Business Continuity Plan Template for Law Firms [Updated for 2023]
Implementing a business continuity plan is a must for law firms of all sizes. But if the plan has been put together haphazardly, or hasn’t been updated in years, then it creates a liability. When disaster strikes, the firm will not be adequately prepared, resulting in costly disruptions and potentially even compromising its chances of survival.
Use this business continuity plan template for law firms as a guide for making your planning stronger and more effective.
The Necessity for a Plan
It’s a shockingly common question we hear: Do law firms and attorneys really need a BCP?
And the answer is indisputably “yes” – especially for smaller practices.
At a time when attorneys rely heavily on data—increasingly digital, cloud-based and accessible from anywhere—business continuity for legal services has become vital.
But it’s not just data-related disasters that firms need to prepare for. Any disruption in service, whether from a cyberattack, fire, natural disaster or even a utility outage, can cause a costly long-term break in continuity.
With the template below, attorneys can outline a plan that helps to prevent such disasters from occurring and ensure a rapid recovery when those disasters do occur.
Sample Business Continuity Plan Template for Attorneys
1) Key Contacts
The first section of a law firm’s business continuity plan is usually designated for the contact information of key stakeholders, principals, disaster recovery teams or those who oversee the planning. Generally, this is a short list of the people who need to know first when a disaster occurs or those who can provide more insight into the planning if questions arise.
Purpose: To make it clear who is responsible for the business continuity plan or what the priority is for contacting the firm’s most important individuals.
Structure: Each entry on this list should ideally include multiple ways to reach the individual:
- Name of individual
- Job title or role
- Locations (Office & home addresses)
- Phone numbers (work, mobile, home & alternative)
- Email (work, home & alternative)
- Messaging handles (i.e. Slack, Skype, etc.)
See section IX. Communication below for more information on how to outline the ways the firm will communicate with various personnel during a disaster situation.
2) Plan Objectives
Use this section to briefly describe the goals of the plan. Outline the scope of the planning, what it aims to achieve and why the planning is necessary. This section is important for making sure that all parties understand what is (and what isn’t) covered by the plan, and it also helps to keep the planning on track. For example, if the plan will only focus on Information Technology-related disasters, not all emergencies, then that needs to be clarified from the start.
Purpose: To state the intentions and scope of the plan.
Structure: Consider using a bulleted list to quickly identify the key objectives of your firm’s BCP. For example:
- To develop effective protocols for preventing and recovering from an unforeseen disaster.
- To identify specific risks of disaster and their impact on the firm’s operations.
- To provide instruction for responding to an incident that interrupts critical business functions or information systems.
- To ensure that all affected personnel understand their role before, during and after a disruptive event.
- To identify weaknesses or gaps in existing continuity systems, as well as solutions to remedy those gaps.
3) Risk Assessment
Understanding the biggest threats to your law firm is the first crucial step to being able to effectively respond to them. This section should outline the various situations and events that pose a risk to your operations and critical systems. These risks are not necessarily the same for every business, though there will be some overlap. For example, all law firms may face the risk of fire, but coastal businesses face geographic-specific threats like coastal flooding and hurricanes.
Purpose: To identify which incidents are most likely to disrupt the firm’s operations.
Structure: Some firms may choose to group this section into a chart with information from the following section, IV. Business Impact. But regardless of what format is used, it’s important to clearly define each risk and what it looks like:
- Risk / disruption name (i.e. fire)
- Definition (i.e. Physical destruction of assets and property, and a hazard to humans due to fire and related risks, such as extreme heat and smoke)
- Event: (i.e. Destruction of critical information systems, servers, network hardware, etc.)
4) Business Impact Analysis
An impact analysis is a direct offshoot of the risk assessment and thus should immediately follow that section, unless they are being combined. This section outlines the specific impact of each disaster on the law firm’s operations. It is also common practice to rate each disaster by its likelihood of occurring and the severity of its impact on a 1-to-5 scale, so that continuity planning can be effectively prioritized.
Purpose: To assess the tangible impact of each disaster, in terms of immediate and long-term consequences, including costs, downtime estimates, repairs and so on.
