Parts of the US were brought to a virtual standstill around Thanksgiving by extraordinary weather, such as Buffalo, NY, which was blanketed with 7 feet of snow.

While your staff may be unable to get to the office because of heavy snow or rain, there will also be people who brave those same conditions – and end up in a car accident, needing the services of a lawyer.

After their accident, they’ll call your law firm, but because your staff (quite sensibly) decided it was unsafe to drive to work, there will be no-one available to answer the calls from your potential new clients. So ironically, the same situation that could force someone to seek the services of  a lawyer could also prevent your law firm from signing up that case.

The weather is just one factor that can play havoc with the smooth running of a business like your law firm. All sorts of things could cause your law practice to grind to a halt. How would you respond if there was a power failure? Or if your Internet connection failed? Or your phone system? Or your computer server?

An unprepared law firm may not be able to financially weather a storm that shuts it down for an extended period of time. Even a small disruption can be costly in terms of lost productivity combined with payroll expenses.

You can’t plan for every eventuality. Working out a response to every possible scenario is unrealistic, would be prohibitively expensive, and take far too long. It’s just not practical.

But there are some reasonable steps you can take to minimize disruption – and cost – to your law firm from circumstances beyond your control. And with more snow forecast for winter, it makes sense to do what you can to keep your law firm functioning. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Move your IT system to the cloud.

My law firm, Carolina Disability Lawyers, uses cloud-hosted computer desktops. It means that when we had sheet ice on the roads about a year ago, our paralegal, Shannon, was able to continue working from home on her laptop.

It also means we don’t have to worry about maintaining local servers and backups or fail-over options.

  1. Have spare equipment.

The cost of an extra computer is small when compared to the cost to my business if a computer breaks and the disruption it causes. So if a PC in the office fails, we have a spare computer already set up to take over immediately. When the user logs back into their account, everything is exactly the way they left it.

Make sure you have at least one spare of everything an employee needs – phone handset, monitor, PC, mouse, keyboard, power cables and ethernet cables. If something breaks, just install the spare and immediately order a replacement.

  1. Have 2 diverse Internet connections.

With cloud-based computer systems, if our Internet connection went down, we’d be completely screwed. So we have 2 Internet connections at the office – one DSL connection and one fast cable connection.

  1. Enable remote phone extensions over the Internet.

We have IP phone handsets, which are designed to be used at remote locations. They connect to the PBX (phone system) across the Internet, allowing employees to work from home. It works exactly the same way as the phones in the office, enabling inbound and outbound calls, whether with clients or with colleagues.

  1. Install Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS) for key pieces of equipment like your PBX and router.

Even if the power goes down for the whole building, a UPS can keep your phone system and Internet running to enable employees to work from home if necessary.

  1. Give your intake team take-home boxes.

Prepare a box for each of your intake team members that contains everything they would need to do their job at home. If they send out packets with contracts and information to potential new clients, ensure they have enough materials for several days of business. Give them a book of stamps to add sufficient postage to each envelope so they don’t have to be brought into the office and run through the postage meter.

Ask your employees to keep the box safe in their garage until it is needed and update the contents when you change your marketing materials.

  1. Use a reliable call answering service.

If your phone system goes down or you are forced to close your office, you can redirect your incoming calls to a professional answering service to minimize the loss of new business.

There are many services out there, but I recommend using a company that specializes in serving the legal industry. Alert Communications, for example, answers phone calls for a number of personal injury lawyers across the country. They train using scripts provided by the law firms, ensuring a consistent experience.

  1. Make sure you can divert your calls.

Call your phone provider before your lines ever go down and find out the procedure for diverting your calls in case of a failure. Ask whether you need to specifically request that the facility be added to your account and make whatever changes are necessary so that if something does happen, you know you can respond quickly.

  1. Create a formal response plan.

It’s no good figuring out how to respond to a failure if you don’t share that plan with the rest of your employees. Formally document the response plan and ensure everyone in the firm knows how to respond if the plan is activated.

Have you prepared for the unexpected? Let me know in the comments below.