Law Firms and Disaster Recovery

Following disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, community residents struggle to get back on their feet.  They are in need of all sorts of assistance, including legal services.  Will you be one of those who step up to the plate?  Sure, you probably already have a ton of your own issues to deal with.  But at times like this I am reminded of Bradford County lawyer James R. Carroll Jr., who received special recognition at the May, 2012 Pennsylvania Bar Association Annual Meeting.  The Special Achievement Award was an acknowledgement of the extensive legal assistance he provided pro bono at Red Cross shelters and at Federal Emergency Management Agency and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency relief sites to victims of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee flooding the previous fall.

I had the pleasure of speaking with attorney Carroll after the award was bestowed.   He was so self-deprecating about the significance of his contribution to the community.  As he tells it, his office was destroyed by the flood.  He was “camping out” at FEMA and PEMA sites while he attempted to get his law practice back in operation.   It just so happened that he managed to take time to assist hundreds of individuals he encountered at those sites with urgent legal needs.   I’m sure that no one in the community who was assisted by him will ever forget him.  And I have no doubt he made an impact on their lives with his assistance. 

If you’re thinking of helping out, you will no doubt have questions.  So you may want to look at the Allegheny County Bar Association‘s Disaster Legal Assistance Manual for Volunteer Attorneys which is available here

One concept I have learned over several decades of providing law practice management assistance, is something called the window of opportunity.  That is the brief period of time when the lawyers in a firm are “open” to discussing whatever issue they have been avoiding for some time.  It doesn’t matter whether it is about new computers, lateral hires, or a disaster recovery plan initiative.  The simple fact is that lawyers will prioritize their management time and budget dollars based on their own priorities and desires, usually without regard to what “non-lawyers” think are more important.  So when the time finally arrives when they are actually open to hearing what you have to say — usually prompted by some outside influence — one has to be ready with all the facts and information, and leap through the window with it in hand, before it slams shut again.

I’m willing to bet that given the events of this past week, the window of opportunity is open to discussing creation of a disaster recovery plan for your firm.  Most PA firms have experienced sufficient “pain” to realize this should be on the priority list.  Hey, I’ve been on the soapbox about this for the almost 14 years I’ve been with the Bar Association.  And before that when I privately managed firms.  It took a 500 mile long storm with 80+ mph wind gusts, followed by days without electric power, to get your attention at long last.  Better late than never.

Let me make this really easy for you.  Probably 1 in 10 readers has attended my Disaster Prevention and Recovery seminar at their local county bar association.  So they know it’s not that hard to prepare. The rest of you have to take my word for it.  You just have to make up your mind to do it.  That’s all.  Start by taking a look at the 44-page ABA publication entitled “Surviving a Disaster: A Lawyer’s Guide to Disaster Planning” which is available online here.  PBA members can follow up by contacting me at the Bar Association for additional assistance at no charge.


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