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IBA: When Disaster Strikes

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Icepocalypse 2011 is finally beginning to melt. Thankfully, no local practitioners experienced damage to their offices due to collapsed roofs or other storm damage. However, if they had what were the chances they had a disaster plan in place to deal with the aftermath? In most cases, it is likely none exists.

Numerous sample disaster plans have been published over the years. Though the details vary the key elements are universal.

1. Assess your situation. Photograph or videotape the damage for insurance purposes.

2. Utilizing the call list of employees stored off-site, contact all employees. Notify them of the anticipated status and make assignments.

3. Determine how the practice will communicate with the courts, other lawyers, staff, clients, and vendors. This could involve setting up an emergency hotline and recorded message, or arranging for a forwarding number. Keep in mind that after a disaster, it is often easier to make outgoing calls than to receive incoming ones. Therefore, it may be necessary to designate a contact outside the disaster zone who can act as a clearinghouse for information.

4. As needed, appoint liaisons from your office to work with each of the following entities:

Building management
Fire/Police department
Emergency management or other government agencies
Utility companies
Insurance agent
Banker
Key vendors
Post office

5. Seek immediate professional help to recover and repair of your computer system. Your main priority is the data, not the equipment. Remember, that while motors and circuitry in your system may have been damaged, the hard drive itself is vacuum-sealed. More likely than not, the data stored on the drive can be recovered. If the above efforts are not sufficient, it may be necessary to send your drive to a data recovery company. If you can recover your data, transfer it to a new system as soon as possible.

6. Gather up all available paper records and begin the process of assessing damage, sorting, and prioritizing restoration. Paper records damaged by water will begin to deteriorate within two to three hours; mold, fungal, and bacterial growth will occur within 24 hours. Specific procedures must be followed in order to properly dry or freeze documents. (Freezing will preserve paper for up to six years for later drying.) For help with document reclamation procedures, contact your insurance agent, who can refer you to a professional service. Consider bypassing restoration if back-up records are available.

7. Keep an inventory of anything that must be destroyed or removed from the premises for drying by a commercial service. For client documents, track:
Client/matter name
Items destroyed
Inclusive dates
Reason destroyed

8. Arrange for temporary office space, if necessary. Depending on the size and location of your firm, possibilities include hotels, motels, trailers, recreational vehicles, space in other law firms with which you have reciprocal agreements, space in your satellite office, other suitable space in your existing building, or space in your home. Post a sign at your old office directing people to your temporary location. Consider advertising that temporary location in the local newspaper, and encourage clients to contact you to touch base. Be sure that anyone answering the phone informs all callers of your new location.

9. Contact your property manager to review your lease.

10. Create stationery and business cards for your temporary address. Send notice of your current street address, email address, telephone, and fax numbers. Be sure to notify the state and local bar.

11. Lease equipment or permanently replace damaged items (computers, network servers, printers, fax machines, copier, postage meter, desks, chairs, dictation equipment, typewriters, etc.)

12. Locate the off-site copy of your active client list and contact your clients. If you don’t have an off-site client list, work with your staff to try to recreate it before time lapses and you forget.

13. Start a new calendar. Begin filling in important appointments and deadlines as they become known. If possible, work with the courts to review dockets or sources.

14. Contact the courts and opposing counsel as needed. Make collecting outstanding receivables a priority.

15. Begin replacing lost paper records and client documents. Besides clients, other sources for reconstructing records include the courts, opposing counsel, administrative agencies, and the firm’s CPA and payroll service.

16. Repair, sterilize, and dry the areas where records are to be stored – shelving, cabinets, desks. (Carpet, carpet padding, or liners must be dried and treated for mold and mildew or replaced.) Investigate tile or other flooring for similar damage. Continue inspecting damaged areas for mold, mildew, and other damage for at least one year.

17. Rebuild your form library. First on your priority list should be an intake or new client information form. The data on the forms can then be used for reestablishing conflict and other office systems. Many forms may be found on the Indianapolis Bar Association Members Only webpages.

18. Get sources for legal research on the Internet (Lexis, WestLaw, etc.) up and running In the meantime, arrange to use the local law library or university library “ or coordinate with another law firm in the area.

19. Exercise case and client control. Resist the urge to take on all new matters that may come to you until you can adequately screen for conflicts.

20. Submit an insurance claim for the damages your office sustained.

21. Determine your eligibility for other forms of emergency relief and submit a claim.•
 

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  1. The voices of the prophets are more on blogs than subway walls these days, Dawn. Here is the voice of one calling out in the wilderness ... against a corrupted judiciary ... that remains corrupt a decade and a half later ... due to, so sadly, the acquiescence of good judges unwilling to shake the forest ... for fear that is not faith .. http://www.ogdenonpolitics.com/2013/09/prof-alan-dershowitz-on-indiana.html

  2. So I purchased a vehicle cash from the lot on West Washington in Feb 2017. Since then I found it the vehicle had been declared a total loss and had sat in a salvage yard due to fire. My title does not show any of that. I also have had to put thousands of dollars into repairs because it was not a solid vehicle like they stated. I need to find out how to contact the lawyers on this lawsuit.

  3. It really doesn't matter what the law IS, if law enforcement refuses to take reports (or take them seriously), if courts refuse to allow unrepresented parties to speak (especially in Small Claims, which is supposedly "informal"). It doesn't matter what the law IS, if constituents are unable to make effective contact or receive any meaningful response from their representatives. Two of our pets were unnecessarily killed; court records reflect that I "abandoned" them. Not so; when I was denied one of them (and my possessions, which by court order I was supposed to be able to remove), I went directly to the court. And earlier, when I tried to have the DV PO extended (it expired while the subject was on probation for violating it), the court denied any extension. The result? Same problems, less than eight hours after expiration. Ironic that the county sheriff was charged (and later pleaded to) with intimidation, but none of his officers seemed interested or capable of taking such a report from a private citizen. When I learned from one officer what I needed to do, I forwarded audio and transcript of one occurrence and my call to law enforcement (before the statute of limitations expired) to the prosecutor's office. I didn't even receive an acknowledgement. Earlier, I'd gone in to the prosecutor's office and been told that the officer's (written) report didn't match what I said occurred. Since I had the audio, I can only say that I have very little faith in Indiana government or law enforcement.

  4. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

  5. In response to bryanjbrown: thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Paul Ogden (and applaud his assistance to Shirley Justice) and have read of Gary Welsh's (strange) death (and have visited his blog on many occasions). I am not familiar with you (yet). I lived in Kosciusko county, where the sheriff was just removed after pleading in what seems a very "sweetheart" deal. Unfortunately, something NEEDS to change since the attorneys won't (en masse) stand up for ethics (rather making a show to please the "rules" and apparently the judges). I read that many attorneys are underemployed. Seems wisdom would be to cull the herd and get rid of the rotting apples in practice and on the bench, for everyone's sake as well as justice. I'd like to file an attorney complaint, but I have little faith in anything (other than the most flagrant and obvious) resulting in action. My own belief is that if this was medicine, there'd be maimed and injured all over and the carnage caused by "the profession" would be difficult to hide. One can dream ... meanwhile, back to figuring out to file a pro se "motion to dismiss" as well as another court required paper that Indiana is so fond of providing NO resources for (unlike many other states, who don't automatically assume that citizens involved in the court process are scumbags) so that maybe I can get the family law attorney - whose work left me with no settlement, no possessions and resulted in the death of two pets (etc ad nauseum) - to stop abusing the proceedings supplemental and small claims rules and using it as a vehicle for harassment and apparently, amusement.

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