Disasters: Take Me to Your Leader, Part 1

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With leadership comes responsibility. In this column, I'll examine how responsibilities can align with law firm management positions in terms of disaster plans.

Leaders' responsibilities are not simply about growth, but protection: of your information, your financial assets, the physical facilities, and, of course, your people.

In addition, you're responsible for meeting the firm's commitments and coordinating the plan should disaster strike. If you are in such a position of leadership, find yourself on the following list, and make sure you have your corresponding bases covered.

1. HR director: Protect your people

  • Carefully plan emergency evacuation procedures, with clear lines of command and both local and remote gathering points.

  • Improve procedures for check-in and head counts. Rescue teams shouldn't have to guess how many people are still in a burning or flooded building.

  • Don't rely on cellphones alone for communications backup. Investigate and acquire walkie-talkie and satellite-based technology. Develop and practice contingency plans for dealing with total communications blackouts.

  • Create, maintain and practice using a communication "tree" for keeping in contact with firm members and others whom the firm may have a responsibility to help. Your emergency communications system should include lawyers, staff, clients, vendors and courts, depending on the nature of your practice.

  • Provide alternative methods for internal communications, since some may not work. Set up a call-in hotline or recorded message number. It typically is easier to call out of, rather than into, a disaster area, so establish an out-of-area contact. Also, provide links from the firm's regular website to a special website for this purpose.

  • Establish an employee-assistance program. By virtue of their relative lack of capital as compared to partners, employees typically are in a more precarious financial position after a disaster. Consider creating a fund for your staff, with the firm matching contributions.

2 CIO: Protect your information

  • View information security comprehensively. Cover work-in-progress, archives, business accounting and tax information, client and marketing information, and the like.

  • Assign selected staff members to contact clients and vendors to let them know what has happened and to explain the status of their pending matters. Be truthful and credible; convey that the crisis is being handled properly and that the firm will continue to take care of all clients' needs or vendors' concerns. Store phone lists in multiple off-site, accessible locations.

  • Back up all computer data regularly, and store important records and documents off-site. Everything that you save on the computer should be backed up on a constant basis. This also applies to crucial paper records, such as master files, time and billing records, court dates and appointments, wills, powers of attorney and corporate records. The specific frequency of computer backups depends on how much work you produce between backups and how much you can afford to lose — but there's no such thing as overdoing your backup procedures. When in doubt, don't put it off.

The off-site storage should include locations that are beyond the city or, perhaps, state lines. This issue is naturally addressed with multiple offices. If you have just one office, it may be appropriate to set up a duplicate server in a different part of the country.

If you need assistance in making leadership plans for your firm contact a legal coach today at 800-837-5880.

Click here for part 2

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