Whether it is a vicious winter storm that knocks out electricity and transportation for days, a deadly terrorist incident or a cyber attack that compromises critical records, your firm faces a myriad of threats to its continuing operations and the safety of its attorneys and staff. Do not think, "It can't happen to us," because it certainly can. The key to surviving a disaster — and minimizing the damage — is to plan for it.
Brainstorm the Worst
The first step is to brainstorm likely disasters or emergencies that could disrupt your firm's operations. Although one individual may be responsible for managing the disaster plan project, everyone with management and supervisory responsibilities should provide feedback. Include every major and minor event that could interrupt operations, from natural disasters to power outages, to employee fraud.
Big events, such as fires and terrorist attacks, may be the first things that come to mind when you think "disaster." However, keep in mind that it is usually the smaller, personal events, such as the unexpected death of a key partner, that can affect a firm's productivity and even its ability to survive.
Make an Action Plan
Once you have a list, it is time to decide on courses of action for each disaster. Determine who needs to do what and when they need to do it. For example, if the managing partner becomes disabled and is unable to work again, or the whole executive committee is wiped out in a plane crash, who takes over? Who has access to client files? Who else can sign checks? What happens to the line of credit at the bank?
On a larger scale, if your firm's building is uninhabitable due to an earthquake or flood, where can you set up shop? How would you notify clients, employees and vendors? Who will have the necessary information to make this happen?
Do not forget to plan for technology disasters, which can occur even if you take every precaution. Back up data offsite in the event your server and onsite hardware become physically damaged or temporarily inaccessible. And in case a hacker steals client financial information or personnel records, be ready with a damage control plan.
While having plans in place to deal with emergency situations is crucial, there is much you can do ahead of time to neutralize potential crises. Start with your insurance policies and determine what is really covered and, more important, what is not. For example, if your firm is located on a floodplain, you may need a separate flood insurance policy.
Next, develop a coordinated approach for contacting clients to let them know you are still in business and attending to their needs. You will also need a plan for communicating with employees, if for no other reason than to confirm that they are safe. If it is possible to work, employees should have a number they can call to find out where to report and how to contact colleagues. Other options are to post a notice on a secure area of your firm's website or even use an old-fashioned phone chain.
In spite of disasters, your vendors and employees will expect to be paid for past work and services. So, create a plan to allow emergency payroll and accounts payable processing.
How to Cope
Disaster plans are not just for big firms with hundreds of clients and several floors of office space. Small firms may have even more to lose. Whatever your size, set aside some time to think about how you will cope in the event that the worst-case scenario happens.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.