The Digital Edge
Shawn Holahan is Practice Management Counsel and Loss Prevention Counsel for the Louisiana State Bar Association. She...
Sharon D. Nelson, Esq. is president of the digital forensics, managed information technology and cybersecurity firm Sensei...
Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program, Jim Calloway is a recognized speaker on legal...
Shawn Holahan knows how disasters can affect your practice first hand. Experiencing the effects of Hurricane Katrina, she learned that when a disaster happens, confusion reigns, but having a disaster plan in place can help your law firm survive. Jim Calloway and Sharon Nelson get Shawn Holahan’s top tips for disaster planning in legal practice. Shawn emphasizes the importance of keeping your plan simple and explains “No Tech” Binders and the pre-disaster steps all lawyers should take.
Special thanks to our sponsor Nota.
Intro: Welcome to The Digital Edge with Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway, your hosts, both legal technologists, authors, and lecturers, invite industry professionals to discuss a new topic related to lawyers and technology. You’re listening to the Legal Talk Network.
Sharon Nelson: Welcome to the 164th edition of The Digital Edge Lawyers and Technology. We’re glad to have you with us. I’m Sharon Nelson, President of Sensei Enterprises, an information technology, cyber security and digital forensics firm in Fairfax, Virginia.
Jim Calloway: And I’m Jim Calloway, Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program. Today, our topic is Disaster Planning It’s Not Just for Hurricanes. Our Guest today is Shawn Holahan, Practice Management and Loss Prevention Counsel for the Louisiana State Bar Association. She lives in the tropical crosshairs of New Orleans and therefore, knows a thing or two about how disasters affect the practice of law and how simple disaster planning increases the chance of business survival. Prior to her position with the bar, she litigated employment discrimination matters as a partner with a medium-sized firm. While with her firm, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city and her home, which necessitated her moving her firm and her family to another part of the state for several months before the city could once again support its residents. So that’s part of Shawn’s experience and expertise she brings today. Thanks for joining us today, Shawn.
Shawn Holahan: So happy to join you today for this topic. Also, so happy that this is a podcast and not a visual, because I’m a disaster today. How are you?
Sharon Nelson: We’re always happy not to be shown. Let me put it that way. Speaking of disasters, let us first try to define what a disaster is, Shawn. Because it’s much more than hurricanes, I think. Although, you probably know as much about hurricanes as anyone I know.
Shawn Holahan: Absolutely. A fire, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes are easy examples of disasters. But there are other slower-moving disasters that can exact their pound of flesh as well such as, an employee or even your illness or disability, or maybe it’s a newly discovered saft or a burglary, or even more mundane events such as, an employee termination that’s gone awry, a computer malfunction, sudden staff change, or even a hot water heat that can wreak havoc in a law office. Maybe even a flat tire off to the side of the road when you have no more cellphone juice and you don’t know any phone numbers. A disaster can come in many forms. So, disaster planning is, it’s incumbent on you to arrange for disaster planning.
Jim Calloway: Shawn, is it reasonable today not to have a disaster plan, given the risk of what could possibly go wrong?
Shawn Holahan: Well, in the tropical crosshairs swampland where I live, absolutely not. Every year we go through this, but I think wherever you live, because of what I just stated, disasters coming in all forms, you should as a competent lawyer have a disaster plan in place. And I think it’s really subsumed in part of our rules of professional conduct as a lawyer to accommodate a disaster. That doesn’t mean you get everything right, but it says, to me, means that it’s incumbent on you to have a disaster plan in place. Your ethical obligations do not cease no matter what the disaster is.
Sharon Nelson: Well, if you’re going to have a good disaster plan, and of course so many people don’t have them at all. Especially law firms. What did the best disaster plans prioritize? Maybe you can start helping them out there.
