Law firms around the country have had to deal with many unexpected disruptions over the past few months: Fires in California, hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and other states, and various other catastrophic events that have thrown people and their businesses into disarray.

When disaster strikes, the logistics of getting work done becomes more complicated. Every system gets stressed and even simple tasks can become challenging.

Of course, keeping everyone safe is paramount. However, it’s also critical to get your firm back up and running as soon as possible. Not only do your clients rely on you, but you and your employees need the business.

That is why it’s crucial to have solid systems in place before any such disasters strike. In fact, a good predictor for how a firm will continue to operate under stress is how organized it was to begin with. Firms that have standardized processes and built-in redundancies in place will be more capable to handle stress and sudden changes in resource availability such as those created by natural disasters.

Here are the three most important steps:

Essential data must be electronic and versioned.
Lack of access to documents and case files is fatal for lawyers. That’s why it’s imperative for firms to have solid systems in place that allow team members easy access to such materials while having solid versioning. In other words, central copies must be rapidly updated so that everyone is always looking at the correct version of the document.

Having an external hard drive, a remote server, and a cloud-based system together provides very good redundancy.  Examples of such cloud-based platforms are Rocket Matter, Google Drive and Dropbox. It is also important to discourage team members from using local copies or to rely on emailed copies for the latest version of any document. Once a natural disaster hits, these redundancies and versioning safeguards will protect against the challenges of system and work interruptions. Of course, it’s also critical that the document management system has regular back-ups in several different locations.

Task management is critical.
It is important for team leaders to know what people on their team are doing at any given time (when it comes to work, of course!)  This is good practice generally but becomes crucial during natural disasters when it becomes harder to maintain the right amount of oversight. Having regular check-ins in place, whether by phone or email, is essential. Online task management tools such as Evernote, Google Tasks and Rocket Matter can help you achieve this.  If no system is in place when disaster strikes, you’ll add more chaos and uncertainty to what’s already a chaotic, uncertain time.

Calendar management is key.
While each team member should absolutely have their own deadline management systems, teams need to always be aware of each other’s deadlines. Cloud-based calendars, case management platforms, and milestone software are all good ways to do this. There are a variety of available options such as Rocket Matter, Google Calendar, Microsoft Office 365, and Outlook. (Rocket Matter actually also syncs with the latter three options.) During natural disasters people unexpectedly go offline and they may not be able to let others know they are unavailable. Providing information regarding what has to happen by when allows other people to pitch in if this happens. It is also a good idea to ask team members to add their personal or soft deadlines before a natural disaster to further help overall situational awareness.

Maria-Vittoria Carminati
Carminati is a trial attorney and litigator, women’s advocate, and founder of Carminati Law PLLC, a distributed law firm. Her practice consists of commercial and business litigation, family law, and mediation. She is licensed in NY, TX, DC and CO. Carminati speaks and writes about gender bias, micro-aggressions and advocacy for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.  Her firm leverages technology to maximize productivity and decrease costs while delivering high-quality legal counseling and representation.