What if your offices flooded today? Will you still be in business tomorrow?

 

Everyday here in California the news is warning viewers of a possible El Nino weather system dumping a lot of water on this drought-stricken state. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, is urging Californians to buy flood insurance before the stormy season starts in 30 days. Even if you have flood insurance, will your business be able to survive if it suddenly was flooded with water? If you only had a few minutes before disaster struck, would you know what items to grab before you head out the door?

One of the best ways to limit the damage to your business is to be prepared before disaster strikes. For businesses this often means knowing what business information and records are critical to operations in the event of an emergency.  This critical information is called Vital Records. Vital Records “contain information needed to establish or continue an organization in the event of a disaster. They are necessary to recreate the company’s legal and financial position and to preserve the rights of the company and its employees, customers, and stockholders” (definition from Robek’s Information and Records Management). If Vital Records were lost, a business might not be able to collect on the flood insurance, accounts receivable might not be collected, contracts might not be able to be enforced and intellectual property might be lost. All of these could lead to the death of your business.

So, what can your business do to be prepared in the event of a disaster? The following 4 steps can lead your business in the right direction.

Step 1: Identify and list the critical information and records of your business.  Common categories are insurance policies, accounts receivable, and contracts. Be sure to limit the information and records to be only that which is absolutely necessary for the continuation of the business (typically 3-5% of your records and information). In deciding whether a record is vital or not, you should weigh the time and cost of protecting the record versus reconstructing the record. A Vital Record program is another way of insuring your business will continue to function after a disaster.

Step 2: Determine the best way to protect each classification. There are 4 common protection methods:

  • Dispersal: during the regular course of business, records and information can be stored in at least two or more locations. For electronic information and records, this would include regular backup procedures where the backup is stored offsite. For paper records this would include distributing copies to multiple business offices along with the knowledge that the copies are to be retained for vital record purposes.
  • Duplication: the scheduled duplication of records after they have been created. Because this method often is costly and time consuming to do after the business information has been created, this should be limited to those records where it was impractical to make a duplication when they were created or received. Duplication is not limited to the format of the original. If the original was paper, a duplicate in electronic form would be ok.
  • On-Site Storage: some protection can be provided by storing records and information in specifically designated vital records areas of the business. The vital records area should be stored in fire-resistant containers, file cabinets, safes, vaults and file rooms built for such purposes. The area should be well marked and the business’s emergency plan should include precautions to prevent fire or flood from spreading to areas where such equipment is stored. In the case of flood, a good rule is to keep file storage 6 inches off of the floor. This can help avoid water damage for those smaller floods or water pipe breaks.
  • Off-Site Storage: if reference to the vital records and information is low, you may want to consider off-site storage. Off-site storage facilities (or electronic backup companies) typically provide vital record level protection to records stored there. As with your own business, you would need to ensure the off-site storage facility met the same or better security standards as your own business as a part of your review of their facility.

Step 3: Establish a vital records program. 

  • Decide who will be responsible for the program.
  • Document the purpose of the program.
  • Determine your business’s disaster risk (earthquake, flood, fire, tornado, etc.)
  • Create and document vital record procedures.

Step 4: Periodically review if records and information are still classified as vital. A contract that has expired or an accounts receivable invoice that has been paid typically are no longer considered vital records for the continuation of a business. So, keep this in mind when developing your vital records program. Records should be periodically reviewed to see if they should still retain their vital records extra protection.

Nitza Medina-Garcia, Certified Records Manager, Records and Information Management Consultant

Contact us today! Let us help you create a vital records inventory and program to give your business that extra protection flood insurance can’t buy.

InfoCompass Business Solutions

Top 10 Reasons Law Firms Should Go Paper-light

 

Reducing the amount of paper managed by your law firm will result in less time, money and space occupied by paper. It will also give your lawyers and staff more flexibility in accessing and securing firm information. The following is a list of the top 10 reasons to consider going paper-light.

  1. Reduce the cost of storing paper files. Less paper means less paper supplies: filing cabinets, paper, printer ink, file folders, labels, paper clips and box supplies. Less paper means less office space dedicated to storing or sorting paper. Less paper means less boxes sent to offsite storage companies. Less paper means less money spent on mailing paper copies of documents.
  2. Reduce the time used to prepare paper documents. Documents written on a computer can easily be printed to PDF. The PDF can be emailed as an attachment or uploaded to court websites that expect electronic filings.
  3. Increase efficient access to client matter files. Electronic documents stored in a central client matter file can be more quickly retrieved versus a paper document that could be stored in a records file room or at an offsite storage facility. A lawyer speaking on the phone with a client would much rather pull up the document in question quickly versus scheduling a follow up call.
  4. Reduce the amount of paper files brought with lawyers to trial. The entire client matter file can be brought easily on a computer or accessed remotely from a document management system while at court. Less boxes required to bring to trial and in some cases eliminates the need altogether.
  5. Increase security around the client matter files and administrative firm files. A document management system can secure electronic documents to ensure only those with approved access can see them. A document management system can especially help manage access for those firms who have ethical wall considerations.
  6. Increase the ability to audit electronic documents. Document management systems track documents through their lifecycle, collecting details about who created the document and when, who modified a document and when, who refiled the document and when, who emailed or printed a document and when and so on. This audit trail is much richer than what is available on a normal network file share. With an audit trail you can trace who deleted a document and when.
  7. Access electronic documents from anywhere with an internet connection. Document management systems can allow lawyers to access client matter files from home, remote office or on the road. This flexibility can allow lawyers to work in the best environment of their choosing. It can also be a selling point to attract the newer generation of lawyers who are very familiar with accessing information on the go.
  8. Increase efficiency by utilizing workflow software for repetitive firm processes. Paper documents allow for one person to work on them at a time. With electronic documents and workflow, many bottlenecks can be averted, because several people can view an electronic document at the same time. For example, if a contract needs to be reviewed by a paralegal, case manager and responsible attorney, the reviews can be done simultaneously, instead of waiting for each review to be completed before the next can start.
  9. Increase the office space used for personnel versus paper storage. Space previously used to store paper documents and their filing cabinets can be repurposed as office space for firm personnel.
  10. Dispose of electronic documents in a systematic manner utilizing less personnel. Many document management systems have electronic recordkeeping capabilities or add-ons to manage the life cycle of electronic client files. Instead of doing a quarterly shred day for paper client files that can be destroyed, a records manager can manage the process electronically in a fully audited fashion.

Note: Paper-light is meant to acknowledge that there will be certain documents and/or items that will still need to be managed in its original analog state (wills and trusts for example, or product samples for intellectual property law). Do not let some paper restrictions hold the firm back from implementing procedures that will save time, space and money.

Nitza Medina-Garcia, Certified Records Manager, Records and Information Management Consultant

Contact us today ! Let us help you create a real world plan  to become paper-light and reap the benefits.

InfoCompass Business Solutions