Shawn Holahan: I’ve read a lot of disaster plans. All kinds of disaster plans. Having lived through the one that I went through. We’ll talk about that a little bit later. The ones that are simple that prioritize two things and that is, re-establishing communication with the world and accessing your client communication. Making those two things your priority and making it simple will optimize the chances that that plan will be actually implemented. The more complex your disaster plan is, the less likely anyone is going to do it. When a disaster happens, confusion reigns. So, what you want is a clear head start, and that’s all a disaster plan is. Is a head start to allow you to get things going again. So that’s what I would think.
Jim Calloway: Why should disaster plans be simple, Shawn? Most law firms would feel like a 50-page disaster plan was superior to a five-page one.
Shawn Holahan: Because you cannot possibly know the questions that are coming at you after disaster. And I think part of the reason why disaster plans become unreasonably complex, is that there’s a desire as lawyers to try to accommodate every eventuality. Well, that is not going to happen because after a disaster, questions missiles come at you in increasing speed. The best thing that you can do is just be ready rather than being a reactive posture, being a proactive posture because you’ve already met the priorities, I think that are good for a disaster plan. That is, re-establishing communication and accessing your client information. Once you have that done, then you can be in a better position to take the incoming missiles. Make the right decisions. You have no idea what the disaster is going to dish out to you until it happens. But at least get the communication part off the table and that you’ve already accomplished that. Communication is 90% of it along the way. So simple, to me is the way to go.
Sharon Nelson: Before we move on to our next segment, let’s take a quick commercial break.
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Sharon Nelson: Our Guest today is Shawn Holahan, Practice Management Counsel and Loss Prevention Counsel for the Louisiana State Bar Association who lives in the tropical crosshairs of New Orleans and knows a thing or two about how disasters affect the practice of law and how simple disaster planning increases the chances of business survival. Prior to her position with the bar, she litigated employment discrimination matters as a partner with a medium-sized firm. While with her firm, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city and her home, which necessitated her moving the firm and her family to another part of the state for several months before the city could once again support its residents. So, Shawn, now we need a recipe. So, what are the ingredients of a simple disaster plan?
Shawn Holahan: So, before I launched in on this, I’m going to tell you that just recently I was in Nashville for the Clio conference and I was sitting next to a small-town mayor in the state of Oregon. He realizes I’m from New Orleans and we started talking about disaster planning. And he’s in charge of it with his particular city. And it was amazing to me how my disaster plan or my ideas of disaster plan hit a resonant note for him and that the simpler the better. What happens in a power outage? And that’s the killer problem with a disaster. If power is out, what can you do? We think Cloud provides everything but it really doesn’t. So, therein lies my no tech binder.
My no tech binder is a lifeline in a power outage. If it’s a disaster that doesn’t include the power outage, God bless you. But if it is, then this no tech binder will help you. How many actual telephone numbers do you know? I might know my three kids, my mother and maybe a couple other phone numbers, that’s it. So, when your cellphone is out of juice and you have to borrow someone else’s phone, who were you going to call? So maybe no one, if you don’t have this no tech binder. So basically, what it is, is keeping all your contact information in one place. And maybe you are putting it up to the Cloud, and maybe you are electronically sending it to trusted people, and maybe you have that aspect to it, but it is physical too.
So, what would be the ingredients of a no tech binder? First off is, family staff contact information with alternate location information that would require you to talk to your staff to find out where they might go in an area wide disaster. This is not etched in stone obviously, because we don’t know what the disaster is going to be, but it’s possibilities, and that’s what we’re dealing with, possibilities. Where would your family go? Possibilities. Second thing, download an active client list with their contact information and if it’s a big case, maybe some personal contact information as well. State Bar Association contact information. I’ll tell you that bar associations are quite nimble in area disasters. They can readily, easily put something up on their website that includes court telephone numbers, any court orders that might extend to any extent cases, that kind of thing.
