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My Opinion

Diverting Disaster

More law firms are planning ahead to protect valuable assets and data.

By Heidi Lowry

 

Professionals such as paralegals increasingly rely on technology in their everyday business practices, but what happens when disasters hit, both large, such as floods, and small, such as fires and theft? Amplified reliance on technology means a greater potential for lost information and decreased productivity. The results of LAT’s most recent My Opinion survey show that employers today are more aware of the potential for disaster loss than ever before, and have taken steps to protect themselves.

Although the majority of survey respondents said their firms and companies had not been affected by a disaster, approximately two-thirds (66.7 percent) said that their employers have equipped their offices with measures designed to protect information and keep the business up and running in the event of a catastrophe. Only 33.3 percent said their employers have implemented no disaster preparedness strategies.

Of those employers who have protected themselves, 27.2 percent employ a data backup system in case of system failures; 21.4 percent use a backup generator or battery backup for all electronic and computing equipment in the event of a power outage; and 18.6 percent of employers have options available for employees to work remotely if a disaster makes the office inaccessible. Other strategies implemented include structural and design safeguards such as secured furniture and the use of fireproof cabinets for sensitive documents (10 percent); emergency contact lists detailing the contact information for employees, key vendors and clients (8.6 percent); tested disaster recovery plans distributed to all employees (7.1 percent); and planning teams created to analyze current and potential risks (7.1 percent).

Even some firms and companies that don’t employ specific disaster recovery methods safeguard their information in some way. “Most records in our small practice are kept on a laptop computer database, which is backed up regularly,” said a 6-month paralegal from Prescott, Ariz., whose employer is a sole practitioner who has not been affected by disaster.

The greatest disaster preparedness strides seem to have been taken in the last 10 years with 39.1 percent of survey respondents reporting that their employers started implementing these practices less than five years ago, 30.5 percent saying that strategies have been initiated in the last five to 10 years and 13 percent of respondents stating that their employers began executing these measures over 10 years ago. Though most respondents (60.9 percent) said they didn’t have a role in implementing their employers’ disaster recovery procedures, of those that did, 21.7 percent assisted in the implementation, 13 percent proposed the idea and 4.4 percent drafted the recovery plan.

As far as dealing with an actual disaster, 63.6 percent of respondents said their employers had never been affected by one, with only 15.2 percent stating that their employers had faced a disaster and 21.2 percent stating that they were unsure if their current employer ever had been through a disaster. Even fewer paralegals have been even remotely impacted, with 69.4 percent of respondents saying they didn’t know any paralegals whose employers had been directly affected by a disaster, compared to 30.6 percent that did.

Among those respondents who stated their employers had not taken any protective measures, 35.7 percent said they don’t know why action had not been taken, and 21.5 percent feel that their firm does not think disaster recovery planning is important. For 7.1 percent of respondents, the measures are too costly for their employers and another 7.1 percent said their firm doesn’t know how to begin the daunting task of backing up information and setting up safeguards. Finally, 7.1 percent of respondents said their firm was unaware that it needed a plan of action in case of disaster.

In the event of a major natural disaster, however, the way productivity is affected can be dependent on factors out of an office’s control. “[Hurricane] Katrina is a good and bad example of preparedness. Some firms were able to move and get back to work in [a short amount of time]; others were not,” said a 30-year paralegal from Shreveport, La. “Some closed because employees were not able to return to work, even if the firm was prepared.”

Survey Results

Has your employer taken measures to protect company resources and to keep the business
     running in case of a disaster?

     Yes: 66.7%

     No: 33.3%

 

When did your employer begin to take such measures?

     More than 10 years ago: 13.0%

     5 to 10 years ago: 30.5%

     Less than 5 years ago: 39.1%

     Other: 17.4%

 

Has your employer ever been affected by a disaster?

     Yes: 15.2%

     No: 63.6%

     I don't know: 21.2% 

 

Do you know any paralegals whose employers have been directly impacted by a disaster?

     Yes: 30.6%

     No: 69.4%

 

Total survey responses: 37

 

 

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