Working With Disaster Recovery Specialists

By Mark L. Moerdler

It often takes a spectacular occurrence to awaken people’s interest in something that would otherwise not be part of one’s day-to-day routine. For the legal industry, a rash of incidents culminating in the bombing of the World Trade Center in February 1993 has brought the issue of disaster planning to the forefront.
It is important to note that even though it was difficult for the four firms in the World Trade Center to get back to business, it could have been much worse. In fact, all of the firms were aided by four factors:
The disaster occurred on a Friday, giving the firms two very valuable non-work days to begin recovery procedures and resume operations.
The tenants were allowed limited admittance to their offices in the WTC and thus had access to their records and data within days of the disaster.
There was no irreparable damage to either records or data. In fact some computer systems in the WTC were operational throughout the disaster.
The disaster was well publicized, creating a much more supportive atmosphere from clients, other law firms and the courts than might have existed in a more localized disaster.
If any or all of these factors had not existed, a firm without a plan and without the aid of specialists might not have survived a disaster that lasted this long.
Unfortunately, most law firms are ill equipped to handle either the creation of a disaster plan or recovery after a disaster without the aid of a specialist or expenditure of an enormous amount of the firm’s time, effort and money. In fact, most firms that have attempted to develop a complete plan have either never completed it, never maintained/updated it, or have created a plan with so many missing components that its value is negligible.
There are three types of services that are offered by disaster recovery firms. These are:
Disaster prevention and recovery planning. This is the process of developing a firm-wide document that identifies potential vulnerabilities, and defines each step necessary for a firm to re-establish business operations after a disaster.
Specialized recovery services. These include services such as hotsites, telecommunication recovery, and the myriad of services required to restore a firm’s operating abilities.
Recovery facilitators. These organizations oversee and arrange for each step from the moment the disaster occurs until the firm is completely resettled in its original office.
Most disaster recovery organizations specialize in one or two of these services and offer them to every sort of industry. Unfortunately, this means that these recovery firms may not understand the specifics of how law firms work, and they may miss key points in the recovery process. Thus a law firm must be a careful and knowledgeable buyer, understanding the specifics of what is offered and how well it fits the needs of the firm.
The first step in disaster planning and prevention is the development of a plan; one cost-effective way to do this is to hire a recovery planning specialist. This planing specialist will require a wide range of information as to how the firm operates, including: what specific written and computer based records the firm maintains, what outside services are used, what services are offered within the firm and what services are offered to clients. In addition, the security, safety and overall infrastructure will have to be surveyed both at the firm and at every location where the firm’s information or data is stored. The gathering, collating, digesting and consolidating of this information in an extremely time consuming process, more so for specialists who are not experts on the legal industry.
The law firm can substantially simplify this process by creating a small disaster planning and recovery committee. The committee will arrange for the specialist to meet with the heads of every major department and practice area. Depending on the amount of available time within the firm, the committee members may be able to perform some of the information gathering steps under the guidance of the specialist. The specialist will assemble and format the data into a comprehensive report analyzing the firm’s procedures and vulnerabilities.
One of the key aspects of the whole process is defining what things the firm will do and what is done by outside specialists. Since every law firm is different there are no off-the-shelf solutions; rather, each firm’s needs must be considered individually.
If a plan does exist, it should be updated annually and regularly tested, and a copy should be stored off-site. The first step in the event of any disaster is to refer to the plan book. If during the plan development process the firm decided to rely on disaster recovery specialists, this book should define which recovery services firms are required in which situations, and how to contact them. If the firm has contracted with a disaster recovery facilitator then the firm need only place one call for everything to occur. If not, then the firm’s recovery committee will have to coordinate every step in the process. Either way, a wide range of services will be required, from moving the firm into a temporary site, to sufficiently equipping that location so that the lawyers and staff are able to continue working to restoring the firm’s offices and moving them back in.

Mark Moerdler is the executive vice president and cofounder of MDY Advanced Technologies in New York, N.Y.

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Disaster Recovery Worldİ 1999, and Disaster Recovery Journalİ 1999, are copyrighted by Systems Support, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part is prohibited without the express written permission form Systems Support, Inc.