This weekend, Joplin, Missouri, was hit with the deadliest single tornado in the United States since 1947. The EF-5 rated twister—the highest rating possible—caused mass devastation and a massive death toll.
Meanwhile, the news continues to address consequences of the powerful tsunami in Japan, the ensuing nuclear crisis, and the country’s future recovery plans. Not to mention the aftermath of tornadoes that rocked Little Rock this year.
In light of recent events, the American Bar Association (ABA) is asking, “Are you legally prepared for a natural disaster?” Law firms have the expertise and a responsibility to lead the way in consulting clients on ways an individual or small business can organize their affairs “just in case.” But law firms should also reexamine their own internal policies, and make steps to protect themselves from the consequences of an unforeseen event.
In general, the ABA advises:
“Important papers should be kept safe, accessible and scanned electronically if at all possible. Think beyond birth certificates and Social Security cards, said Ernest B. Abbott of FEMA Law Associates in Washington, D.C., which specializes in emergency management and disaster law. Wills, divorce and marriage certificates, driver’s licenses, plus documents that pertain to child custody, child support, and finance and insurance are equally important.”
However, if you’re concerned about identity theft, make physical copies of important papers and keep them in a safe deposit box at a nearby bank (of course, not so nearby that it, too, would be equally affected by a potential natural disaster). Consider giving copies to a relative for safekeeping. They may need the information to handle your affairs in the event your indisposed.
On a similar note, if you are somebody’s power of attorney (or somebody is yours) be sure to keep a second copy of the legal document available to others in case of emergencies.
“For example, if your mother becomes ill and you lose the power of attorney due to a disaster, Abbot said that it becomes more difficult to show that you are authorized to make decisions for her in an emergency.”
Like a small business, law firms should have a plan or official policy in place to restore operations post potential disaster. Make sure the chain of command and law firm administrators are well versed on these procedures to ensure maximum efficiency.
“’It is astonishing how few businesses that are closed by a natural disaster reopen,’ Abbott said. ‘Part of it is because they are not set up to find their customers records, and for law firms you are talking about protection of client records and making sure you can make your court deadlines.’”
One way to do this is to use a secure (online) cloud storage system—like DropBox, Amazon Cloud Drive, or SpiderOak—to keep confidential client information. This will come in handy when operations are moved into temporary office space or your home computer.
Finally, the ABA asks you to be a good neighbor. Not only is disaster relief an excellent moral obligation, but it is also an ideal pro-bono marketing opportunity for your firm. Afterall, there’s a reason why the Boy Scouts have survived over 100 years in America—their philosophy is one of leadership and their motto, Be Prepared.
For more advice, listen to C4CM’s General Management Recording, “Leading through Crisis: Developing the Skills to Assess and Cope with Any Situation.”