their people are accounted for and safe and that their employees have the training and skills to work independently if necessary, but also know how to gain the cooperation of others to work as a team.

In other words, issues involving emergencies are not so much about insurance — that is only a part of it. The people are the real issue: from survival to recovery and from recovery to continuity.

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