Disaster Planning

What’s the worst that can happen?

Think it won’t happen to you? Hopefully not, but disasters do strike. Answer the following questions: Am I prepared if my computer crashes? What if my office burns down, or the plumbing system floods my space? If there was a theft at your office and all your computers were stolen, would you be prepared?

Every office should have a Disaster Recovery Plan. Think of disaster planning like insurance, you hope you never need it, but if you do, be thankful that it is there. Do not wait until a disaster happens to think about these things. Take a few minutes, read this article and put a few plans in place. I can assure you that if a disaster does strike, you will be thankful that you did.

Computer System

Your computer is what keeps the office running. Even if you use paper files, computers serve an integral part of your office. After all, you are reading this on e-mail. First, be sure to write down all your computers’ specifications. This would include the make, model, and serial number of your computer as well as any auxiliary equipment such as printers, copiers, scanners, etc.. These will be necessary to submit a claim to your insurance company for the loss.

In addition to your hardware, you also need to write down specifications for your software. This includes all the licensing information and version number for any programs you may have purchased and installed. We run WordPerfect, Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat, Quickbooks and Abacus at the office. We purchased licenses to run all of these programs. The license for your software is like a receipt proving you bought the software. Without information regarding the license, it is like trying to return something at the store without a receipt.

As a personal example, we had a computer crash and we did not have the license number for Adobe installed on the computer and the computer was no longer operational to get it. When we called Adobe to tell them of the crashed computer, they asked for our license number. “Our what?” I asked. I had no idea what they were talking about. With no license number, there was no proof we paid for the software. Our complaints fell on deaf ears at Adobe and we ended up having to repurchase the program to install on the replacement computer we bought. Depending on how many computers you have in your office, software licensing may be a significant investment. Be sure to have the license numbers saved.

Surge Protectors

Invest in a good quality battery back-up and surge protector. Every electronic device should be plugged into a surge protector. I have never had confidence in these $20 surge strips. Purchase a high quality protector from a company such as APC which offers a warranty if anything is damaged. Remember, not only do you have to replace the damaged electronic device, you also will lose the data on the computer as well.

The battery back-up on a surge protector can be helpful if the power goes out, but the battery usually only lasts for 30 minutes or so. Do you think surges can’t happen? We lost a phone system and two computers due to a power surge before I learned about surge protectors. Invest in a good quality surge protector/battery back-up for each work station; it is a small investment for a potential disaster.

Staff Responsibilities

Your staff should be made aware of the Disaster Recovery Plan and should be able to implement it in your absence. Can your staff run your office if you are temporarily incapacitated? Do they know what pending court dates you have or what deadlines need to be met? Most of us are micro-managers and we all know the details of each case or client. But, you must give consideration to your clients if you are unable to work for a period of time. I will address succession planning for your firm if you were to die unexpectedly in a future Third Thursday, but your staff must be able to address your professional responsibilities.


How many web sites, programs, e-mail and bank accounts do you have? Each has a password for access. If something were to happen to you, could your staff or family access any of these accounts without your password? Passwords should be kept private, but give some thought to a disaster recovery plan which includes your passwords. Did you know something as trivial as Facebook is difficult for an heir to access if someone passes away? Think about all your on-line accounts and the issue is compounded exponentially. I have all my accounts and passwords saved and my wife has access to them. If needed, she can instruct my staff as necessary. But, someone needs access to these accounts.

Personal Disaster Recovery

As long as we are talking about disaster planning at your office, here are a few more things you should do. Make a copy of every card in your wallet or purse. If it is stolen or lost, it’s easier to replace everything. Make sure your spouse knows where all your important papers, such as will, life insurance, trust documents, retirement accounts, etc., are located. Keeping them in a fire proof safe is a wise idea. Once again, you should make sure a family member knows where to find your accounts and passwords.

No one expects a disaster. Do you think law firms in New Orleans expected the flooding from Katrina? I have a referring attorney at 33 N. Dearborn. A few years ago, there was a small fire at the bank on the first floor. It wasn’t a big fire, but the ventilation system pumped smoke throughout the entire building. He had NO access to the building for one week. He had to relocate for almost six months. Now, the relocation was at the expense of the building, but imagine NO access to your office for a week and having to relocate for six months. Disasters can and do happen, even though rarely. That is what makes planning for a disaster such a low priority. Think of disaster planning like insurance: You hope you never need it, but it is nice to know it is there.