Your trust and banking contact information. Who is your contact for this information? Business malpractice insurance information and their contact information. Taking videos of your office equipment going up to the Cloud with them, taking photos of your office equipment and furnishings, that goes in the binder as well. And now, this one, I think, Sharon. Your husband might jump on me for this, but this helps. To have your passwords listed in a non-obvious manner. Meaning, in a way that isn’t going to make sense to anybody else but it is for all of your accounts. So, you’re not lost with regard to not having a password for a particular account. If you’d use last pass, that’s nice, if you get internet connection that’s stable enough to withstand it. Your vendor and supply or contact information, that’s important. Then, an extra phone charger. A solar phone charger.
Beforehand, you should have a talk with your staff and ask about temporary office locations where you might want to go. And maybe you might have a reciprocal agreement with a comrade in another area where there might be an agreement. You can have a temporary office where you are. When Katrina happened to me, one of my closest friends lives in Grand Coteau Louisiana, which also happens to have a girl’s school there which was networked with my daughter’s school back in New Orleans. So, I am in Grand Coteau instantly after Katrina. I had a friend of mine who knew that a lawyer in Lafayette had a blank second floor in his building. I find my managing partner in Little Rock Arkansas. I said, “Jim, there’s a second floor that we can use. Can we do this?” He says, “Absolutely” We rent a spot immediately. That little anecdote underscores why it’s important to have at least some place where you think you might go in the event of an area disaster. It may not be where you go, but it is a starting point. And then money for your disaster.
In a major disaster, when there’s a power outage, you can forget about ATMs. They’re not working. Local banks are not open and credit cards don’t work. So, have cash ready for you for at least a month for a huge disaster. And you might already have arranged an emergency line of credit with your financial institution also in the event that wherever you do land in an area disaster, you can access that line of credit to augment with whatever equipment and furnishings that you might need. Adequate insurance coverage is an issue. Every year, maybe you should do it at the beginning of the year. Review your coverages and know how your policy will respond in a disaster. It won’t respond in the way that you wanted to. But you should have at least your arms around how generally it will respond. Does your policy cover building contents? What about the structure? Examine your need for business interruption coverage, and other extra expenses. And adjust those coverages where it’s needed, review yearly.
And then a communication plan. What happens is, communication is often the first thing to go in a disaster. Be ready with your default communication plan immediately. After a major disaster, all communication avenues should be used early and often. Especially with an area-wide disaster. You shouldn’t assume that you know the communication issues for your target audience. So, your issue is going to be getting out your default message anyway you can. Social media, email, text communication, which often winds up being a lot easier than trying to get somebody on the phone verbally.
One of the best things that my firm did, we just happen to do this. As we prepared a laminated wallet-sized contact card. On one side, was all of our staff and personal contact information. We made each other put our contact information in our phones so we had it. And then on the other side was contact information for courts, bar associations, things like that. Just a general little three by five, maybe less than that, the size of a business card where all those numbers were there. So, you would carry it around in your wallet.
Jim Calloway: There’s probably more Shawn. Keep going with some more information for our listeners.
Shawn Holahan: You should create ahead of time your default post-disaster message that you’re going to broadcast across everything. So, obviously, when you write it beforehand, your default message, you may not know exactly where you’re going, or what your contact information is going to be. But you can leave blanks for that. So that when the disaster happens, all you’re doing is filling out a template, right? And then blasting it to everyone. And you’re going contain in that default message all kinds of alternative methods of reaching you. It is important to your clients that they can get in touch with you. And that’s why I’m saying broadcasted on all social media, all lawyers should have some simple static website that you can manipulate in the times of difficulty. So that when a client finds you, however they find you, they know that you’re still there and it will give that client a great degree of confidence knowing that you’re still around even If they cannot reach you just then.
Another tip might be an old-fashioned wired telephone that is not plugged into the wall, but rather plugged into the telephone system. Why this works? I don’t know. When power outages go phones that are wired that way tend to keep going, why? I would like to know that at some point. If all hell has broken loose and they’re no cell phones, check out the Red Cross. They have satellite phones in area-wide power and cellphone outages. The Red Cross will be there in a couple of days, you can find them quickly. They will allow satellite phone calls, maybe one or two, if you’re in line while that happens. But that’s always a good thing. That’s all about communication, which is the first part of my simple disaster plan.
