Are You Ready Now?
Building a disaster plan for your law practice.
Written by Hannah Dyal
Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of the article that was
published in the September 2020 issue of the Texas Bar Journal.
The best time to prepare your firm for a disaster is now.
The past year has highlighted the importance of flexible disaster preparedness plans nowhere more clearly than the legal field. While COVID-19 taught us to expect the unexpected, Winter Storm Uri reminded Texans that we must have an all-hazards approach to disaster. Preparing for the types of disasters that most often hit our area is not enough: We must be prepared for a variety of weather patterns.
Preparing a disaster plan takes time and effort and should be tailored to each practice’s unique needs. Involve staff with different viewpoints and roles from within your firm to strengthen your planning process. Managing and associate attorneys, paralegals, legal secretaries, IT specialists, and accounting and human resource professionals are likely to spot different issues and potential solutions.
Put your plan in writing. Before an event, the plan is a tool to educate your staff so everyone knows what to expect. During an event, you and others will have something to consult in the process of evacuating or reopening.
Identify the key personnel that you rely on heavily to sustain your firm’s operations. Decide who will provide backup for those individuals if they are unavailable; cross-train other staff as needed. Identify the critical functions of your firm so that if operations are disrupted, you know what operations of your office must come back online first and can plan accordingly.
As you are planning, consider how a disaster would impact some of the following elements: personnel, workspace and equipment, documents, and communication. Address each of these areas in your plan.
Examples of the questions you should consider are:
Will your personnel have to evacuate and if so, what can they do remotely?
How will you ensure that any hard files are secure? As attorneys, we have an ethical duty to ensure our clients’ information is secure, even in a disaster.
What tasks should each specific employee be responsible for handling during an evacuation?
Are your client files backed up and protected online? Attorneys must remain proficient in relevant technology.
How will clients reach you, and how will you reach each other? Make sure you have a plan for both internal and external communication.
Consider making pro bono work part of your disaster plan.
Incorporating an intention to do this work into your disaster plan may
make a tremendous difference in your community. You may be able to earn
CLE credit, and it may expand your area of expertise and provide the
opportunity to gain new clients.
Your disaster plan should be reevaluated at least annually in case information, personnel, office space, and/or technology have changed. If you have the time, you should do a practice run-through of your disaster plan with your employees to spot flaws in your plan.
Preparing a disaster plan that will be realistic and workable for your firm takes time and effort, but it must be done to ensure you are prepared for whatever may come. TBJ
This article was adapted from an earlier presentation by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Disaster Assistance Group Coordinator Tracy Figueroa and has been edited and reprinted with permission.
is an attorney at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and an Equal Justice Works Disaster Resilience fellow. She began her legal career responding to Hurricane Harvey in Corpus Christi and has responded to several flooding events in the Rio Grande Valley. Dyal was a team member of the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division Disaster Legal Services Program for the 2019-2020 bar year and responded to disasters on a national level.