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September 16, 2008

When Catastrophe Strikes Your Solo Practice

                        An alligator crosses Gulfway drive into Hurricane Ike flood ...                    

My friend, Chuck Newton, a solo practitioner from The Woodlands, Texas, wrote this post yesterday:


I found someone to let me use Internet a short time.  It looks likely that this blog will be out of business for a couple or few weeks in that Hurricane Ike hit The Woodlands especially hard.  Currently, we are told that the destruction to the electric grid is catastrophic. They are telling us that it will be about 2 weeks before electricity is restored.  As such, there is no air conditioning, lights, computer usage, cell phone, phone or Internet access in all or most of the Woodlands.  Driving to other places is now limited because there is no gasoline and gas lines on the few stations open run three or four hours.  Also fallen pine trees block almost every road still so driving is difficult.  Will update you when I can, but need to get off right now.

And based upon the devastation in Texas it reminded me of a post I wrote last year and wanted to resurrect for you today called "When Bad Weather Hits Do You Have A Back Up Communications Plan?"

What happens when your power is down for 10 days during an unexpected emergency?  Or you conduct business communications while traveling via your iphone, blackberry, cell phone, internet and you hit an unserviced area for an extended period of time.  Unfortunately, this has happened to my good friend Grant Griffiths. First, an unexpected death in the family had him travelling to California in the mountains where internet and cell service were challenging at best.  He did not know this.  How could he.  Then he comes back to Kansas City to be hit with a major ice storm which knocked out power, for hundreds of thousands, indefinitely.  For him, intermittently.  The result is the same: client communications are interrupted abruptly.

While the event was unforeseen, a plan for such an event should have been in place.  Fortunately for Grant, he has many friends who communicated to his clients for him spontaneously.  But that leaves the pressing and important issue:  what do you do when you can't communicate via instantaneous technologies and you are dealing with clients not just in your immediate area suffering the same fate as yourself (and who, generally, will be more sympathetic) but across the country or the world?

First, all this should be communicated to the client at the onset of the relationship, regardless where you live.  It could be snow storms, floods, wildfires.  It doesn't matter.  In the event of an emergency orchestrated by mother nature what can the client expect regarding communications?  For instance, in the event of such an emergency, imagine if you have in place a plan whereby the client knows if there is a serious weather condition impacting where you work they can contact another law firm in another part of the country, or a fellow blogger who will post the emergency status for where you work?  (Yes, they can watch the news, but honestly, you can't rely upon that.  Nor is it good planning.)

What is your back up plan?  Just another good reason to use Twitter!


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This is great advice for an issue that I believe is often overlooked. I'd just like to add a thought about the true necessity of such a plan.

It's easily conceivable that, following a catastrophic event, at least one of your clients (if not many) will need legal advice or work. Considering the likelihood of turmoil associated with cleanup efforts and full recovery from disaster, conflicts become more likely. People are pressured to change behaviors by the circumstances in their environment, leading them to find themselves in rather challenging situations at times.

It's times like these that your clients may need you the most, depending of course on your client base and area(s) of practice.

Susan Cartier Liebel

@Wes, You bring up a very valuable point. Do lawyers have plans to reach out to the community to let them know they are available in crisis and those situations which traditionally arise out of crisis and require legal work? Do they know the right avenues to do so? And how does one do so without violating the RPC and coming across as chasing business.

Anyone have any thoughts?


I haven't researched this idea extensively, but my first thought would be to develop contacts with either your local government emergency managers or local non-profit organizations (or their local chapter).

It seems as though a program or information initiative could be developed that lies well within the bounds of MRPC 7.1-7.3 (or your local equivalent) while still disseminating valuable information to the community-at-large. I believe that focusing on substantive, practical information and helpful tips often precludes the assumption of business chasing.

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