We are living in a time when it’s critical to respond to the crisis in front of us — but it’s also vital to prepare for what comes next. That means planning for business continuity, which in today’s environment means remote working.
Each law firm will be in their own place in responding to the challenges of moving to a remote working environment. But their responses can generally be grouped into two broad categories: disaster preparedness and disaster response. Neither category is by any means stress free, but where I draw the distinction between the two is at the level of general confidence with which firms can approach them — even amid a change brought on by a black swan event such as what we’re experiencing now.
The firms that find themselves more in the disaster preparedness group are those that have a plan in place which they can implement on relatively short notice. Firms in the disaster response group are in the unenviable position of having to try to plan for how to live through a disaster while it’s happening.
For example, I was recently chatting with Madison Kauffman, Marketing Director at midsize Houston law firm Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto, Aziz, & Stogner. The firm has been in both groups in recent years. When Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area in 2017, the firm was in the disaster response group. It found itself without electricity leaving lawyers and staff unable to operate within their own building and without remote access. While the resulting shutdown was brief, it brought into stark focus the need for a proactive plan to deal with future disruptions.
The rebuilding period that followed presented the firm and its leaders with opportunities to reexamine many of their policies and procedures. As the firm remodeled its building, leaders were able to make changes to their infrastructure to allow for better survivability. They deployed remote access technology to their attorneys and staff, and they also began utilizing cloud solutions like Office 365 to help with business continuity.
Using Yesterday’s Lessons to Inform Today’s Plans
Which brings us to the current situation. Now, the firm is seeing some employees working remotely while others are still in the office. But as they prepared to send the ubiquitous “what we’re doing” email that we’ve all seen so many times over the past few weeks, firm leaders were able to assure their clients that they had a plan in place if and when the firm had to go 100% remote. This offered clients an air of confidence that there wouldn’t be any major disruptions during what is a very trying time for the firm and for its clients as well.
The firm used the lessons learned from being forced to respond to one disaster years ago to help ensure they were prepared for the next one.
Looking at the situation today, many law firms will be on a spectrum. Some will be struggling to find a footing on new and uncertain ground. Others may be a bit off balance at the incredible pace of change but will be confident in their ability to adapt.
For both groups, now is also an opportunity to be mindful of how they are responding. If a firm has no disaster preparedness plan to allow for remote working, it is important for firm leaders to not lose sight of the lessons being learned in real time, because those will inform the plan that should be made going forward. For those firms that have a plan in place, now is the time to see how effective it is.
To help facilitate both groups, Joseph Raczynski, a Technologist at Thomson Reuters, put together the following checklists to make sure that all the necessary steps are being covered to help ensure that law firms are ready to work from home today, but that they also can build a plan for remote working in the event of future unforeseen events.
One of the biggest takeaways from the current crisis is that events with a global impact can happen with little warning. When they do, do you want to be in the group that is simply responding to what comes, or do you want to be part of the group that’s prepared for what’s ahead?
The following one-page checklists will help you evaluate your own preparedness.
If you’re an attorney, paralegal, or other frontline employee at a law firm, this checklist will help you ensure that you’re prepared to transition smoothly if you find yourself needing to work from home.
If you’re part of your firm’s technical administration team, this checklist will help you examine whether your organization is prepared for a move to large-scale remote work.
Or if you’re in charge of running your law firm, this more comprehensive checklist will guide you through the steps that both your legal staff and your technical team should be taking to ensure the continuity of your business in a remote working environment.