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Disaster can strike a practice in many different ways – personal disaster in the form of sudden illness, death, incapacity or impairment, or catastrophic loss due to theft, flood, wildfire or tornado.
Foresight and planning by all lawyers in active practice, regardless of your practice setting or your career stage, can minimize the impact of these events. Basic planning should include making proper backups, ensuring storage of records outside of the office in a secure location, retaining emergency contact lists and maintaining adequate and proper insurance coverage.
Even without the urgency of natural disasters, it is prudent to take some basic steps to protect your clients’ interests, as well as your livelihoods, in the case of an unexpected event. This contingency planning can make all the difference down the road.
We offer the following advice and resources to assist lawyers in dealing with proactive contingency planning and retroactive disaster recovery efforts.
Frequently Asked Questions
Review the Disaster Recovery Action Plan, which provides suggested steps to take in restoring your practice. Our Practice Advisors are available to assist you with confidential and professional advice on recovery efforts and any other legal, ethical and practice concerns, especially in this time of great need. The Practice Advisors can be reached at 1.866.440.4640 (toll free) or 587.390.8462. Practice Management legal counsel are also available for any practice management and operational issues. They can be reached at 1.800.661.9003.
Review the Disaster Recovery Action Plan, which provides suggested steps to take in restoring your practice. Also see the PracticePro link for more information on dealing with damaged files and recovery. Document restoration may, however, be an expensive process and may not be necessary in every case. Your insurer may be able to direct you to some restoration companies, or you can search for local listings.
While most of the other categories of documents can be salvaged, documents that have been turned black by fire may fall apart with slight handling. There are methods using specialized forensic techniques that can read carbonized images, but these are expensive and may not be readily available.
Partially burned but dry documents:
Partially burned documents that are dry may be cleaned using a soft brush to remove loose debris. For more information on this process see “Recovering Fire-damaged records.” Soot can be removed using a kneadable eraser (sold at art supply stores), but it is important not to apply pressure on paper that is actually charred. If you can’t work on these documents right away, they can be frozen (ideally after being vacuum-sealed or wrapped in greaseproof paper).
Partially burned but wet documents:
Partially burned but wet documents need to be dried—but if you can’t attend to drying right away, investigate vacuum-sealing and freezing techniques. If vacuum-sealing is not available, you can wrap the papers in small bundles (not more than 1 to 2 cm thick) in greaseproof paper and lie them flat in a freezer.
To start the process of drying wet documents, insert paper towels about every 2 cm to help absorb the moisture. You will have to replace the paper towels with dry ones as moisture is absorbed but put the new towels at different places in the document stack. Keep the humidity down in the room you are using to speed up the drying process and use a fan to gently move the air around.
It is important to take steps to remove mould from documents exposed to water. A restoration company may be able to use desiccant air-dry systems as well as environmentally-friendly chemical cleaners. Other techniques that may aid in recovery of documents include ion-deodorizing and anti-fungal spraying. If destroying partially damaged files, please ensure that client confidentiality is maintained during the destruction process. We recommend, at a minimum, that you maintain a record of the files you have lost. A file inventory form is available here.
*Note: This summary was prepared based on articles by the National Archives of Australia entitled “Recovering Fire-Damaged Documents”, Polygon Group “Archive Preservation Water and Fire Damage” and by Data Storage Inc. “Fire Damaged Documents: Triage to Recovery”. Please consult these articles for more detailed information about recovering documents.
If you cannot access your office to obtain trust cheques to close your real estate deal, you may either wire funds pursuant to Rule 119.42, or you may withdraw trust funds by way of a bank draft or money order pursuant to Rule 119.46 with prior notice to the Law Society. Email the Bank Draft and Money Order Form to Trust Safety and see the Rules of the Law Society of Alberta for further information.