The Importance of Having an Emergency Plan for Your Solo Law Firm

by Tali Thomason on April 13, 2015

By Guest Blogger, Melanie Fischer

in-case-of-emergencyEmergencies, accidents and illnesses are never planned. But they happen periodically, and there may be very little you can do to prevent them. Knowing that you are not exempt from the possibility of an unexpected crisis that would require you to be away from your office for a significant period of time, it’s important to prepare for this type of unlikely event.

As a solo attorney, you have a responsibility to your clients. Your clients rely on you to handle their legal matters in a timely fashion. If a tragedy strikes and you are suddenly unable to tend to your clients, your clients can suffer harm. Therefore, it is your ethical responsibility to have an emergency plan in place.

Many solo attorneys have agreements with other solo attorneys that they will assist each other in the event of a crisis. When you know there is another responsible and trustworthy attorney willing to help you and your clients in a moment of need, it can be a great relief. The last thing a solo attorney wants to do when suffering through an emergency, an injury, or an illness is worry about who will help their clients when they cannot.

Items to Address in Your Emergency Plan
Besides having another solo attorney on call who will step in and help during a crisis, make sure to also prepare the following ahead of time:

  • Provide your office staff (if applicable) or a confidant with the name and contact information for your backup attorney so that he or she can be located quickly.
  • Make sure to always keep an up-to-date list of all bank accounts and active client files.
  • Keep a list of past clients that should be contacted if you will be out of the office for a significant period of time.
  • Ensure all client files are organized at all times.
  • Back up all electronic files and data as often as possible, and make sure your back-up attorney knows where and how to access your passwords.
  • Make sure your calendar is current so your back-up attorney knows about depositions, court appearances and trial dates.
  • Have enough cash on hand to make sure your business expenses can be paid during your absence.
  • Prepare written office management instructions ahead of an emergency, and periodically review the instructions to make sure they are always current.

It’s important to always remember that your solo law practice is a business. Your clients rely on you to be available to handle their current, ongoing and future legal matters. If you are suddenly unavailable for a reason beyond your control, your clients must be notified and provided with the name of the attorney who will provide them with assistance in your place. Your clients will need reassurance that they will be in good hands during your absence. But besides making sure that your clients will feel comfortable, it’s important that you are also comfortable with your stand-in attorney.

Avoid Client Neglect During an Emergency
It is your duty as a solo attorney to make sure your clients are not neglected if a crisis situation arises. Because there is no possibility of predicting when an emergency will occur, it is in your best interest to plan ahead. In all likelihood, you will never require the assistance of the back-up attorney you select. But it’s always much better to be safe than sorry.


{ 1 comment }

Andrea Galvez April 22, 2015 at 8:14 am

Great article! Something that wasn’t mentioned that some solos consider and financial advisors recommend (disclosure: I am not a financial advisor), is overhead insurance. If you are an ABA member, you are eligible for ABE-sponsored Professional Overhead Expense Disability Insurance (POE), which helps pay for normal business expenses (such as rent, interest payments on outstanding eligible business debts, utilities, and non-attorney employees’ salaries among others) if you were to become disabled. Disability insurance helps protect your family’s finances in the event of disability, POE helps protect your firm.

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