A step-by-step guide to protecting your business from disasters
Ed. Remark: This is the last part of a series of articles on maternity in the legal professions, in partnership with our friends from Mothers Esquire. Welcome Brandy Mai back to our pages. Click on here if you would like to donate to MothersEsquire.
We are parents, caregivers and legal professionals. By definition, we spend our personal and professional lives putting out proverbial fires. But are you prepared for a real fire or any other natural or man-made disaster that could disrupt your life, business or finances?
While many of us have survived natural disasters, shutdowns caused by COVID globally and the requirement to move quickly to work / distance learning have shown many people how under- prepared for such a transition.
Continuity and succession planning are things we’re often good at for our clients, but we’re not that good at creating these plans for ourselves. As an emergency manager and quasi-lawyer (passing the February bar exam), I’m here to make sure you’re ready for the next disaster.
Before I begin, I would like to say that I am not here to replace advice given to you by insurance companies, state bars or local / state emergency management agencies. All of these entities likely have contingency plans or training that you can customize for yourself or your business. However, it can often seem like a tedious task or something that you will have to do “on another day” because you just don’t have the time.
I always recommend that a person or business take the steps to create a comprehensive emergency plan, perform drills to train on the plan, and create recurring events on your calendar to update the plan. That being said, in the absence of that (or hiring someone to do it), here are some practical tips on how to start your own business continuity plan that can be accessed quickly when needed, and will help you. to prepare yourself when you are ready to make a more comprehensive plan.
- Create a folder in your online drive system (Google Drive, OneDrive, DropBox). The key here is for you and your staff to be able to access and add items from computers, phones, or tablets. Name it Disaster Plan, Continuity Plan, or whatever you will remember.
- While in this cloud drive, copy or scan all important documents, such as leases, insurance documents, building fire exit plans, local evacuation documents, personnel lists, equipment lists, passwords, etc. If you were to leave your office or home in five minutes or less, what information would you need.
- If you don’t want your staff to have access to certain items, create a locked subfolder for those items.
- Create an Excel workbook in this folder that anyone can access. It should have tabs for all of your contacts – staff, clients, courthouses, opposing lawyers, vendors, etc. – anyone you would need to contact quickly if business operations were interrupted.
- If you are using a case management system, you can export this information and place it in this folder. It is recommended to export in csv format to facilitate copy / paste of this information if you need to send mass email. Export this information at least once or twice a year.
- Create tabs for equipment / devices, passwords.
- Have your staff go into this binder and enter their contact details, as well as emergency contacts and anyone they work with who would need to be contacted in the event of a disaster.
- Give them a deadline to complete this.
Now that you’ve completed the first section, you’ve got almost everything you really need to quickly pivot in a disaster. This next part is for when you have time to think about certain things or have a staff lunch or set aside time to look at things in more depth. These next few exercises will be the start of your threat index.
- Create a shared document in this shared cloud drive where you can braindump. You can even create a document for each person or staff member. The important thing is to have a place to write or type the next steps, much like a notepad.
- On this document (whether shared or on separate documents), make a list for each of the following (it doesn’t have to be perfect):
- Which weather disasters most often affect your region (thunderstorms, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.)?
- What are the biggest threats in your area for man-made disasters (local nuclear power plant, large arena next door that could be a target for terrorism, etc.)?
- If any businesses, schools, or businesses lost all of their data, information, or credentials, which would have the greatest impact on your ability to make money (banks, your children’s schools, your password manager? , whatever you rely more on)?
- Which devices are most important to you and which ones contain all your important information like passwords, documents etc. ?
- Who are the people in your office who have the most responsibility? Who is capable of doing each of these jobs? If there is no one who can perform a vital task, write it down as âhigh costâ in the next session.
- Combine the responses in each section and prioritize them according to “most likely to occur” and “highest cost / loss”. It is important that you have items from each category on your final list so that you are the best prepared.
- Take the first five to 10 elements and place each of them as a header on a document or create separate documents for each one. This is where you and your staff should write down your plans and ideas for what you would do (or how you would manage) if these things happened.
Now you have a list of all the people to contact in the event of a disaster, all your important documents in one place, a list of all your equipment and devices, and know what incidents you need to plan (those that cause the greatest threat to your life or livelihood).
Another good idea is to keep a running list of resources or references in this folder. It could even be another tab of the Excel workbook. Ideally, these would be resources that you know could be of use to you, your family, and your colleagues. I’ve placed lawyer-specific resources at the bottom of this article to help you get started.
The takeaways from this article are simple:
- We’re good at helping our clients with their crises, but awful at planning when it happens to us.
- Even if you are in a risk averse profession, you must have a plan that can be executed quickly.
- Start placing documents, ideas, and contact information in a designated cloud drive.
- Allow time to dive deep with your team once you have completed all of the numbered steps above.
- Hire a disaster consultant to create plans for you or to review the plans you create. It’s important not to try to be the expert on everything – and often times, if you’re too close to the plan, you can’t see any gaps.
Let the past seek you out in the future. Have all your documents in one place, know how to contact people, and know the biggest threats to your business. Once these elements are completed and securely in a cloud drive accessible from anywhere, you have the foundation you need to dive into larger and more comprehensive continuity planning. Until then, however, having these items in one place and knowing that it is a team effort will give you greater peace of mind – and we can all use some of it these days.
Appendix A: Resources and References
Mental health resources for management and leadership of the practice of law:
Brandy Mai is a graduate of Mitchell Hamline School of Law. The legal profession will be Brandy’s second career, as she has spent two decades working extensively in the areas of public information, crisis communications and emergency management. His experience includes working in the military / veteran / government, corporate, non-profit, emergency management, homeland security and public safety sectors, including a position as a public information officer for an emergency management agency in the state. Brandy’s certifications as an Emergency Manager and POST Instructor enable him to manage crises and teach public safety professionals how to coordinate information in an efficient and accessible manner during preparedness, response, recovery efforts. and mitigation. Brandy’s education includes training in military public affairs at the Defense Information School, a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern State University, and postgraduate courses in strategic communications from Purdue University. His JD will complement his work in crisis, disaster and communication situations. Brandy’s professional successes include a statewide Top 40 Under 40 award in Georgia for his public relations work with veteran nonprofits, contributions to an Emmy-winning project, and placement of a former Employer on the Inc. 5000 “Fastest Growing Company” list. Brandy is a mother of four and advocates for mental health, disabilities, veterans and children.