The second part is accessing your client information. If you are not a digitizing lawyer, you’re at a disadvantage. Be wise, digitize, backup your client files. The best way of doing that is to use a secure Cloud provider, at least. And if you can’t do that or don’t want to do that, or don’t want to bear the expense of monthly subscription, at least make sure that your files are not in an area that can be flooded. You might consider a private Cloud or a personal Cloud, or alternative if you want to avoid the Cloud provider into more traditional sense. Reliance on hard drives and flash drives are tenuous. That’s not exactly going to be reliable all the time. If you have an external hard drive that you can plug in your computer, if you know a disaster is coming, downloading a lot of your information, at least with regard to active files, you can pack and go, that is good in extremis. Same thing with flash drives. Although they are easily lost, they are easily mislabeled or not labeled, and that’s not the best way to go, but it is a way to go. If you’re not using a subscription Cloud Model.
Lastly, even though this is the last thing I’m saying, it’s really the first thing I should be saying. Is that, when a disaster happens, you should prioritize your family, your homies, your pets. You’re no good to anyone unless they’re squared away. So, you might consider making a critical no tech binder for them and share it with your people including birth certificates, maybe copies of passports, take photos of passports, it’s always wise anyway. It is a simple approach to re-establishing communication with your world that is upended and getting at your client information again.
Sharon Nelson: I think you’ve just delivered the heart of this podcast which is great because it’s all this useful information. So, let’s take things a little farther and help people understand how often they should review the plan, Shawn. And do you recommend doing table top exercises to assess how good the plan is? You know, adding and subtracting problems.
Shawn Holahan: I like the idea of reviewing all of that kind of stuff. Not only just disaster plannings, but anything that requires or something that you should be reviewing on a periodic basis is doing at the beginning of the year. That is a great time to do that. So, your staff may have changed their telephone numbers and personal email addresses may have changed, all kinds of things have changed. Certainly, insurance information has changed. So, I like doing it at the beginning of the year to make sure that I have in place what I need when a disaster happens. So, tabletop exercises might be all right. Take a look at that. If you doing the external drive and I know that maybe a lot of us are still using external drives for this purpose rather than using a monthly Cloud subscription. Check it out, plug it in, pull up your directory. Make sure that it is in fact, working the way you want it to. Are you able to access easily your client information? At the very least, get your most active files on that external drive. So that if you got to go, you can go easily. Maybe making evening a copy of that external drive. So that there’s another version of it somewhere in case you need it. That’s a good thing to do.
Talking to your insurance agent. Making sure that your insurance agent understands what kind of furnishings you have in your office, the equipment that you have. What would be the replacement cost and business interruption. Your business, maybe it’s increased over time. Your business interrupt — maybe it’s time to get business interruption or even get greater business interruption in the event of an area-wide disaster. So, I like the idea of doing stuff at the beginning of the year.
Jim Calloway: Can you use an online template to create your disaster plan, Shawn? I know we lawyers love forms and some people try but it seems to be problematic to start that way.
Shawn Holahan: Well, not to toot my horn too much, but I like my little checklist for my no tech binder. And the tasks that are attendant with that no tech binder. I think that’s a good template. I think the simpler you keep the plan, the more apt people are going to do it. I said it before. I still think it’s true. So, keeping a template in sort of a list of fashion, this is what a no tech binder should have ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. There it is. That’s all it is. It allows you a head start. So, to the extent, that’s a template, that’s the template.
Jim Calloway: Before we move on to our next segment. Let’s take a quick commercial break.
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Welcome back to the Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today, our subject is Disaster Planning, It’s not just for hurricanes. Our Guest today is Shawn Holahan, Practice Management Counsel and Loss Prevention Counsel for the Louisiana State Bar Association. She lives in the tropical crosshairs of New Orleans and knows a thing or two about how disasters affect the practice of law and how simple disaster planning increases the chances of business survival. So, Shawn, would it suddenly hits the fan or maybe it has occurred with just a little bit of warning. What are your first steps after that?
