Why Every Law Firm Needs a Disaster Plan – Disaster on Duckworth Street

Sad news from St John’s, and some truly shocking footage here, of the destruction by fire of Roebothan McKay and Marshall the law firm that was the pre-political home of Premier Danny Williams. The building has now been demolished.


And the hopeful news that their servers were fully backed up on Friday and that the firm will be operating out of temporary premises and reopening soon.

Think that disaster planning is just for big firms? Think that fire – or flood – or earthquake couldn’t happen to you?

Here are resources to start your own plan, or to dust off, and check, your old one.

The Canadian Bar Association booklet of planning for chaos

Canadian Bar Association reprint of Ed Poll’s article

A great checklist from Gary Munneke and Anthony Davis’ form book.

Wendy Leibowitz’ Thinking About Law Firm Security After September 11th

The list here cribs from Ed, but it’s good and practical:

Checklist for Evaluating Your Disaster Recovery Plan

* Are your disaster recovery plans tested at least once a year?

* Do you review and evalutate both the plans and the test results and make adjustments accordingly?

* Have you conducted a physical site assessment to inventory equipment, examine readiness and identify gaps in preparation?

* Have you put your emergency communication processes to use to see if they function adequately in both technical and organizational senses?

* Do you provide everyone in the organization with at least a summary of the disaster recovery plan, so that they know what should be done?

* Have you established recovery time objectives for critical business functions, and sought both internal and external evaluations of whether these are practical?

* Is senior management fully committed to putting the firm’s full resources behind disaster readiness testing, regardless of the cost in time and money?

* When there is a disaster preparedness drill, will senior management and partners participate? Getting everyone to take the plan seriously before a disaster is the best way to ensure that it will be taken seriously if the need arises.

How the Process Should Work

Central to disaster recovery is communication with firm members, clients, vendors, courts, and others who make your practice work. A good disaster recovery plan is a good communication plan, and it must be in place before disaster occurs.

Elements of a Good Disaster Recovery Plan (in order of priority)

* Set up a toll-free hotline number that plays a recorded status message and allow persons from inside and outside the firm to leave messages.

* Develop a “phone-tree” in which firm members have pre-assigned responsibilities to contact each other and establish their condition and whereabouts. Ensure that key personnel have paper and electronic copies of internal phone lists.

* Assign one person to contact clients, tell them what has happened and explain the status of pending matters. Be truthful and credible, and convey that the crisis is being handled properly, and that the firm will do its best to take of needs and concerns. Give them the hotline number and any other available emergency contact numbers.

* Have a standing list of building managers and real estate agents so you can contact them to set up temporary space, including furnishings, computers and phones.

* Establish a referral contact with another firm so that you can ask them to handle such key practice matters as requesting a continuance or rescheduling a deposition.

* Have hard copy and electronic lists of service provider contacts that can help re-establish your practice: insurance carriers, bar associations, law societies, utilities, data security and Internet services, legal specialists like Lexis/Nexis and West.

* Identify a personal contact at your bank to ask for an emergency operating loan covering rent, payroll, insurance settlements, new office arrangements, supplies and more.

Back on Duckworth Street, the brooms are still out.

Fire 2


  1. Foresight, along with some planning and preparation beforehand is critical to minimizing the impact of any accident or disaster, large or small. LAWPRO’s Managing Practice Interruptions booklet provides a comprehensive review of the steps you can take to prepare for unexpected minor and major practice interruptions, and how you should respond to them. It reviews what you have to do to protect your people, your practice, and your premises and property.