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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. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  5. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

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