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INSIGHT

The 6 essentials to include in your Business Continuity Plan to help your firm survive a disaster

By Elizabeth M. Miller  bio

The first thing you might be wondering is why do I need a business continuity plan? With technology being what it is today, I bet every lawyer and law firm think they have a “business continuity plan” in place already.

A business continuity or contingency plan will allow a law firm to have daily access to client information, financial information, dockets, etc., to ensure that your business continues to provide exceptional services to their clients even in the event of the least catastrophe or disaster no matter what. While even the Courts and Judges try to be sympathetic in the event of some kind of disaster, it will not be an excuse to meet your court obligations. 

Few businesses can survive if the ability to do business ceases because of a natural or manmade disaster. Not only does the firm have confidential financial and other information pertaining to the business of the firm, a law firm also maintains confidential client information such as social security numbers, dates of birth, residential and business addresses and in some cases client financial information. The fall out of this information coming into the hands of the wrong people could facilitate personal or financial disaster for your firm or your clients. In addition, state bar associations have regulations concerning storage of confidential client information. Not to mention the obvious—a law firm that cannot function is not generating income. That in and of itself could affect the survival of the firm. 

Like many procedures and protocols in a law office, there is no need to create a complicated business continuity plan. I once asked during an interview what the firm’s business continuity plan was. The managing partner quipped, “The last person to leave turn off the light.” I recommend that your business continuity plan be a little more thorough than that, but not so complicated that it becomes difficult to execute in the event of a true crisis.

Here’s what you need:

  1. Consistent and tested back-up procedures: Be sure to back-up every night. But do not become complacent about your nightly back-up procedures. Test the system once in a while to make sure that your server is backing-up properly. In the event that there is some kind of disaster that strikes the building, it is likely that the server will be affected. At this point, the back-ups are crucial, so make sure they are doing what you expect.
  1. Online storage for your back-ups: Store your back-ups online or in the cloud. If your system does take a hit, it is easy enough to go out and buy new computer hardware and software if necessary. You can then download your saved back up from the cloud.
  1. Digital files: If your office is not already paperless, business continuity is certainly a very good reason to make the move to paperless. In the event of an evacuation because of a disaster, no one is going to have the time or even the inclination to worry about taking paper files with them. You will, however, worry later on about how you will reconstruct these paper files and how much information you have lost.
  1. Remote access: Make sure that the people in your firm who will need to be able to get onto the computers to reschedule hearings, cancel client appointments, depositions or email clients to update them on the firm status have remote access. I don’t recommend giving this to everyone in the firm – mainly the partners, firm administrator, paralegal/case manager, and associate. Legal assistants or other clerical personnel don’t need access and probably shouldn’t have remote access.
  1. 2-step procedures: Malpractice carriers are very thorough asking questions when binding insurance concerning critical procedures such as docketing, client records management, etc. They ask if you have a 2-step process for these procedures. If you don’t already have a back-up for docketing, etc. now would be a good time to put that procedure in place.
  1. Current contact information: Make sure employee contact information for every employee is maintained and kept up to date, such as telephone number, cell number, address, emergency contacts, etc. Be sure to tell employees that when any of this information changes, they need to notify the firm administrator so that information is kept current.

Conclusion

You could think of 100 things to put on a list once you start thinking about what it takes for every aspect of your law firm to function on a daily basis. A list of 100 items on a business continuity plan will never be executed—it’s just too long. The above list represents the most important things that need to be taken care of in the event of a disaster. It essentially comes down to this—if you cannot get into your office or on to your computer, what do you need to work?


Editor’s picks:

Model Tool: Checklist of docket entries


Buried by paper? Time to crawl out and go digital


How to keep the office in business-as-usual shape after any kind of disaster



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