March 2020
Preparation and Protection: Practical Steps for Your Law Practice During a Public Health Event
Being prepared for a public health event should be a part of your firm’s disaster planning procedures. Whether a natural disaster or public health threat, having a plan in place for your law practice will save valuable time and resources. 

Listen to Health Experts and Review Local Government Resources
Protect your health and those around you in the workplace. First and foremost, it is important to remain calm and considered in your actions. While the world is still learning much about this virus, basic precautions are known to be effective such as:
  • wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds
  • use approved hand sanitizers if soap is not available
  • avoid touching your face/mouth with unwashed hands
  • avoid close contact with people and animals if illness is suspected
  • cough into a tissue or into your elbow (wash afterwards)
  • if sick, seek medical assistance and stay home until you recover.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services offers a factsheet that may be beneficial to share and display in public areas of your law office. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also has a series of posters available for download.

Other key health organizations include:

Business Continuity: Incorporate Health Care Tips Into Your Firm’s Disaster Preparedness Plan
  • Work Area Hygiene. To protect clients and employees, add hand sanitizer inside the office at the reception desk, in the breakroom, and near restrooms and major doorways. Clean door handles and desk phones daily.
  • Limit in-person meetings. Convert office meetings into conference calls or video meetings. Leverage technology!
  • To Shake or Not-To-Shake. Conventional business etiquette practices such as handshakes may need to be suspended in the short term. While a personal choice, handle it professionally.

Impact on Daily Operations
  • Review Sick Leave Benefits. Based on this particular public health event, additional employee “sick time” may be needed in light of the two-week quarantine associated with coronavirus.
  • Remote work access. Given the potential severity of the situation, the ability for attorneys and staff to work remotely may be crucial. Make sure you have proper software licenses in advance. Make sure your attorneys and staff can securely access your system.
  • Data security and confidentiality. It is essential that your client data remain secure and confidential in this situation. Personal computers may not have proper virus or security measures in place, so you may need to consider purchasing laptops or relocating office desktops for a certain time. For added security, establishing a VPN is recommended. Setting up multi-factor authentication is also advisable. Be especially careful of email instructions regarding transfer of funds given that you will be not be able to have face to face communications during this time. If you are unable to access your physical location for an extended period of time, make sure any hard copies of files are secured and stored in a location that no one unauthorized can access.
  • Change in working hours. Keep your office voicemail message, website and social media platforms updated with any change to hours of operation. Additionally, your firm’s voicemail message should include any alternative communication methods if you are unavailable at the primary office number.
  • Client notification. Keep your clients informed of any potential disruption of service such as changes to office hours, scheduled meetings, and court appearances. Demonstrate superior client service by providing extra updates on open matters to thwart unnecessary concerns. During disaster events, this action may require phone, email, and/or snail mail communication depending on the situation.
  • Courts and Government Offices. Monitor the Administrative Office of the Court and other government websites where you conduct business for adjusted hours of operations or closings. In all likelihood you already monitor communications from these organizations during inclement weather events. Just be sure to maintain this best practice during public health events.

Remember to do a test run of your disaster plan before it is necessary to implement so you can make necessary adjustments or address oversights.
One last consideration is to have a realistic expectation as to the length of the disruption to legal operations. Since this particular health threat is evolving, the disaster plan may remain active longer than a response to a hurricane or flood. 

For more information regarding disaster planning procedures and resources, please see our February 2020 Newsletter article Keep Your Firm Prepared for a Storm .