5 Helpful Tips of Disaster Preparedness for Sole Practitioners and Law Firms

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey that ravaged Houston, Texas and parts of Louisiana, this blog post is about emergency preparation.  Currently, there are two named Hurricanes that are looming in the Caribbean.  If you have some sort of plan in place for you or your firm, that’s great.  If not, I will give you a few important steps to execute to ease the stress in case of a flood, tornado, earthquake, fire, or other natural disaster.

  1. Know what types of disasters are common in your area.

It is good to know what disasters are specific to your area. When I lived in Louisiana, I made note that hurricanes and tropical storms were prevalent. Knowing what types of issues are common to your area will help you prepare better. Keep in mind that there are times where something unexpected occurs. For example, I live in the Washington, DC area and in 2011 (in the same week) we had an earthquake and a hurricane (Irene).  It was out of the ordinary and a shocker.

  1. Clearly Define the Disaster Roles for You and Your Employees

You should have periodic meetings to go over the roles of the employees within the firm. For example, who is in charge if you are away from the firm? Who is trained in CPR and First Aid in case an emergency occurs while the firm is open for business? Where do the employees look for guidance in disaster situations? Having answers to these questions will alleviate stress for you and the employees at the firm.

  1. Develop a Law Firm Continuity Plan.

You also need to know what you will do if there’s a fire, flood, or earthquake. How will you get out? How will you communicate if phones or internet are down? A Law Firm Continuity Plan is a written document that describes in detail how your firm intends to continue carrying out critical business processes in the event of a disaster. The Plan generally includes provisions for assessing the status of employees, and resources, interaction with clients, defining steps to recover essential business processes, and establishing procedures to return to normal business operations. The Plan should also include specific policies on how to secure the safety of client files and what are the steps if there is mandatory closure of the firm due to the disaster. Once the Plan is written, everyone at the firm, they should be well versed as to what is included in the Plan.

  1. Disaster Strikes And You Are At the Law Firm? Make Sure You Stockpile Emergency Supplies.

In case an emergency occurs when you or employees are in the office, have emergency supplies. You want to create a preparedness check list to identify supplies that are needed.  In addition to first-aid kits, fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, flashlights, batteries, NOAA radio, water, and food, here are a few common things to have for your law office:

A) Be familiar with your office evacuation plan.

B) Know where your office exit routes, stairways, fire extinguishers, and medical kits are located. Also, be familiar with the city layout of the surrounding areas in case of sinkholes, fire, flood water, or vehicle obstructions.

C) For large firms, is there a muster point identified for personnel to meet after an emergency event?

D) Have a list of important phone numbers identified for reaching your employees, clients, and vendors if there is a disruption of services. I recommend that you have a list of important emergency numbers that are quickly accessible in printed and electronic form.

E) Put the proper controls in place to safeguard and protect client data in an event of a critical technical failure. This means it is necessary to have a general strategy or notifying the clients about an ongoing event and the implications. It is prudent to have a plan in place regarding stored client data (rather paper or electronic) and ensure adequate access in the future. Make sure your client data is encrypted and stored safely.

              5. Getting Back to Work as Quickly as Possible.

It’s no surprise that having a natural disaster in your area would have detrimental effects. For many lawyers if you do not work, you do not it, so it is best if you plan ahead.

A) Be responsible and access the situation. Do not hurry back to work if you do not have         the proper procedures in place. Getting back prematurely could cause harm to you and           your employees.

B) Have a back-up plan for return. How will you communicate if the phones are down?             What are the tasks can be done remotely? Make sure employees have the materials they       need to work from home. This means that you must have all the right equipment and               software that allows remote access to keep the business going.

Ensuring your law firm is prepared for a natural disaster is being proactive. So take the time draft a Continuity Plan.  As I said earlier, make sure everyone in your office read and understands the Plan.  The goal is to be safe and not sorry. If you have questions or need assistance related to this Stress Less process, feel free to contact, The Stress Less Lawyer.


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