Now that Hurricane Dorian has shifted course and the threat has receded, it’s a good time to assess your law firm’s disaster plan. What steps has your firm taken to prepare for a natural disaster? Has your firm laid the groundwork that would allow it to continue with business as usual even in the wake of a hurricane? After all, regardless of the weather, statutes of limitations and other deadlines must be met. And your clients will continue to call with questions even after a hurricane strikes, so it’s important to ensure your law firm continues to run smoothly no matter what.
That’s where disaster planning comes in. If you’re not sure where to start, an opinion issued last year by the American Bar Association provides some guidance. In Formal Opinion 482, the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility explained that lawyers have an ethical obligation to prepare for the possibility of a disaster:
“Lawyers have an ethical obligation to implement reasonable measures to safeguard property and funds they hold for clients or third parties, prepare for business interruption, and keep clients informed about how to contact the lawyers (or their successor counsel).”
Notably, the Committee repeatedly emphasized the value – and the benefits – of online storage (aka cloud computing) throughout the opinion. This is because 24/7 access to your law firm’s case files following a disaster is essential, and one of the best ways to ensure that this happens is to use cloud-based law practice management software:
“(L)awyers must evaluate in advance storing files electronically so that they will have access to those files via the Internet if they have access to a working computer or smart device after a disaster.”
The bottom line: offsite storage of digital documents is an incredibly important part of you firm’s disaster plan. This is because storing your law firm’s files in the cloud protects the firm’s data from onsite physical damage, whether due to extreme weather, a fire, or some other type of calamity. With cloud storage, you’ll have one less thing to worry about. Your law firm’s confidential client data will be safely stored on cloud computing servers with built-in redundant data backup — where data is regularly backed up to multiple servers located in different geographical regions. In other words, when your law firm’s data is stored in cutting edge, cloud computing data centers you can rest easy, even in the face of a disaster.
In addition to storing your firm’s data in the cloud, there are other steps you can take to ensure that your firm recovers quickly in the wake of a natural disaster. As discussed in this post, here are some of the top issues to think about when creating a disaster plan so that after disaster strikes, you’ll be able to get your firm up and running as quickly as possible:
- Establish a communication plan – your disaster plan should fully address post-disaster communications and should include multiple ways to communicate both within your firm and externally.
- Have a plan in place for payroll – ensure that your employees will get paid and also consider providing them with modest advances to help them recover
- Password access – your law firm’s passwords should be easily accessible offsite, and preferably stored in an encrypted password manager
- Protect law firm data – if laptops and desktops were destroyed or damaged, remotely wipe them to ensure that the data stored on the devices doesn’t fall into the wrong hands
- Secure and take stock of your office as soon as possible – once you’re able to do so, secure your office(s) and take photographs of the damage for insurance purposes.
So if your firm doesn’t yet have a disaster plan in place, then what are you waiting for? Not only do you have an ethical obligation to create one, you now have the tools you need to get started. After all, there’s no better time than the present.