Shawn Holahan: You know, it’s interesting that I have this step-by-step way of doing things now after disaster. It’s born out of a disaster. But looking back, I think my instincts were correct. In that the order in which you should do things. So, the extent to which any of the following steps I’m about to discuss are implemented will depend obviously on the extent in the kind of disaster. But diving in, step one, take care of your family. Again, you are no good unless your family, pets and people are okay and have in place your own disaster plan for your people. Know where they’re going to be. In my instance, I didn’t know where my brother was for weeks. I have two brothers but this particular brother, I did not know where he went after Katrina until I was in a coffee house in Lafayette. I pull up the USA Today, a hard copy USA Today on the front cover, is my brother with his wife and four daughters. They had bought a house in Jackson Mississippi in response to Katrina. That’s how I found out where he was.
Then find your no tech binder. If you I’ve done what I suggested and that your no tech binder is in several places on earth with trusted individuals, may be physically you still have a copy, maybe you know someone who has a copy because your original copy got destroyed, whatever. But you’ve got enough redundancies in place that you’re able to find your no tech binder, which is going to be the key to your access to the rest of the world. Then step three, triage issues like a beast. Meaning, you’re going to be having incoming missiles coming from all over the place that are screaming jimmies that want attention immediately. You should only prioritize the ones with the biggest impact first and deal with the little ones later. There is a tendency after a big disaster, the adrenaline is rushing and you think you can accomplish all of this at one time, you can’t. You’re going to have to step back and take steps that are reasonable and steps that you can do at the moment so that you can clear the decks for the next incoming missile whatever it is.
Step four, is getting your disaster message out. So, if you have that default message that I talked about in your no tech binder, ideally you know how to put that on your website, you know how to do that on Facebook and any social media that you’re using. If you’re not that person, then you got to make sure that you can get in touch with that person who you’ve assigned to do that task. Get together with that person because you have their contact information, and you’re going to post across all these platforms what your disaster message. This is Shawn Holahan. I am here. You can contact me by whatever it is. Then you’re going to re-establish contact with all of your staff and clients and that’s easily done. Once you get your staff lined up, you can assign them the task of sending an email to your clients to say this is how you can be contacted. Don’t assume that one default disaster message is going to get through to your clients because it probably won’t. Just assume that any kind of way, is the right way. So, texting, emailing, posting on social media, anything you can do to establish contact is a good thing. Your bar association may, I know we did, it’s the Louisiana State Bar had a way to — for lawyers to post their contact information. So that was a source as well.
Step six might be contacting courts. All courts where you have in cases pending to find out what’s going on. Going to their websites. Courts are much nimbler than they were in the past about responding to emails. They’re also better at issuing global orders causing continuances for all matters. Sometimes that can happen in an area wide disaster. Contacting the courts, visiting their websites, are a great thing to do after a disaster to find out what’s up. Contacting your opposing counsel with the contact information that you have in your no tech binder. And of course, your bar associations visiting their websites often for information will be very helpful. And step seven, if it doesn’t concern a court that is in the affected disaster area and you need a continuance, call the court immediately.
Tell them what’s going on and seek their advice on what to do. Step eight, after all of the communication, the first bolt of communication has occurred, might be settling down on your insurance claim. It is an unhappy set of events trying to arrange your insurance claim and will take a lot of time. It’s a time vampire. Contact your agent, follow what needs to happen for the resuscitation of your office, particularly business interruption claims. They’re difficult and gnarly to get. Not to mention what’s going on in your home life as well as to insurance claim.