Structure: The following is an example of how you might group each specific risk with its projected impact:
Keep in mind these are very rudimentary examples of impact. A more thorough business continuity plan for law firms will provide far greater detail on how individual business functions would be disrupted, categorized by varying levels of severity. Delayed case work, court dates, timelines for discovery, etc. – these are all critical processes that will be affected and should be addressed in the impact analysis.
This section outlines existing strategies, solutions and procedures that help to prevent or mitigate a disaster. As part of the planning process, it’s important that all stakeholders understand what is already being done to circumvent a disruption from occurring. This section should thus describe how each solution effectively prevents an incident, and it should be updated regularly as new systems are implemented.
Purpose: To identify actions and systems that have been implemented for the purpose of preventing a disruptive event or minimizing the impact of one.
Structure: Break down the section into specific categories, for example:
- Information systems, such as data backup & disaster recovery solutions, anti-malware software, network firewalls, etc.
- Preventative alarms and equipment, such as smoke detectors, fire suppression systems, fire extinguishers and so on.
6) Disaster Response
This section outlines the immediate steps that should be taken following a disruptive incident. These crucial moments after a disaster will largely influence how effective the overall recovery will be. So it’s important that personnel know what to do. Depending on the scope of your BCP, this section can apply to all personnel or be limited to the response of a firm’s designated recovery team.
Purpose: To provide clear instructions for how personnel should immediately respond to various disaster scenarios.
Structure: Break down specific protocols for each type of incident outlined in the risk assessment and impact analysis.
- Declare exactly what must occur for emergency procedures to be activated (this is sometimes also referred to as activating the disaster recovery plan).
- Be clear about the parameters for each disaster. For example, an employee misplacing a single file probably doesn’t warrant the same response as an office-wide ransomware infection.
7) Recovery Procedures
Each situation will require a different type of recovery. This section makes it clear what those procedures are and who needs to carry them out. Recovery is unique from “response” in that it dictates how the business will fully restore affected operations, beyond the initial response.
Purpose: To provide step-by-steps for recovering systems and operations that have been disrupted by disaster.
Structure: Identify the specific steps for each type of disaster scenario.
- Outline clear procedures for recovery, attached to the personnel who must follow them.
- Include specific objectives for recovering various systems, i.e. a recovery time objective (RTO) for restoring a network outage or a recovery point objective (RPO) for spinning up a data backup.
- Leave no room for confusion or questions.
8) Backup Locations & Equipment
Having contingency plans is an essential part of your continuity planning. When things go seriously awry and there’s no Plan B, then attorneys could very well be forced to close the practice. All law offices should consider which business processes, systems and equipment are so essential that a backup must be made available in case the primary resources become unavailable.
Purpose: To identify critical backup assets that can be used to maintain operations.
Structure: Outline all available contingencies as well as how they can be accessed. Backups to consider:
- Secondary locations for critical operations
- Computers, devices and other equipment
- Furniture for secondary locations, such as desks and chairs
- Utility redundancy, such as backup power generators or telecommunications / ISP lines
This section identifies the systems and methods that the firm will use to communicate during a disaster, assuming that primary means are inaccessible. Consider how recovery teams will be able to communicate with each other and principals, as well as how the firm will provide important status updates to personnel.
Purpose: To ensure that critical communication can continue during a disruptive event.
Structure: Identify all relevant communications systems, methods and protocols:
- Emergency alert systems, i.e. SMS, company website, etc.
- Procedures for communication between recovery personnel
- Protocols for communicating with external vendors, clients, contractors, etc.
10) Plan Review, Updates & Action Items
The final sections of a business continuity plan are devoted to identifying solutions for any existing gaps in the planning and for setting a timeline for how often the plan should be reviewed. These final steps are critical for making sure that all information in the BCP is accurate and up to date, and that any remaining vulnerabilities will be addressed.
Purpose: To set a schedule for updating the plan and deploying other solutions that fix any weaknesses identified in the plan’s current version.
Structure: Identify the specific frequency for updating the plan, i.e. quarterly, and objectives for carrying out unresolved action items.
- Make it clear who is responsible for maintaining the plan and how often.
- Specify timelines for addressing any continuity gaps or action items that have been identified in the plan.
