Are You Prepared for a Disaster? If Not, It’s Time to Get Your House in Order!
By Betsy M. Adeboyejo
American Bar Association News Service
Aug. 6, 2011
TORONTO — Disasters – everything from hurricanes and tornadoes to a computer virus or a flood in your basement – were on the agenda at a program Saturday during the American Bar Association Annual Meeting in Toronto.
10 Lessons on Disasters
Gary A. Munneke, professor of law at Pace University, offers the following tips.
1. Keep disaster planning on the law firm’s agenda;
2. Consider the various forms disasters may take, their potential risk, the problems they may cause;
3. Disaster planning can be as simple or extensive as the risks dictate;
4. Everyone should know what to do;
5. Time is of the essence;
6. People come first;
7. Back up your data;
8. Identify a place to work;
9. Reach out to clients;
10. Share in community healing.
Whatever the unexpected life situation, the preeminent question is: Are you prepared? For the most part people hold a general belief that disasters happen to other people. Panelists at the program said they hope to turn that kind of thinking around, at least, in lawyers.
“Disaster preparedness is cost-effective and easy to integrate,” said Gary A. Munneke, a professor at Pace University School of Law, in New York. “When disaster strikes, there is not time to plan—it’s simply time to react.”
Munneke said there are three parts to the process: planning, response and recovery.
“If lawyers are failing to plan, they are planning to fail,” said Catherine Sanders Reach, the director of the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center in Chicago. She admonished lawyers to “get your house in order.”
The panelist shared pictures of an office owned by a lawyer who died from a heart attack. There were piles of business files stacked on his desk, an overflowing mail bin and boxes overflowing with paper files on the floor.
“When you talk about disaster preparedness you think of tornados or an earthquake,” said Dan Pinnington, the director of practicePRO at the Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company in Toronto. “There are all sorts of smaller disasters that are far more likely to happen and have a significant impact.” Disasters such as the death of a colleague or the disorganization of an office could prevent you from servicing your clients, Pinnington added.
Catherine Sanders Reach, of the Legal Technology Resource Center at the American Bar Association, offered the following tech tips.
Computer Backup Best Practices
- Do full backups
- Do backups daily
- Review the backup log
- Make sure open files are being backed up
- Regularly do test restores
- Identify offsite storage location
- Keep all software license numbers and installation discs
- Use Belarc Advisor to take snapshot of hard drives
- Create a disc image
Media Options Best Practices
- Do full backups
- Rotate and keep generations of media
- Replace tapes regularly
- Create written instructions for restoring
Pinnington suggested the “four P’s” to help guide lawyers in formulating a preparedness plan: People, Practice, Premises and Property. He said some vulnerabilities can be minimized or eliminated. He encouraged members to view the vulnerability worksheet at www.practicepro.ca/disasterrecovery.
Panelist David F. Bienvenu, chair of the ABA Special Committee on Disaster Response and Preparedness, lived through Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. He was featured in a video about the need for all lawyers and firms to plan for a disaster. The video opened the program. “Are you prepared? It’s not a question of if, but when,” Bienvenu says in the video.
Bienvenu said the ABA is not asking lawyers to do something the ABA has not done. The association has updated its business continuity plan and is working toward certification. The special committee also developed a guide for lawyers/firms on developing their own business continuity plan.
Lawyers have a professional obligation to prepare and respond to disasters, Bienvenu said. “If you can’t service your clients, that’s not a good thing.”
Resolution 116 goes before the House of Delegates on Monday urging lawyers to assess and prepare for natural and manmade disasters to ensure the protection of client interests and property.
“We lawyers like living on the edge,” said Munneke. “There needs to be a turn in our mindset…in most law firms there is too much going on everyday… hearings to attend, clients to meet, it’s like other things, like marketing your practice or creating an office manual…this just goes to the back burner. This is one if it doesn’t ever come to the front burner the consequences are too great—it will be unfortunate.”