Contingency planning for your law firm

COVID-19 has shown law firms that their physical offices are secondary. A law firm’s heart is its staff, technology, and knowledge management to maximize the time and skills of its lawyers. Your firm must have a contingency plan that is well thought out and able to be implemented. Be prepared to adapt, often immediately, to any mass relocation from the office.

You must ensure that your clients receive the same level of service no matter where your lawyers are located. Your knowledge management department can play a vital role in this. According to Jenni Tellyn of 3Kites in a recent Thomson Reuters Podcast, KM is about “getting the correct information to the appropriate people at the proper time .”

What should an emergency plan include?

A law firm’s contingency plan should meet several key objectives. The firm must be as efficient in an emergency as they are under normal circumstances. These goals include:

Communication Continuity/Security, Internal: It is essential that lawyers and staff can work together and share documents, even if they are in distant locations.

Communication security/continuity, external: Clients must be able to communicate with their attorneys without interruption.

Remote Access to Firm Resources: Attorneys should be able to access all documents and data needed to win a case.

Keeping internal lines open

A law office’s core responsibility is to make sure that, in an emergency, lawyers and staff can communicate with each other. It will require various technology, from encrypted emails to video conferencing apps like Zoom or Microsoft Teams and internal communications networks like Slack.

In the early days of 2020 the COVID Crisis, many law firms faced tech-resistant attorneys who, for example, had never used electronic signatures or participated in videoconferencing. During the first lockdown weeks, they were scrambling to catch up. By 2022, this hesitancy will no longer be acceptable. The firms should expect to be able to measure their technological fluency.

span dc=”auto “>”. Attending regular training sessions or completing tech-related goals (such as learning to run virtual meetings with breakout sessions or conducting virtual document marking-ups) can help.

COVID has served as a master’s course in developing best practices for technology. Remote conferencing has made virtual meetings more efficient and productive. Meeting organizers, for example, have learned how to start the session with enthusiasm and energy instead of having it sputter while everyone logs in. If a discussion takes place at the end of the day, staff that is fatigued by Zoom may do better without their cameras.

To make lawyers more tech-fluent, new systems must be introduced in a way that is as intuitive as possible. Lawyers working remotely in a crisis may have to deal with various issues, from handling clients to dealing with personal matters. In their spare time, the last thing they want to do is learn a new platform.

Make the contingency plans seamless for your clients.

A central part of contingency plans is to ensure that your clients are not affected by the disruptions in your firm. In an emergency, clients should not wonder how to contact their lawyer. If necessary, everything that was intended to be done in the physical world should be easily ported over to the virtual.

The ABA Model Rule 1.4 is a good guideline. It states that, in the event of a disaster, lawyers should be able to “create, at short notice, electronic lists or paper lists of clients and their contact details.” The information should be easily accessible. In these early communications, clients will want to know whether the lawyer can still handle their matters or if they are unavailable due to the effects of the disaster and may have to withdraw .”

The law firm should define responsibilities, such as who maintains the data on clients and cases, who contacts each client in an emergency, and how to replace a lawyer quickly. This may require “understudy lawyers” for time-sensitive matters.

Resources – Putting tools in the hands of lawyers

To be successful in contingency planning, a law office must have all the necessary information about clients and cases available remotely.

Cloud-based litigation management allows all the information related to a particular case to be located in one hub, separate from the office. Law firms can set up different levels of authorization to stagger access. For example, the main case attorneys may need more information than staff at lower levels.

Expect a fundamental shift in the firm’s storage and documentation practices. Imagine a library full of folders for each case in the office. These documents are easily accessible to a lawyer by walking down the hallway. What happens if you are away from the office for a long time and you need to access these files? This question can be answered by moving to a paperless environment where all relevant information is stored on a secure cloud server. Tellyn explained in the Thomson Reuters Podcast that it essentially transfers knowledge from a cabinet to a system.

Contingency Plans as a Means of Change

Good contingency planning can also motivate a law office to improve its operations. In addition to using technology to enhance the efficiency of lawyers’ work, a law firm can also achieve DEI objectives (diversity, equity, and inclusion) by rethinking certain aspects of their work. Disabled employees, for example, may be more productive if they are spared a long commute. Employees based at other locations could broaden the pool of candidates and allow firms to hire more from underrepresented groups.

Planning for contingencies is not just about preparing yourself for the worst. Consider it an opportunity to improve a firm’s adaptability, diversity, functionality, and readiness to meet any challenge.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *