Don’t Let the Next Hurricane Put You Out of Business

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By: Christine Bilbrey
Senior Practice Management Advisor at The Practice Resource Center of The Florida Bar

If you have been a Florida resident for any length of time, you likely know the drill for hurricane season. Everyone should have 72 hours of food and water on hand because, as we have been told, “The first three days are on you.”

Venture out to the pillaged stores and gas stations while a named storm is stalking the Gulf and you will see that most people have gotten the message. All this preparation for home, but what about your firm? Do you know what to do to make sure you still have a viable law practice after a hurricane has devastated your end of the state? Here are just a few items to get you started.

Because we are discussing hurricanes, let’s talk worst case scenario. What if, after returning from your evacuation, there is now a vacant lot where your law office use to be? Your clients expect you to get back to business, but your computer server is not where you left it. Step one for law firm disaster preparedness is to move all computer systems and data backup to the cloud so that you and your staff can operate from anywhere on any device. Check out our Quick Start Guide on Cloud Computing for questions to ask a potential Cloud Service Provider (CSP). If you are really attached to some programs that were installed locally on your server, a Desktop as a Service (DaaS) provider can manage all of your software virtually for you. Even if yours is a brick-and-mortar office, utilizing the resources that are employed by a virtual firm will serve you well for business continuity purposes. You can review the previous article, The Virtual Law Practice: The Future is Now for additional virtual solutions.

Step two is to create a master cell phone number list of everyone at the firm, as well as a plan that outlines who is to call and confirm the safety and location of each person. After a major storm, not all staff members will be back and ready to return to work. If you only have landline numbers, you will have difficulty contacting staff who have evacuated or those who have homes with extensive damage.  This seems like such a simple thing but becomes extremely important after the storm. This would also be a good time to think about making sure everyone knows how to utilize the systems that are necessary for day to day firm operation. If you are completely dependent on your paralegal for E-filing, it’s time to learn how to do it yourself. If your administrator is the only one who can do payroll, you might want to have an understudy waiting in the wings, because the show must go on and everyone would like to get paid.

Step three is to review your insurance policies. Do you have business interruption insurance? What about flood insurance? Hurricanes can carry water much farther inland than you might expect. If you are leasing office space, your landlord’s policy will not cover your firm’s furniture and fixtures. Check with your insurance agent before a storm forms because most companies will not issue a policy during this time or will make it effective 30 days after the storm has passed.

For detailed resources on preparing for the next storm please visit our Disaster Planning and Business Continuity page. Check out The Florida Bar’s Hurricane Information page and the Florida Bar Journal article entitled Law Office Disaster Preparedness: The Liability and Ethics of Attorneys. You can create your own Business Disaster Plan at FloridaDisaster.org, but if this article reaches you too late, we also have After Disaster Strikes: A Checklist available to assist you.