Preparing for the Unpredictable

Lawyers have a duty to provide thorough, prompt, competent and timely service to their clients.  These obligations remain when you go on vacation, fall ill, or if an unexpected disaster occurs.  It is important to think about what will happen to your office and to your clients if you are unexpectedly absent for a period of time, rather than simply reacting to it.  While it is daunting for a sole practitioner or a small firm to plan for continuity in the event of a catastrophic loss, consider that the very size of the firm allows for a measure of flexibility that might not be present in a large firm environment.
In a special issue called Managing Practice Interruptions, dedicated to preparing for the unpredictable, LawPRO Magazine (professional liability insurer for lawyers in Ontario) identified four essential steps to help you prepare for the unpredictable:
  • Establish a plan;
  • Communicate your plan and prepare your employees for the unexpected;
  • Protect your property and your premises; and
  • Protect your practice.
As you begin to formulate your plan, think about the things you can do to ensure that your clients' interests will be protected if you are not able to work.  The type of plan that you will develop for your solo or small firm practice will not be the same as required for a large national firm, but some large firm practices may be appropriate to your firm; establishing a policy for backing up your electronic data at regular intervals, for example.
Practice PRO characterizes the elements of the plan as:
  • Preparation and prevention;
  • Response;
  • Resumption; and
  • Recovery.
©  Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company. Originally appeared in practicePRO's Managing Practice Interruptions booklet. This and other practicePRO resources are available at
Although the complexity of plans will vary, we suggest that your plan should at least provide for drafting a law office procedures manual, making proper and regular backups, establishing an emergency contact list, and maintaining sufficient insurance coverage.