And step nine, it’s maybe the most important. And that’s staying calm, especially when everyone else around you is losing it. One of the reasons why everybody loses it after an area-wide disaster, is the inability to communicate or not getting in touch with somebody that you’re absolutely concerned with. That’s why this no tech binder, with everyone’s contact information is critical. I can’t tell you how much fire it takes out of the soul. If you’re able to contact all the important people in your life and you get that over with and you’re like, good, you’re okay. Where are you? Great. And you have that communication river going. It’ll help you to no end and will put you in a better place to be able to react appropriately to whatever else is next. And there’s going to be all kinds of whatever else back there. I can tell you that after Katrina, those who are struggling the worst, were the people who could not contact their family, because they didn’t know where they were or couldn’t contact staff, because they didn’t know where they were. That’s why I keep going back to my two little priorities, which is re-establishing communication and accessing client files.
You might notice that accessing client files is the second priority, and it is in some respects. Because it is re-establishing communication that is first and foremost, the thing to do after an area-wide disaster. And then while all this is going on, it’s hard to prevent burnout because you’re running on adrenaline, sleep is hard to come by, but you need to protect yourself too. Prevent burnout, you need to be one with this very annoying but true adage. I hated hearing this but it is absolutely true. That if the disaster is big enough, it’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. And another annoying adage was, that was just not kill you makes you stronger. I think that’s not right. I think if you have something that has affected you that profoundly, that it could’ve killed you, it makes you different. And maybe it makes you different in a good way. Or maybe it makes you realize skills that you didn’t have. But in any event, it doesn’t necessarily make you stronger, it makes you different. So that’s it. That’s basically my arms around what a simple disaster plan is and why it’s important with the emphasis on communication.
Jim Calloway: Well, that’s a terrific list of recommendation, Shawn. You live through Katrina in closing how far have we in the legal profession coming disaster planning since Katrina.
Shawn Holahan: I think we’ve tried to make it too complex. I think as lawyers we try to be too thorough sometimes. I think we’re trying to anticipate all the issues that might come with a disaster. We need to go simpler for a disaster plan to work. The more complex it is. the less are people are going to do it. I started this podcast talking about a small-town mayor that I recently met. In the issues that we discussed about what happens after an area-wide disaster were similar. It’s the same thing over and over, and over again. The idea that you’re on your own for a little while before the government catches up local state federal catches up with the extent of the disaster. You need to be able to take care of yourself for a while until everybody sort of catches their breath. So, I’d like to say that we’re much more improved and maybe in some respects, we are in that, — we understand that communication is important.
And what happens when communication can happen. As long as we put that front and center, and I think we were doing a better job of that than we have in the past, will do better at it. But we have to leave room and space in our brain to know that we can’t anticipate everything that we need to do after a disaster. We have to sit back, be ready to take care of ourselves mentally, so that we can handle whatever is coming at us.
Sharon Nelson: We never quite figure out what’s coming at us and then we’re in it. And then there’s always surprises, which I think you’ve referenced several times today. So, Jim and I sure want to thank you for joining us today, Shawn. This was a great list of things and I want to reassure our listeners, there will be a transcript of this. So, I know some of you were saying, well, I heard the whole list, but I wish I had it written down. Well, it will be written down. So, just make sure you check for the transcript. And then you can follow along with what Shawn is saying and develop your own plan. But it just was a marvelous piece and certainly nobody qualifies as an expert, quite like you do within our circle. So, thank you for joining us, Shawn.
Shawn Holahan: If anybody needs to reach out to me, I can send you that list as well.
Sharon Nelson: And that does it for this edition of The Digital Edge Lawyers and Technology. And remember, you can subscribe to all of the editions of this podcast at legaltalknetwork.com, or on Apple Podcast. And if you enjoyed our podcast, please rate us in Apple Podcast.
Jim Calloway: Thanks for joining us. Goodbye, Ms. Sharon.
Sharon Nelson: Happy trails, cowboy.
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|Published:||October 27, 2022|
|Podcast:||The Digital Edge|
|Category:||Practice Management , Best Legal Practices|
The Digital Edge
The Digital Edge, hosted by Sharon D. Nelson and Jim Calloway, covers the latest technology news, tips, and tools.