Oregon has had a devastating fire season this year, and it’s not over yet. Hundreds of firefighters are currently working hard to contain the Amber Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge while also fighting the Chetco Bar Fire, the WhiteWater Fire, and the High Cascade Complex. Let's not forget other natural disasters afflecting different parts of our country. This is a good reminder for lawyers to take steps to protect your practice and livelihood against disasters. Here are some tips based on a previous article I wrote called “A Step Ahead of Disaster.”
Inventory your officeIf you store files in multiple locations – some in filing cabinets, some in cloud file storage providers like DropBox, and some emailed to yourself – make a list of what files are stored where. Without knowing where your files are stored, recreating or accessing your complete files will be challenging after a disaster. Inventory all equipment, software, furniture, and anything of value. You may realize you don’t need much to practice law: possibly just your computer, a few programs, and your data. This will help you decide how best to protect those things.
Going paperless makes it easier to protect and back up your data. Filing cabinets full of active unscanned files make you vulnerable to a complete data loss. Data can be backed up to an external hard drive or a network attached storage. You can back up your entire computer by disk imaging or disk cloning. Just make sure you protect the backup device in the event of a disaster. Cloud data storage and backup ensures your data will be saved even if you lose your computer. With advance notice of a disaster, you may be able to remove all contents off your desk or from the filing cabinets to your car and drive to a safe location. But sometimes there is no notice and little time to do anything other than to evacuate. The peace of mind of knowing that your data is protected will let you focus on other urgent matters related to disaster survival.
Protect and back up your data
Have a response plan
A response plan will help you figure out what needs to happen next after disaster strikes. There might be people whom you have to call or contact right away. Prepare a list of emergency contact names and numbers and make it available to family members and lawyers and staff in the firm. Make sure you always have an updated list of all client matters you can access after disaster to determine the proper action to take, such as seeking a continuance or postponement. Phone or Internet services may be limited or unavailable, so make sure you have an alternative way to communicate with clients, staff, the court, and other lawyers. Arrange in advance for a temporary office space where you can work and a temporary storage facility for your physical files. It doesn’t hurt to have a list of all vendors and their contact information to cancel or reorder services. Establish a network of support you can rely on for temporary shelter, food, and other forms of assistance.
Manage RisksA smart way to prepare for disaster is to have adequate insurance. Many types of insurance are available, from property and content insurance to business interruption insurance to life and disability insurance. Review your insurance policy to see whether the coverage is adequate. You should pay attention to exclusion clauses and limits. Consider getting extra coverage for things like loss of income, replacement value, cleaning/ restoring cost, and valuable papers coverage that includes the cost to recreate files. An insurance broker may be able to help you get the right insurance product that will protect you and your practice against a disastrous event.
Additional resources available at www.osbplf.org:
- Resources & Help for Lawyers Affected by Wildfires
- Disaster Response and Recovery Checklist
- Disaster Planning and Recovery Resources
- Surviving a Disaster: A Lawyer’s Guide to Disaster Planning
- Managing Practice Interruptions