For years I have preached about disaster planning for law firms. When I am performing an audit for a firm, I always ask about a Disaster Recovery Plan, and many times the answer is a blank stare.
In North Carolina where I live, Disaster Recovery Plans usually include things related to hurricanes and other natural disasters, but should we also be planning for a pandemic? With the spread of the coronavirus increasing around the world and the CDC admitting that a spread is likely in the U.S., now is the time to consider brushing off your plan and reviewing it.
Most disaster recovery plans include servers going down and a lack of internet, phones and other basics necessities of business and life. But what happens if that office is a hotbed of illness and your firm decides (or it is decided for you) to send everyone home for a month in order to stop the spread of the virus. Will your office survive the disruption that this will inevitably cause? Are you prepared? It is time to look at what your options are right now.
Remote Access – Do you have access to your data remotely without any assistance? Are you remotely connecting to a server that only works sporadically, or does it need some other human intervention to work correctly? Are you reliant on an IT company to provide services to you? What happens if they can’t or won’t? Don’t wait to fix those nagging problems that may become critical if your IT support is not able to support you.
Cloud Data – If your data is housed in a cloud environment, are those companies prepared for this problem? Have you read your Terms of Service or followed up with your provider to confirm that they have contingencies in place? Is there a remote infrastructure in place if your first system fails? Reach out to any companies or service providers that are a part of your critical operations and make sure they have plans in place, and you are aware of them.
Communication – While we can hope that that communication infrastructure, cell phones and other devices will continue to work, what contingencies have you put in? Do you have ways to connect through instant messaging, video and other forms of communication? Do these methods work for both clients and internal office communication? Many companies are considering video conferencing options to keep in touch, which is why you may have seen Zoom in the news recently.
Redundant Backups – I always recommend that your backup data exist in three different locations. But will those backups really work in an emergency? Who has access to those backups and how can they be made available to you and your staff if your primary systems have failed? Now is the time to test those backup systems in case your backup becomes your lifeline.
Paper Files – How are you going to read your paper files if they are in a filing cabinet at the office, but you are stuck at home? You may be kicking yourself for not implementing that paperless environment that you had been planning to for years, but it’s never too late to start with your active client files.
Training and Documentation – Are there critical roles in your firm that only one person knows or understands? Cross training is key to make sure critical office functions can continue if someone is incapacitated or ill. Make sure that documentation exists to provide a smooth transition for someone stepping into that role.
Prepare Your Staff – While attorneys can keep working during a month-long hiatus from the office, can your staff? Can they perform duties from home, and how will you communicate? Make sure that administrative functions like payroll, billing, and benefits that have been “handled” by staff can still be managed from off-site. Also, please remind them to stockpile some food and household essentials just in case. They may thank you later.
Dry Run – Think you have everything under control? Send everyone home to work for a day to test your plan and you might be surprised to see what fails. It is not always what you would expect, and now you will know in advance when you can fix it.
We never want to have to a Disaster Recovery Plan, but if you make a plan now and nothing happens you can count yourself lucky and you will be ready for the next hurricane or polar vortex. However, if bad things do happen down the road, you will be ready to face them instead of wondering what do. As they say, better safe than sorry.
Happy prepping and stay well!
Pegeen Turner is a legal technology consultant in Raleigh and the president of Legal Cloud Technology. She helps law firms integrate new technology into their practices and helps firms update and use their existing technology better. Her firm concentrates on cloud-based technology and moving law firms toward cloud-based technology. She is also a developer for the Clio platform including the product, myFirmData, a custom reporting tool.
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