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Law firm managers plan for the worst

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Like other businesses, law firms know it is vital to be able to serve clients during times of disaster. Locally, many firms have begun developing or have revisited business continuity plans – particularly after 2006 when a strong storm whipped through downtown Indianapolis and shattered the windows in a high-rise building, displacing several law firms.

disaster-15col.jpg The Regions Bank building sustained extensive damage during a storm in 2006, displacing several businesses and law firms. (File photo)

Managers responsible for creating their firms’ business continuity plans say that a good plan is flexible and adaptable for different scenarios, from technological failures to flu pandemics. A key element, they say, is for all firms to establish a communications plan so that employees, vendors, and clients can be contacted immediately when disaster strikes.

The first hours
Jeff McDermott, partner and a member of Krieg DeVault’s executive committee, was watching TV one evening when he saw some shocking footage. Instead of going downtown to see John Mellencamp perform, he and his wife decided to stay home and avoid what looked like an imminent storm. When the news came on that evening, he saw aerial shots of the Regions Bank building, a 36-story office tower in the heart of Indianapolis, its windows blown out.

“You could see water coming out of the building,” McDermott said. And then he realized the floors where Krieg DeVault’s offices were located – 27 through 29 – looked like they had sustained significant damage.

“The first thought I had was the other two members of our management committee aren’t even in town,” he said.

The storm hit on a Sunday night, when the building was empty and many of the firm’s employees were away on vacation. Because of that timing, many people had prepared in advance to be away from the office for a little while.

Monday morning, the firm had an emergency meeting at the Carmel office, where McDermott works. The firm librarian, human resources director, IT personnel, and others quickly developed a plan of action and contacted all the firm’s employees via a phone tree.

“During the first 24 hours, we were providing hourly updates,” McDermott said, adding that they didn’t communicate any information to their staff until they could independently confirm reports about the damage.

“We were able to work with building management to get our IT people in there on Monday to get the server up,” McDermott said. The firm had been relying more on digital files than paper so they didn’t lose any information, but they were concerned about private documents fluttering about on the sidewalks of downtown Indianapolis.

“It was a massive amount of debris that got sucked out of the building,” McDermott said. While the city sent front-end loaders to collect some of the desks and other large items that littered the streets, accounting firms and law firms were on the scene, scrambling to gather the confidential documents that had been swept from their offices.

mcdermott-jeff-mug.jpg McDermott

Unexpected challenges
Cohen & Malad was also a tenant of the Regions building in 2006. And while the firm had a business continuity plan in place, Administrator Jerry Abramowitz said it was “the things that we weren’t apprised of that really hurt us, and I now know the correct question to ask.”

Abramowitz said that the firm had to move to a temporary office space and did not know that their telephone vendor didn’t have access to the new space, which resulted in a lack of continuity in their phone service. By the time the firm found a new vendor and had ironed out all of the glitches, it was time to move back to the Regions building. Abramowitz strongly recommends that firms understand the limitations and capabilities of their vendors to avoid disruptions in service.

To avoid surprises like the one Cohen & Malad encountered, Michael Arnold, chief operating officer for Bingham McHale, enlisted the help of a consultant when putting together the firm’s preparedness plan.

The consultant conducted a “gap analysis,” Arnold said, which entails “looking for holes in our plan, where we may not have really thought things through in their entirety.”

Arnold oversees the plans for the firm’s three offices located in Indianapolis, Vincennes, and Jasper. He said that firm management meets quarterly to ensure disaster plans are current.

“It’s truly a process – I’m not sure you ever really come up with a final product,” he said.

Keeping the courts running
On Jan. 1, 2008, Administrative Rule 17 went into effect, which allows courts to petition for emergency assistance from the Indiana Supreme Court. On Jan. 25, 2008, a storm ripped the roof off the Morgan County Courthouse in Martinsville, and the court became the first in the state to appeal to the Supreme Court for help.

The rule states that county courthouses may ask the Supreme Court for relief from certain deadlines or rules of procedure. Courts that, by statute, are required to conduct business within a certain building or geographical area may ask for a suspension of that statute that enables the court to conduct business elsewhere temporarily.

As for the Supreme Court itself, Public Information Officer Kathryn Dolan said “We’ve never really had a true Supreme Court emergency … presumably the court would be able to make some adjustments, because we do have offices in multiple locations, and we have redundancies in place.”

Advice for other firms

arnold-michael-mug.jpg Arnold

McDermott said Krieg DeVault’s downtown staff squeezed into the Carmel office during the time the Regions building was being repaired. To ease overcrowding, the firm scheduled people in shifts and tried to make workers comfortable.

