by Whittney Dunn, risk manager, The Bar Plan Mutual
As those who
have been affected by the most recent string of storms in Missouri can attest,
tornado season is upon us. Most are aware of the devastating societal and
economic impacts these natural disasters can have on communities, but young
attorneys may not be aware of the potential malpractice and ethical risks that
can arise in the wake of such storms.
In order to
analyze how prepared your office is to weather a natural disaster, ask yourself
what you would do if your entire physical office, as it currently exists, was
destroyed tomorrow. Would you be prepared to pick up the pieces and continue to
zealously represent your clients without anything slipping through the cracks? If
the answer to that question is no, it is time to put together a plan for what
you will do if disaster strikes.
goal of a disaster preparedness strategy is to ensure that you are able to
continue providing your clients quality legal services without interruption.
While only you can properly analyze the risks faced by your practice and the
best ways to protect your clients if the worst were to occur, these tips should
help set you down the right path.
how your firm will communicate with the courts, other lawyers, staff, clients
and vendors if your physical space is destroyed. You may want to consider
establishing a protocol to set up an emergency hotline, arrange for a
forwarding number or designate a contact outside of the area impacted by the
disaster to assist you with this essential communication. You should also plan
for where mail should be rerouted and who will be responsible for communicating
with the courts regarding your situation.
Firm and Client Data
In order to
ensure that representation of your current active clients can continue without
harm to their interests, it is essential that you have a back-up plan for your
active client list, your calendar and your active client files. Make certain
you have an off-site copy of your active client list. If you store your data
electronically, have a plan in place for where that information will be backed
up or how it will be recovered. If you keep paper files, you should make a plan
to begin gathering and protecting the documents as quickly as possible. Water
damage can begin to deteriorate paper records within hours; therefore, it is
crucial to have a plan in place to dry or freeze documents right away.
your work be conducted if your offices are no longer accessible? It could be
beneficial to develop a plan to get a temporary office up and running as
quickly as possible. Your plan should address not only the physical space where
your temporary office will be set up but also what office supplies, equipment and
utilities will be necessary.
adequate succession plan is part of your duty to competently represent your
clients. Though many might not want to consider the possibility, you should think
about what would happen if you were incapacitated. If you practice in a firm
with other attorneys, work this out now. If you are a solo practitioner, you
should find another attorney who is willing and able to wind down or take over
your business. More information regarding succession planning can be found in “Planning Ahead: A Guide to Protect
Your Client’s and Your Survivor’s Interests In the Event of Your Disability or
plan will likely also include adequate insurance coverage to protect your firm
from the financial and professional risks associated with a natural disaster.
As you are
developing your office’s personalized disaster strategy, it is important to
keep in mind that your needs may go beyond the tips contained here. The purpose
of this plan is to identify your law firm’s essential processes and their
impact on your business and your clients, and then establish procedures and
assign responsible parties to execute those procedures. For more information or
assistance with developing your plan, visit mobar.org/lpmonline/disaster/
or contact Whittney Dunn, risk manager at The Bar Plan, at 1-800-843-2277 (ext.
Questions? Click here to contact us
Paid for by The Missouri Bar Sebrina Barrett, Executive Director PO Box 119 Jefferson City, MO 65102