The Critical Role of Data Backup for Law Firms
Throughout the BCP template above, we’ve identified the need for specific systems that make continuity possible. The role of data backups for law firms cannot be overstated.
Businesses within the legal services sector must deploy a dependable data backup solution that can quickly restore files that have been lost, deleted or destroyed by malware. Without reliable backups, law firms can be sidelined for days, weeks or even months after a major data-loss event, such as a ransomware attack.
Ransomware Attackers Now Targeting Law Firms
As ransomware attacks have ramped up over the last few years, hacker groups have been increasingly targeting law firms.
- In 2021, Campbell Conroy & O’Neil, P.C. – a law firm that represents Ford, Boeing, Exxon, Marriott & Walgreens – was hit by ransomware, compromising social security numbers, passport numbers, credit card numbers, medical information and biometric data.
- A 2017 ransomware attack hit the global powerhouse law firm DLA Piper, shuttering the firm for days. Industry experts say the attack may have cost the firm millions of dollars per day.
- Numerous other well-known law firms have been attacked with ransomware in recent years, including Seyfarth Shaw and Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy.
Law Firm Backup Solutions: What to Look for
For the greatest protection against ransomware and other data-loss incidents, we recommend the Datto SIRIS as the ideal backup solution for law firms. Datto is a fully integrated hybrid backup solution (on-site and cloud backups) that is simple to deploy, has built-in ransomware protection and offers near-instant data recovery options, including virtualization.
However, if you’re evaluating different business continuity solutions for your law firm, here are some key features to look for:
- High backup frequency (how often backups can be performed)
- Hybrid cloud deployment (backups stored both locally and in the cloud)
- Added protection/detection for ransomware
- Automated backup testing
- Instant restore options
- Virtualized backups (allowing you to access protected systems instantly)
- Protection for physical and virtual infrastructure (as needed for your law firm)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Keep in mind that our business continuity plan template for law firms is just a framework. Each firm is unique, with unique operations, risks and continuity needs. As such, attorneys should work with their BC consultants to develop a continuity plan that is customized to their specific objectives. Here are some commonly asked questions that may help you as you develop your plan:
1) What is an example of a business continuity plan?
The most common example of a business continuity plan is a written document that outlines the systems and procedures that enable a business to sustain its operations through a disruptive event. Business continuity plans can be software-based, using an application to manage the company’s continuity planning.
2) How do you structure a business continuity plan?
While every plan is unique, the general structure of most business continuity plans includes the following sections:
- Stakeholder contact information
- Plan objectives
- Risk assessment
- Business impact analysis
- Prevention strategies
- Disaster response procedures
- Recovery systems and protocols
- Backup locations and assets
- Communication methods
- Plan review
3) What are the biggest threats to law firms?
Security breaches are the greatest threat to law firms today, according to a 2022 report by Thomson Reuters. The majority of surveyed law firm business leaders (42%) reported that the highest risks to their profitability were compromised systems, data loss, ransomware and hacking.
4) Is a business continuity plan a legal requirement?
Most companies in the U.S. are not legally required to have a business continuity plan. However, some types of businesses must adhere to federal regulations that require them to maintain a plan, such as financial services, healthcare and some government organizations.
While a business continuity plan is usually not required by law, it is strongly recommended for most businesses. Continuity plans are vital planning tools that can significantly reduce the risk of an extended operational disruption.
5) What are the 4 P’s of business continuity planning?
The 4 P’s of business continuity planning refer to the core areas of a business that should be considered when developing a business continuity plan. The four areas include: People, Processes, Premises and Providers.
Together, the 4 P’s represent the central pillars that allow a business to function, along with the systems and processes needed for continuity and disaster recovery.
Now more than ever, law firms must adopt a sound business continuity plan in preparation for disaster. For law firms, disaster can take many forms – from cybersecurity threats like ransomware to critical data being accidentally deleted by the firm’s own employees. With proper continuity planning, law firms can be adequately equipped to respond to, and recover from, these incidents with minimal downtime or disruption.
Get the data protection that today’s law firms require
Learn more about deploying an advanced data backup and disaster recovery solution that can protect your law firm against data loss, ransomware and operational downtime. Request a free demo or contact our business continuity experts at Invenio IT: call (646) 395-1170 or email success@invenioIT.com.