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October 2001
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Disaster Recovery

The Unstoppable Attorney

By Lindsay McCall

The Unstoppable Attorney DISASTER planning requires time, investment, commitment and leadership.

It can be difficult to capture management interest in disaster planning. It is unglamorous, depressing, and involves a lot of money and effort to prepare for events that, if you are lucky, will never happen.

Just predicting the nature of potential crises can give you an instant migraine. An earthquake in Boston? A tornado in California? A broken water main? A mass transit strike? A quarantine? Who could have possibly anticipated a suicide attack on two of the world's largest buildings?

Traditionally, the approach is to identify what is both most likely and most devastating. Having done that, we're always advised to take appropriate measures to eliminate or reduce vulnerabilities, prepare a plan of action if and when it occurs, and determine how to resume business once the emergency has passed. Then, periodically, you revisit it again and again.

Consider whether or to what degree you should take such an approach. Yes, it adds to your overhead, but for many organizations it has proven effective and "saved the business."

An Alternative?

If your management is unreceptive to such an approach, here is another way you can plan for disasters that is likely to capture interest and support: Invest in technology that can both promote your firm's business goals and profitability, and that will, at the same time, shield you from the effects of |disasters.

In short, sell your partnership on investing in mobile computing.

The same infrastructure that allows your attorneys to be effective "road warriors" also allows them to keep working during business interruption.

If you build a technology and cultural infrastructure designed to allow your attorneys to work from anywhere in the world, you are at the same time diluting the risk of disruption.

Same Model

The model is a lot like the Internet. On the Web, disruption can occur locally, but it's extremely difficult to disable it altogether. Using technology and common practices that exist today, you build a structure in your organization that makes it nimble in the everyday world and also allows firms to go on -- at least for a while -- in a decentralized way, even if the office is closed and the servers are down.

If your management buys into a "road warrior" culture, then much of your disaster planning becomes thinking about what it takes to keep your road warriors going during normal times.

Think about how to conduct business in an organized way with just cell phones. Think about your wireless PDAs. Think about how to use notebooks when servers are down. Think about remote access. Think about ways you can use the Internet. Think about mirroring information in geographically diverse locations.

Why? Not because one of your offices might get shut down, but because it will make it easier for you to do business every single day.

Extraordinary

The attack on the World Trade Center brought home to us, in sad and vivid images, truly what a disaster can mean.

Let us hope and pray that event was so extraordinary and rare that nothing like it ever occurs again.

However, it is inevitable that other disasters, natural and man-made, on various scales, can and will occur.

Prepare for them, and if you can tie disaster preparation to another strategic initiative, such as mobile computing, you derive more benefit from the investment and it becomes easier to garner support for it.

Lindsay McCall is senior project manager at Morrison & Foerster L.L.P., based in San Francisco.

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