“We brought in breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for months,” McDermott said.

He said if possible, a firm should have some idea about where it will go if it cannot access its office. McDermott said he has heard some firms have set up partnerships, agreeing to take in each other’s staff in the event of disaster.

“When this happened to us, it was amazing – we received calls from all over the place … we were getting calls from different sources saying, ‘We’re here if you need help,’” he said.

McDermott also suggests making the plan available across multiple platforms. “Your disaster plan – you want it in writing, you want it off-site, you want it in multiple media on a PDA or a home computer so, regardless of the incident or accident, you have access to it,” he said.

McDermott has offered presentations for law firms about how to develop disaster preparedness plans. He said that having a thorough plan – especially considering the recent wave of deadly storms – just makes sense.

“We learned locally how in a few minutes your business can really be put in jeopardy,” he said.•
 

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  1. California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) End of Year Report 2014. (page 13) Under the current system many local registering agencies are challenged just keeping up with registration paperwork. It takes an hour or more to process each registrant, the majority of whom are low risk offenders. As a result law enforcement cannot monitor higher risk offenders more intensively in the community due to the sheer numbers on the registry. Some of the consequences of lengthy and unnecessary registration requirements actually destabilize the life’s of registrants and those -such as families- whose lives are often substantially impacted. Such consequences are thought to raise levels of known risk factors while providing no discernible benefit in terms of community safety. The full report is available online at. http://www.casomb.org/index.cfm?pid=231 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) US Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs United States of America. The overall conclusion is that Megan’s law has had no demonstrated effect on sexual offenses in New Jersey, calling into question the justification for start-up and operational costs. Megan’s Law has had no effect on time to first rearrest for known sex offenders and has not reduced sexual reoffending. Neither has it had an impact on the type of sexual reoffense or first-time sexual offense. The study also found that the law had not reduced the number of victims of sexual offenses. The full report is available online at. https://www.ncjrs.gov/app/publications/abstract.aspx? ID=247350 The University of Chicago Press for The Booth School of Business of the University of Chicago and The University of Chicago Law School Article DOI: 10.1086/658483 Conclusion. The data in these three data sets do not strongly support the effectiveness of sex offender registries. The national panel data do not show a significant decrease in the rate of rape or the arrest rate for sexual abuse after implementation of a registry via the Internet. The BJS data that tracked individual sex offenders after their release in 1994 did not show that registration had a significantly negative effect on recidivism. And the D.C. crime data do not show that knowing the location of sex offenders by census block can help protect the locations of sexual abuse. This pattern of noneffectiveness across the data sets does not support the conclusion that sex offender registries are successful in meeting their objectives of increasing public safety and lowering recidivism rates. The full report is available online at. http://www.jstor.org/stable/full/10.1086/658483 These are not isolated conclusions but are the same outcomes in the majority of conclusions and reports on this subject from multiple government agencies and throughout the academic community. People, including the media and other organizations should not rely on and reiterate the statements and opinions of the legislators or other people as to the need for these laws because of the high recidivism rates and the high risk offenders pose to the public which simply is not true and is pure hyperbole and fiction. They should rely on facts and data collected and submitted in reports from the leading authorities and credible experts in the fields such as the following. California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) Sex offender recidivism rate for a new sex offense is 0.8% (page 30) The full report is available online at http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Adult_Research_Branch/Research_Documents/2014_Outcome_Evaluation_Report_7-6-2015.pdf California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) (page 38) Sex offender recidivism rate for a new sex offense is 1.8% The full report is available online at. http://www.google.com/url?sa= t&source=web&cd=1&ved= 0CCEQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F% 2Fwww.cdcr.ca.gov%2FAdult_ Research_Branch%2FResearch_ documents%2FOutcome_ evaluation_Report_2013.pdf&ei= C9dSVePNF8HfoATX-IBo&usg=AFQjCNE9I6ueHz-o2mZUnuxLPTyiRdjDsQ Bureau of Justice Statistics 5 PERCENT OF SEX OFFENDERS REARRESTED FOR ANOTHER SEX CRIME WITHIN 3 YEARS OF PRISON RELEASE WASHINGTON, D.C. Within 3 years following their 1994 state prison release, 5.3 percent of sex offenders (men who had committed rape or sexual assault) were rearrested for another sex crime, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. The full report is available online at. