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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. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  2. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  3. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

  4. Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.

  5. "...a switch from crop production to hog production "does not constitute a significant change."??? REALLY?!?! Any judge that cannot see a significant difference between a plant and an animal needs to find another line of work.

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