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/rsorp94pr.cfm Document title; A Model of Static and Dynamic Sex Offender Risk Assessment Author: Robert J. McGrath, Michael P. Lasher, Georgia F. Cumming Document No.: 236217 Date Received: October 2011 Award Number: 2008-DD-BX-0013 Findings: Study of 759 adult male offenders under community supervision Re-arrest rate: 4.6% after 3-year follow-up The sexual re-offense rates for the 746 released in 2005 are much lower than what many in the public have been led to expect or believe. These low re-offense rates appear to contradict a conventional wisdom that sex offenders have very high sexual re-offense rates. The full report is available online at. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/236217.pdf Document Title: SEX OFFENDER SENTENCING IN WASHINGTON STATE: RECIDIVISM RATES BY: Washington State Institute For Public Policy. A study of 4,091 sex offenders either released from prison or community supervision form 1994 to 1998 and examined for 5 years Findings: Sex Crime Recidivism Rate: 2.7% Link to Report: http://www.oncefallen.com/files/Washington_SO_Recid_2005.pdf Document Title: Indiana’s Recidivism Rates Decline for Third Consecutive Year BY: Indiana Department of Correction 2009. The recidivism rate for sex offenders returning on a new sex offense was 1.05%, one of the lowest in the nation. In a time when sex offenders continue to face additional post-release requirements that often result in their return to prison for violating technical rules such as registration and residency restrictions, the instances of sex offenders returning to prison due to the commitment of a new sex crime is extremely low. Findings: sex offenders returning on a new sex offense was 1.05% Link to Report: http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/RecidivismRelease.pdf Once again, These are not isolated conclusions but are the same outcomes in the majority of reports on this subject from multiple government agencies and throughout the academic community. No one can doubt that child sexual abuse is traumatic and devastating. The question is not whether the state has an interest in preventing such harm, but whether current laws are effective in doing so. Megan’s law is a failure and is destroying families and their children’s lives and is costing tax payers millions upon millions of dollars. The following is just one example of the estimated cost just to implement SORNA which many states refused to do. From Justice Policy Institute. Estimated cost to implement SORNA Here are some of the estimates made in 2009 expressed in 2014 current dollars: California, $66M; Florida, $34M; Illinois, $24M; New York, $35M; Pennsylvania, $22M; Texas, $44M. In 2014 dollars, Virginia’s estimate for implementation was $14M, and the annual operating cost after that would be $10M. For the US, the total is $547M. That’s over half a billion dollars – every year – for something that doesn’t work. http://www.justicepolicy.org/images/upload/08-08_FAC_SORNACosts_JJ.pdf. Attempting to use under-reporting to justify the existence of the registry is another myth, or a lie. This is another form of misinformation perpetrated by those who either have a fiduciary interest in continuing the unconstitutional treatment of a disfavored group or are seeking to justify their need for punishment for people who have already paid for their crime by loss of their freedom through incarceration and are now attempting to reenter society as honest citizens. When this information is placed into the public’s attention by naive media then you have to wonder if the media also falls into one of these two groups that are not truly interested in reporting the truth. Both of these groups of people that have that type of mentality can be classified as vigilantes, bullies, or sociopaths, and are responsible for the destruction of our constitutional values and the erosion of personal freedoms in this country. I think the media or other organizations need to do a in depth investigation into the false assumptions and false data that has been used to further these laws and to research all the collateral damages being caused by these laws and the unconstitutional injustices that are occurring across the country. They should include these injustices in their report so the public can be better informed on what is truly happening in this country on this subject. Thank you for your time.

  2. Freedom as granted in the Constitution cannot be summarily disallowed without Due Process. Unable to to to the gym, church, bowling alley? What is this 1984 level nonsense? Congrats to Brian for having the courage to say that this was enough! and Congrats to the ACLU on the win!

  3. America's hyper-phobia about convicted sex offenders must end! Politicians must stop pandering to knee-jerk public hysteria. And the public needs to learn the facts. Research by the California Sex Offender Management Board as shown a recidivism rate for convicted sex offenders of less than 1%. Less than 1%! Furthermore, research shows that by year 17 after their conviction, a convicted sex offender is no more likely to commit a new sex offense than any other member of the public. Put away your torches and pitchforks. Get the facts. Stop hysteria.

  4. He was convicted 23 years ago. How old was he then? He probably was a juvenile. People do stupid things, especially before their brain is fully developed. Why are we continuing to punish him in 2016? If he hasn't re-offended by now, it's very, very unlikely he ever will. He paid for his mistake sufficiently. Let him live his life in peace.

  5. This year, Notre Dame actually enrolled an equal amount of male and female students.

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